Maximizing the relationship between older and younger OT engineers in the workplace

IT/OT convergence
Image courtesy: Brett Sayles

The rapid advancement of technology has created some unique challenges and opportunities across generations for operational technology (OT) engineers. So what are the dynamics facing today’s OT engineers from both the perspective of those new to the industry as well as those with multiple years of experience?

In this article, we uncover differences over time with the OT engineering role, explore generational nuances, identify what each generation can learn from the other, and share some tips that can improve things and benefit everyone across the board. As these two very different generations come together in the workplace, traditional approaches and thinking are merging and melding with new perspectives, philosophies and ways of doing things.

Tip #1: Pair new OT engineers with more seasoned engineers to help facilitate a knowledge exchange both ways.

Given that the life cycle of industrial assets is in decades, experienced engineers have the perspective of predictive maintenance, machine analysis and service requirements that new engineers won’t have awareness of. It’s important for more seasoned engineers to keep this in mind when working with new less experienced engineers. More seasoned engineers have both field and real-life experience to draw upon. This wisdom is invaluable and would take years for new engineers to acquire.

The new engineer will enter the workplace likely armed with new technologies and ways of thinking that can potentially offer better and faster solutions to traditional OT challenges. The younger engineer that grew up with technology will have a natural tendency to rely on computers for answers along with wanting to leverage advanced computing power, tools and software. New engineers can bring a fresh perspective around technology that can be leveraged for increased benefits across the convergence of OT and information technology (IT) such as infrastructure, networks, toolsets and firewalls.

Tip #2: Use storytelling for knowledge transfer and to share experience.

There can be a tendency for new engineers to want to disregard or be skeptical regarding “how things are done” when shared by engineers with more tenure and experience. The need for less experienced engineers to keep an open mind and ear to truly hear the seasoned engineer is crucial. The importance of storytelling by experienced engineers to share experiences and perspective with less experienced engineers can’t be stressed enough. Storytelling is how we have passed down knowledge and information between generations for ages.

Tip #3: Combine efforts to create change.

New engineers come full of enthusiasm and fresh ideas with a desire to create change. More seasoned engineers have more experience and know how to navigate corporate environments. They’ve had to learn to be patient with change, which may not come naturally for new engineers. While it can take time to alter the way things have been done, both new and seasoned engineers can unite to create change and create a better new path forward.

Tip #4: Seasoned engineers need to share advice with new OT engineers.

While more seasoned engineers are familiar with their role and how things are done, they know a thing or two about how to grow in your career. The advice from more experienced engineers includes telling new engineers to not settle. They advise new engineers to continue increasing their level of knowledge of the operation, the role they’ve been assigned and the business. Take time to expand your circle of influence by building relationships and establishing yourself in the industry.

Learning existing tools and bringing new tools into the OT environment are both key. The experienced engineer also encourages the new engineer to not spend their entire career in one area. Spread your wings, and don’t be afraid to try new things. And finally, they let the new engineer know that it’s OK to fail. Your greatest lessons can come from failures. The trick is to learn the lesson and not repeat the failure.

Tip #5: More established OT engineers can learn from new engineers.

From the perspective of the new engineer, they can encourage the more seasoned engineer to be open to what they have to say. New perspectives can be gained with an open mind. New engineers can have a natural tendency to challenge the myths and the way things have been done in the past. It’s up to experienced engineers to be open-minded enough to consider new ways of doing things.

The new engineer encourages the experienced engineer to ensure they have balance between both work and their personal life. The new engineer will also show the more experienced engineer wanting more money or new experiences that jumping companies or roles can be necessary to support career, professional and personal growth. Hopping jobs is sometimes necessary for long-term growth and success.

While both new and more experienced engineers come with different perspectives, the strengths of each when combined make for a better and smarter workplace. In the end, tried-and-true principles apply to both generations and experience levels. Keep learning and growing with an open mind. Learn to accept that change isn’t always easy but necessary for long-term gains. Everyone can learn something from one another regardless of their role, experience level or tenure. Keep an open mind, embrace change, and stay positive to trying and learning new things.




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