Weathering the storm - alternative career paths

Materials World magazine
2 Jan 2014

Rachel Lawler considers how alternative career paths could help
professionals continue their development in difficult circumstances

Years after the banking crisis of 2008, professionals across the world are still feeling its effects. Whether you graduated recently, are looking for a career move or re nearing retirement, the recession has affected most people’s professional development in one way or another. In today’s economic climate, set career paths are increasingly hard to pursue, so being open-minded about your next step is essential. Slashed budgets and unprecedented competition for jobs have combined to create a frustrating situation for professionals.

As disappointing as setbacks can be, they need not signal the end of your career. Taking a step down a different route may not be what you originally planned, but it could certainly see you through a tough time and may ultimately help you reach your goal. If you’re stuck in a career rut and worried that you won’t make it to your dream job, have a look at your CV and think about positive steps you could take now to bring your end goal closer.

It is worth considering jobs outside of your chosen path. Taking a sideways step could help you take another step up the ladder. The experience you gain could help you towards your goal and will broaden your skillset. However, before taking the leap, it is worth considering how this choice could affect your options at a later date and whether you’re prepared to take such a risk.

If you’re not in position to make such a bold move, consider other steps you could take to improve your prospects, for example, relevant technical courses you could enrol on. You could specialise in a particular area of materials science, perhaps something more niche than you initially planned, or topics that complement your own area of expertise. If you can dedicate the time and can secure funding, full-time courses are well worth the investment. If you’re still working or unable to make such a big commitment, many short part-time courses can be completed in your spare time or during your annual leave.

Don’t forget to think about softer skills, too. Communication, management and even IT are all useful skills that many engineers overlook in favour of technical expertise. There are plenty of part-time and distance-learning courses covering these skills. You might also want to think about completing some STEM outreach work or volunteering with a local scheme. These positions are often great for gaining experience and developing other skills, and will demonstrate your passion for materials science, helping your CV stand out.

Whatever you decide to do, don’t allow yourself to sit tight and wait for an opportunity to come to you. Keep active by attending events regularly, and making an effort to network and make new contacts. Look out for any awards you may be eligible to enter, or conferences you could speak at or attend to build contacts. Check the diary pages in Materials World each issue for any events that catch your eye. Reach out on social networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter.

Keeping on top of your professional development in this way will ensure that you are best placed to take advantage of any opportunities that do arise.

To find out about volunteering through the Institute, contact Diane Aston,

What do you think? What’s holding you back? Write in with your career questions and we might pick your dilemma to be answered by an expert in a future issue. Email