Climbing the career ladder

Materials World magazine
3 Nov 2015

How can you stay at the top of the game in your field? Natalie Daniels explores how you can continue your professional development while in work. 

Undergraduate degrees, A-levels and GCSEs may seem like a distant memory, but to keep on top of your professional development and stay motivated within your field, learning should never stop. 

Learning new skills and developing while in work has a number of benefits in addition to improving your career prospects. You may be able to get free basic training to learn additional skills, or gain a new qualification that could help open up doors to higher job positions. 

Skills investment is becoming a top priority for SME manufactures, according to the latest Manufacturing Barometer Survey from the Business Growth Service. The survey found that 71% of respondents intend to invest in workforce skills and expect to increase productivity by 93%. ‘Nearly three quarters of manufacturers plan to boost their spending on employee development, highlighting the importance of having the right people in place to grow their businesses. This could include retaining key staff, employing more apprentices and providing technical training to improve the skills of existing employees,’ says Stephen Peacock, Director of Business Growth Service. 

Lindsay Chapman, Senior Research Scientist at National Physical Laboratory explains, ‘I think the crucial part of continued professional development is that you have line manager support, because like so many other things it is funding driven and a lot of development opportunities for me are attending meetings, presenting at conferences and being given the time to prepare for those opportunities and sometimes you have to have a big picture of how they align together to help you prepare for these.’ 

Here are some things you can do to move up the career ladder. 

Join a professional body

There are more than 80 UK-based societies, associations and bodies that can promote and support your career, while providing opportunities to make connections and build a network with experts in your field. 

Membership can provide professional qualifications as well. The basis of most memberships is that the candidate presents evidence of their qualifications, training and experience in the industry. Not only will you benefit from doing this, your employers will too – having professionally accredited staff adds to their credibility. It will ensure you are more experienced, increase your job satisfaction and help to maintain a continued progression. 

David Arthur FIMMM, Project Manager at Signature Materials, has worked for IOM3 for 20 years and led the Membership team for 14 years. ‘For me, membership shows professional competence to employers, giving them confidence that, from a professional perspective, someone is more than capable. This is not just a person saying they are qualified, but that they have been independently verified by peers and members or other professional bodies.’

But why is this necessary? ‘It is important for employees to learn and improve, so they can keep up to date with their industry, show a willingness to take on change and new ideas, and explore new areas – this, to me, is what professional development is all about. It is about competence – proving it, keeping it and looking to raise the bar.’

Qualifications and courses

In some areas of work, gaining new qualifications is essential to maintaining expertise, for example in health and safety, and in others it is encouraged to keep an employee’s knowledge and skills up-to-date, particularly in fast-paced industries.

Most employers are encouraged to ensure staff members can develop personally and professionally within their organisation to keep them moving up the career ladder. It is always worth enquiring about training courses you may be eligible to undertake to develop within your role or move into other roles. Employers may be prepared to fund, part-fund and/or give study leave for you to do this. 

Courses to develop within your professional environment, such as management, leadership, problem solving and project management courses are widely available and relevant for many areas of employment, so, don’t be afraid to ask. 

‘However, it is not just about going on courses. It is about other opportunities and things you are doing in the line of your job, almost without you realising. Things like attending conferences and events will also help you to meet people in the field and provide a great networking opportunity within industry,’ said Chapman. 


The bigger your network, the better. Make sure you always have up-to-date business cards to hand out. As you advance in your career, you’ll build a network of professionals you can turn to for the latest industry news, career advice, and new courses and conferences available to broaden your knowledge.

It can be a great way to share knowledge, get assistance and support, and develop and progress within your career. Maintaining these links with your wider profession can enhance your effectiveness in your job and career development. It requires time, thought, skill and action, but the rewards can be endless.


Take time to reflect, think about what you want out of your career and what steps can be taken to achieve that. This could mean advancing within your company – moving into a more senior position or making yourself more favourable for a promotion or a new direction. Set yourself a review date when you will assess your progress and reflect on your learning from the past 6–12 months. As Chapman explains, ‘For me, professional development is a reflective thing, it is easy to review your work, but when it comes to taking a step back to review your career it isn’t always so easy.’ She adds, ‘Continued learning is a good aim in its own right, and curiosity for a scientist is crucial, so the learning should never stop.’ 

*The Manufacturing Barometer is the largest independent survey of SME manufacturing companies operating in England and has been running since 2009.