NZ Geomechanics News

The Career Development of the Geotechnical Practitioner

This article is an introduction to a new regular series that will feature in the upcoming editions of NZ Geomechanics News. The series of articles will largely be directed towards those undergraduate and graduate students planning to practice in the fields of engineering geology or geotechnical engineering (for the purposes of this document hereafter referred to as “Geotechnical Practitioners”). It will aim to provide them with some advice and guidance about their chosen professions, focussing on aspects that may relate to the different stages of their career, providing some new ideas, guidance or just general useful tips and tricks in managing one’s professional development and long-term career goals.

21st century careers, like so many other things in this day and age, invariably seem to be following a more segmented or “modular” trend, with young professionals moving around between positions, employers and even different industries at increasingly regular intervals. This often sees young professionals transition to new roles with significantly different job descriptions to the previous positions they have experience in; either doing so out of personal choice or circumstances, opportunity or some level of economic uncertainty. Each new position can effectively be viewed as a “module” completed as part of the individuals own unique career path, similar to the completion of modules towards a university qualification. There is certainly a case to be made for such an approach, and even highly desired in some industries (think Silicon Valley, the creative arts etc.), where the conscious effort to move to a new geographic region or industry forms part of the career development of the individual. In such cases, the individual’s professional development benefits as a direct result of the diversity in accrued experience.

Some professions are however characterised by significant inherent diversity, i.e. variability within the overarching field of practice. Diversity is a critical part of the appeal in science, presenting opportunities to explore, enquire and test ideas to the benefit of solving engineering problems for example. In practice however, diversity can be a complexity if not well understood and adequately managed, presenting a challenge to the profession (Eggers, 2016). The geotechnical engineering and engineering geology disciplines are prime examples where significant variability in the career paths of individual practitioners may occur due to diversity throughout the profession. This diversity could be ascribed to geographic variability in the way the disciplines evolved on a global scale, variability in conditions, standards and procedures, or due to different employers and industries having different expectations of the particular profession. Regardless of the reason, this may see the individual’s career path take any number of different turns in direction, particularly when combined with a “modular” career path tendency. Poorly managed or too significant levels of variability will be detrimental to the professional’s development, the pursuit of professional goals and the pro-actively managed career path, ultimately risking indifference towards the direction that their careers follow.


Figure 1: Potential topics relevant to the different career stages of the Geotechnical Practitioner

Happily, all this “variability” and “diversity” could also be viewed as “opportunity”. We hope that ultimately this feature will provide the readers with some ideas about which fields of study and employment to pursue, managing their development, setting goals and becoming a professional in their chosen careers. This feature, of course, by no means aims to exclude the more “seasoned” readers. The experienced and practicing Geotechnical Practitioners might not only also significantly benefit from the views and ideas shared here, but more importantly will be crucial in contributing to the success and development of this feature. A conceptual structure and potential topics for future discussion is summarised in the figure below. Contributions will be sourced from experienced practitioners with backgrounds in a variety of industries (academia, civil infrastructure, tunnelling, mining etc.) and types of employers (universities, small to large consulting firms, corporates etc.).

The success and relevance of this feature is naturally going to depend on the contributions from different corners of the industry. Any volunteers interested in contributing towards any of the topics outlined here, or who have thoughts and suggestions of alternative content are encouraged to get in touch with





NZ Geomechanics News
george brink
NZ Geomechanics News>Issue 97 – June 2019
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