By April Ruggles, EIT
If you’ve been in facilities for a while, you may not be exposed to some of the recent trends in other industries. As a female millennial who has worked in three industries, I think it’s important to discuss the work environment that appeals to millennial women. Women and millennials are two of the largest pools of newcomers to the workforce. It’s exciting that this is a topic of interest to executives across all industries — it allows businesses to adjust their work environments to remain competitive and develop high performing teams, and it empowers the next generation to build long-lasting careers and enjoy their work lives.
Over the course of my six-year career, I’ve worked in computer hardware engineering at two Fortune 500 companies, I’ve engineered pharmaceutical devices at a startup, and now I work in the building industry at a full-service engineering firm. My experiences in each industry are unique to me and don’t necessarily reflect each industry in its entirety, however my experiences taught me about the type of job I want to have, the type of employer I want to work for, the type of co-workers I want to interact with and the type of employee I want to be.
Computer Hardware Engineering
After completing my undergraduate degree, I took a job at a major computer hardware engineering company. I was a mechanical design engineer in the server hardware department, where I designed parts and assemblies of mechanical and electrical components for computer servers.
The company was well practiced in the art of bringing up a young engineer. I was immediately entrusted with important responsibilities and in the first week, I was given a series of expansion card assemblies to design. Additionally, I was given the opportunity to work with people from various backgrounds, and I was constantly working with senior level talent.
However, after completing a project, it would end anticlimactically and the next project would be assigned. For example, I worked for months on a mounting fixture for our shock and vibration table. I completed my design, presented it, and that was the last I heard of the project. It became difficult to maintain motivation.
Because the company focused largely on software, the company offered flexible work arrangements allowing us to make our own schedules and work from wherever we wanted. This flexibility is a major factor for both millennial and female engineers when looking for jobs.
Socialization at work is also important to millennial and female engineers. There was a significant age gap between me and the mechanical engineers I worked most closely with. However, the company provided plenty of social and relationship-building opportunities with the young professionals in other departments.
• Strong mentorship
• Flexible work arrangements
• Social opportunities
• Immediately trusted with responsibility
• Unfulfilling closure to projects
Pharmaceutical Instrumentation Engineering
My next position was in the pharmaceutical instrumentation industry, where I worked as a mechanical engineer designing instrumentation that performed laser spectroscopy on pharmaceutical vials.
This workplace environment was completely different. As a female millennial, my motivation comes from knowing how my work affects the broader company, so I loved that I was able to work with different business sectors. I had regular meetings with the sales, marketing, and manufacturing teams, as well as actual product users in our services sector. I had direct access to senior level talent — executives took a vested interest in supporting junior talent and attending my design presentations — which meant I never had to look for recognition opportunities.
There was a strong social connection with the employees. After the workday on Fridays, the team would grab a beer from the fridge and hang out, and during the week some of us would play ultimate frisbee.
However, the work hours and location were strict because there was no network access for documents or models outside the office. In order to provide your employees with a flexible workplace, you must have a strong IT department you trust to balance restrictions, permissions, and strong digital security.
• Recognition opportunities
• Integrated work environment
• Inflexible work arrangements
Landing in Building Consulting Engineering
Choosing to join my current firm, RMF Engineering, and move into a completely new industry was intimidating. I had to restart my career and learn new systems. I came to the building consulting industry because I saw competitive pay, flexible work hours, and a challenge. The only downside to my career change was an inflexible workplace. This industry has not gone through the same technological innovations as the computer industry, as it can be intimidating to innovate in an area so intertwined with security. However, I imagine it is only a matter of time before the industry shifts its practices. This is the most fast-paced environment I have ever worked in — It is serious fun.
The deadlines are externally defined, and RMF doesn’t shy away from challenges.
We are constantly pushing ourselves, because if a deadline slips the consequence is greater due to all the parties involved. It is the drive to overcome those challenges, and the overall cultural mindset of this workplace, that makes it so enjoyable. As an employee you are trusted to make the right decision about how you want to work, and the right decision is always the one that is best for the client.
• Recognition opportunities
• Flexible work hours
• Fun, fast-paced environment
• Trust in the employees
• Inflexible work arrangements
There are three key lessons that I learned from my time in these three industries.
1. Flexibility is a top motivator for millennial employees. According to a Deloitte Global survey, millennials seek to combine the stability of a permanent job with the flexibility of freelancing. Do you need your employees to be in a single location in order for their work to be completed? On some days, the answer might be “yes” due to the nature of the facilities management profession. However, the answer might be “no” depending on the tasks of the day. If this is true for your company, consider appealing to the millennial employee by implementing flexible hours.
2. Recognize your employees’ successes. Acknowledgement of hard work is a key motivator for millennials. According to research by Gallup, recognizing your team members’ successes will empower them to step up because they will see success defined for them. According to the Deloitte Global survey, 94% of millennial employees who have a mentor say that that person provides good advice. Take advantage of this willingness to accept guidance and encourage executives at your company to mentor, support and reward younger employees for their hard work.
3. Social happiness is essential. This is crucial not only for mental health but also for productivity. According to further research by Gallup, when employees have a sense of affiliation with their team members, they take actions that benefit the business.
Facilities management has the foundation necessary to create a work environment that is engaging and magnetic. Rethinking the workplace does not require us to flip the universe on its head. We can make small changes, nudge around different ideas and reap the benefits for our business, employees, peers, and for ourselves.
Ruggles joined RMF Engineering as a mechanical engineer in 2016. The company is a full-service engineering firm based in Baltimore, MD. Ruggles holds four patents from her time as a mechanical design engineer in the computer hardware industry. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.