The how (and why) of changing industries

Engineers Australia Deputy President Don Moloney reflects on the opportunities and challenges presented by changing industries mid-career, and shares his advice for those engineers considering a move.
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A widely adopted view in the modern workplace is that changing jobs regularly is good for your career: it promotes resilience, adaptability and is an opportunity to reappraise your professional value. 

And, if the new job is a better fit, you may find a renewed ease and excitement for your work. 

But this might not always be the case for changing industries altogether says Engineers Australia Deputy President, Don Moloney.

“Learning the systems and processes (and acronyms) of a whole new industry, as well as leaving behind your professional network can be a risky move,” he said. 

Moloney, now in the Transport sector having spent over a decade in the world of Defence, understands the wider benefits that a shift in industry can offer.

“Cross-pollination of people and ideas between industries can lead to innovation,” he said.

“For example, doctors observing the precision timing and synchronisation of Formula 1 pit crews borrowed those ideas to improve the operating theatre. Global trade allowed rice growers in one part of the world to trade notes with grain farmers in another.

“Although one engineer crossing from Defence to Transport might not revolutionise the sector overnight, a little idea osmosis ensures the conditions for innovation are ripe. This is recognised through government and corporate secondment programs that encourage sharing ideas and building relationships, complementing formal knowledge transfer and collaboration activities.”

A career change is not just a technical challenge but also a spiritual one, adds Moloney.

“I believe firmly in the value of a well-trained, well-equipped Defence force. But is that my ‘why?’ – no. I believe in the regional stability that Defence sustains, and for the safety and prosperity of communities throughout,” he said. ]

“My why is the well-being of communities and my dream job will always be the one where I can be most effective in achieving that. A career change might alter how I achieve that, but my guiding why remains the same, as do my values and principles.” 

While moving can prove to be a challenge, Don has a few pieces of advice that has helped him in his transition.
“Instead of suffering from information overload, I keep extensive notes in a searchable format which I can review periodically, and track in spreadsheets what I used to track in my head. I also indulged in new stationery and cleared my desk,” he said. 

“My new team is almost entirely working from home so virtual catch-ups are more intentional and purposeful. I don’t beat myself up about struggling with easy tasks, and I unapologetically ask lots of basic questions: ‘What’s that acronym? Can you repeat that? Why don’t trains have steering wheels?’ 

“Nothing is off the table.”