Hiring Hydraulic Engineers

Hiring the next generation of hydraulics engineers

imageBen Hoxie, engineering manager, Controls, Eaton


Technology is evolving faster than ever. As the hydraulics industry adapts to ever-changing product and machine design, we as an industry are counting on our engineers to continue developing better ways to bring more productive, more efficient machines to market and new ideas to the industry.

Industry evolution reflected in the workforce
As the hydraulics industry evolves, roles that were once 100 percent mechanical are becoming more blended between mechanical and software or electronic roles. Twenty years ago, Eaton looked mostly for traditional mechanical engineers; today, Eaton increasingly looks for mechatronic engineers – those who possess strong skills not only in mechanical domain, but equally so in the embedded controls, software and electronics spaces to better serve the movement towards smarter machines.
This industry evolution has also seen the engineering profession transition from focusing primarily on the work behind the machines to serving as a knowledge resource for people and companies. Today’s hydraulic engineers must have the technical know-how, but also be able to communicate, collaborate and work well in a team – especially with customers. An engineer with a great idea still needs group input and expertise to turn it into reality.

As much as a strong engineering education and effective communication skills will launch a career - the ability to continuously learn will keep it going. As engineers, we work to envision the future through our product plans and technology road maps, but where we will be 5 or 10 years from now is truly unknown. The ability to learn and adapt as the world becomes more dynamic and as technology changes more rapidly than ever is absolutely required for continued success.

Considering an advanced education

New challenges and opportunities turn up every day, and hydraulic engineers must be able to build on what they know and use it to learn and create new solutions. Learning how to learn may sound silly, but it is critical as engineers drive the future of the industry

While a master’s degree is not required in the hydraulic engineering space, it can serve as another step in this learning and growing process. Pursuing an advanced degree after completing undergraduate coursework further develops continuous learning habits and demonstrates a thirst for additional knowledge to potential employers. Whether a master’s degree is pursued immediately following a bachelor’s degree or after a few years of work experience is a personal choice, but an ambitious engineer should consider additional learning opportunities whenever possible.

At Eaton, many of our engineers take advantage of our education assistance program to help complete master’s degrees while working, allowing them to gain life experience and reap the benefits of additional education, taking a deeper dive into the science and technical knowledge behind machine design. For those who seek leadership or management roles, it is worth looking beyond traditional engineering degrees to formal business education, such as advanced degrees in Management of Technology or Business Administration.

Becoming a hydraulics engineer without hydraulics training

Hydraulic-specific educational opportunities are, unfortunately, hard to find. In the United States, undergraduate engineers rarely have the option to specialize in hydraulics and frequently only learn about fluid power as part of another class. At Eaton, we are working to encourage schools to bring more specific hydraulics education to the training process, as it is nearly impossible to find a new graduate who already knows the ins and outs of hydraulics. Until more schools and universities provide these courses and training, young engineers pursuing hydraulics careers will need to be prepared to spend the first few years learning the fundamentals while executing projects.

As the hydraulics workforce ages and a large number of employees approach retirement eligibility, there is concern across engineering fields of an impending shortage of qualified engineers. An industry frequently perceived as old, dirty and stagnant, the hydraulics industry may be hit particularly hard as older workers retire and younger workers choose different fields of study. In response to this looming shortage of trained engineers, Eaton has created leadership development programs that allow new engineers to work with a mentor on a number of different projects that support them in developing a stronger specific knowledgebase of skills that will support the rapidly expanding hydraulics engineering industry.

When hiring at Eaton, we consider new talent not just today, but looking into the future. Will this person be able to learn and adapt? Do they aspire to grow beyond the currently available position, whether into management or into a deep technical expert? Do they possess the constant learning needed for success in science and technology fields?

Considering these questions, what can current students do to set themselves apart? First, seek real life experience. Whether through internships, co-op work programs or academic research projects, find a role that involves real products and solving real problems. Build something and test it in a lab – figure out how to make it work. Consider getting involved in student organizations that participate in design competitions. Whichever avenue you choose, find something that gives you firsthand experience delivering on a timeline and within a budget. These experiences help students making the transition from school to work – taking knowledge from the classroom and applying it to real life problems.

Ultimately, many of the technologies we have today were little more than science fiction 20 years ago. Who knows what opportunities and challenges we will have 20 years from now?
Today we see glimpses of the future in emerging technologies like wireless communications, pervasive sensing, advanced learning algorithms, additive manufacturing, and automated machine functions. It will be exciting to watch as the next generation of engineers drive the future of the industry, incorporating these advancements – and even newer technologies that have yet to be discovered, engineered and brought to market.