Benita Walter, P.E. is a Bridge Engineer in our Columbus Office. Benita has 15 years of bridge design experience and carries a BS and MS in Civil Engineering from Virginia Tech. She started out at the Ohio Department of Transportation, decided to take about a decade off to help raise her son, and eventually re-enter the workforce. Since Benita has joined ELR, she has been a valuable asset in our bridge department. Below is some advice she has for parents who have taken time off from their career and then eventually re-entered the workforce while maintaining a focus on raising a family.
What is some preparation work you can do to prepare yourself for re-entering the workforce?
- Gain marketable skills at your current job.
- Learn how to work with different types of people (age/gender/race, everyone has different world views).
- Get licensed and maintain it while you are off work.
- Attend engineering conferences like OTEC.
- Learn how to communicate clearly.
- Bottom line, you want to become an employee that a company wants to hire.
What type of position or company should you look for when coming back into the workforce if you still want to focus on raising your family?
Accept a position that works for your family [for example part-time, flexible (need for sick days, snow days, appointments), and with managers that are willing to work with you to get to back to your "fighting weight". Look for a company where the employees work well together. Being a working mom can be stressful even at part-time. I wouldn't want to work in an environment where the employees are not getting along.
What type of mindset should you have coming back into the workforce after taking an extended period of time off?
- Accept that it is going to be difficult and there is a steep learning curve to restart a technical job that you haven't done for years.
- Be humble. Your superiors may be folks you helped train years ago.
- You may have to ask "dumb" tech questions. The youngest person is your tech friend!
- Remember that your worth is not tied to your performance or position. Be willing to admit mistakes, which can be hard to do and embarrassing.
- You may have to ask a lot of questions to avoid getting stuck spinning your wheels.
- Know that work is more enjoyable when you are working with friends. Be prepared to get to know or get re-acquainted with people. Go to lunch, work parties and support co-workers.
I am still figuring out things as I go. I have to ask myself questions like:
- Should I invest in work development outside of work hours? What's the best way to do that?
- How do I manage work with home life and other activities?
- What do I prioritize? What do I let slide?
The attitude we choose can make all the difference in the world when re-entering the work force. My first paying job after being a stay-at-home mom for all those years was in catering. I am thankful for that job and the experience because it has helped me to be grateful for the opportunity to use my education again and to work in the engineering field in spite of the challenges that come with restarting a career.