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Planning engineers oversee the operation of a particular project along with the project manager. This could be either at site or in an office depending on the stage of the project. The largest projects are carried out on behalf of oil companies, construction companies, governments and the rail network. Planning engineers are responsible for working out a sequence of activities that are required to complete a project and linking them all together using the resources to the best possible effect.
Once a sequence of activities has been developed, planning engineers along with the project manager and engineering manager are responsible for making sure everything runs smoothly until the project has been successfully finished. Whilst keeping the initial schedule of work in mind, planning engineers must also anticipate particular demands which may arise. For example, different projects will lead to different labour demands, different material needs, different equipment, and varying technical elements. Changes in scope midway through a project may also cause resources to become stretched elsewhere.
The technical side is important to the work of a planning engineer, who ensures that the project is completed to the highest possible standard. Furthermore, they are responsible for calculating whether a project can finish in the time required by the client. If there is no client then the planning engineer will determine the timescale. They must also ensure that everyone involved in the project is aware of how their activities relate to others to avoid any unnecessary delays. This is extremely important since most project contracts include clauses which will force the company employing the planning engineer to pay a penalty if deadlines are not met. This penalty could be millions of pounds.
The gender ratio in the job is one of the more balanced within the engineering sector, although females tend to prefer cost engineering to planning. The engineering sector as a whole is currently keen to encourage more women to apply for jobs and the position of a planning engineer may be particularly suitable for women who do not want to be heavily involved with the action on site.
As a general rule, salaries are very competitive. A planning engineer with more than three years worth of experience can expect to earn over £40,000 if employed as staff, or approximately £350 per day if employed as a contractor. Rates depend heavily on the amount of work available and the industry.
The tasks undertaken on a regular basis by planning engineers include:
- Understanding the scope of the project
- Constructing a network of work appropriate for the specific project
- Identifying the best series of events in the correct order for the project to finish on time and on budget
- Presenting the schedule of work to others in the company and the client organisation involved with the project
- Developing detailed yet simple to understand schedules and graphs
- Producing visual aids to help explain the schedule of work, including bar charts and network diagrams
- Using specialist computer software to help keep the project on course
- Monitoring the progress of the project at different stages of its development
- Making sure the achieved progress on the project fits the progress anticipated in the schedule
- Keeping in contact with the project manager
- Making adjustments to schedules if necessary
- Liaising with individuals on the project (who may be in another country) via video conference
- Providing advice to people involved in the project
- Ensuring that all the separate elements of the project fit together and are working towards a common aim
There is no degree level qualification available for planning but a Project Controls NVQ run by ACostE (Association Of Cost Engineers) is becoming increasingly valued by employers.
The following skills are required to be a good planning engineer:
- The ability to work as part of a team
- Good leadership skills
- The ability to motivate others and make them aware of an overall aim
- Attention to detail
- Good communication and interpersonal skills
- The ability to see the broader picture and work out how individual elements should operate as part of an overall aim
- The ability to remain flexible and calm under pressure and in the face of a tight deadline
- Good numeracy skills
- Good literacy skills
- A technical mind
- The motivation and desire to solve complex engineering issues
Planning engineers usually work in an office environment as part of a team but they will also spend a lot of time working individually in order to produce presentations, network diagrams, graphs, and reports. Planning engineers will have to attend numerous meetings during a typical day, to inform other individuals involved in the project of its progress. These meetings may be held in other offices or may be conducted via video conference if, for example, the project site is located in another country.
Working hours vary depending upon the stage of the project and the cycle of reports. However, most planning engineers work a forty hour week and have weekends free. Exceptions to this are planners who are on a construction site who may work a six day week, totalling sixty hours. There are opportunities to attend courses, some of which will be compulsory. Some courses teach individuals how to develop their leadership skills and others may be on health and safety issues.
General industry knowledge is helpful but it can also prove detrimental, making you too involved in the fine details, rather than the bigger picture.
- The oil and gas sector, for example Shell, BP, and Exxon Mobil
- Oil Rich Governments, for example Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Russia, and Kazakhstan
- The transport sector, for example the rail network and the Highways Agency
- The construction industry
- Companies involved with one-off events, for example the London Olympic Games
The logical career progression for a planning engineer is eventually to become a Project Controls Manager. This individual will be responsible for planning the project, controlling relevant costs, and making complex estimates.
Also known as…
- Project Controls Specialist
What’s it really like?
Chris Cook is 24 years of age and is a planning engineer currently employed by a leading petrochemical company.
He has been working in the engineering industry for four years and has been specifically involved with planning for two years. Before becoming involved with planning, he worked in interface management. Prior to starting his career in engineering he studied at Loughborough University.
It is difficult to describe a typical day at work for Chris because this depends largely on the stage of the project. However, he will typically attend face-to-face meetings as well as conducting video conferences. He will also interact with individuals via telephone calls and e-mail. Chris produces complex calculations and constructs diagrams, including graphs. At the start of a project, a typical day will revolve around looking at the client’s requirements and objectives and considering any constraints which may apply to the particular project. These restraints may include time limitations and key contractual milestones.
Chris then spends a large chunk of his day producing graphs which will anticipate the expected progress of the project. At this stage, he will consider and eventually decide upon the appropriate size of the workforce.
As the project reaches a more advanced stage, his typical day will involve a lot of liaising with engineers to assess the progress of the project. He will check the progress made in reality against the base line produced prior to the start of the project. At this stage, Chris will also spend a lot of time producing reports, graphs, and critical path analyses.
As the particular project reaches its conclusion, Chris will spend a lot of his day making sure that key deadlines are met, and the thought of the large costs associated with deadlines not being met and the ultimate completion date being pushed back is always uppermost on his mind!
Chris loves his job and says that there are a lot of positive features. One of the big pluses in his opinion is that it can be done anywhere in the world which opens up a lot of avenues for living and working abroad at some stage in the future. He also enjoys contact with all sorts of people and the job as a whole appeals to his analytical mind. The only downsides are the pressures as end of month deadlines approach and the fact that planning engineers are often seen as “the enemy” by the engineers on the project!
For those thinking ahead about a career in planning, Chris believes that the best degree to study is one in engineering. However, people with other degrees do end up in the job. He would also say that if you cannot keep your head under pressure and be prepared to work longer hours at deadline times this is probably not the job for you. Whilst Chris has been lucky enough to have travelled on business to Norway, Japan and South Korea, travel opportunities are often to less attractive parts of the world, some of which may be politically unstable and dangerous.
Chris’ career aim is to become a Project Controls Manager.