Considering a career in PLM relies on the relevant understanding of the multiple perspectives which constitute the discipline, combined with the education and development path towards this goal. As students consider their professional future and education, they must look beyond the typical STEM subjects, assess which technical and non-technical domains are relevant and combined in context of their aspiring jobs, consider which skills would be acquired through education versus experience.
Starting a career in the field of PLM assumes getting exposed to entry level job opportunities—often through technical or functional roles. Getting an undergraduate degree in either engineering, product development, manufacturing digitalization or software development is a typical route into PLM-related entry jobs: from junior engineer to process SME or technical consultant.
In this post, I explore opportunities and challenges for graduates to get onto the PLM career ladder.
There are limited undergraduate’s degrees which focus primarily on the PLM discipline; this is due to the fact that the discipline combines many perspectives and require a minimum of in-depth knowledge. There are however a number of specialized master’s degrees in product development and management, including in sustainable development or manufacturing digitalization.
Getting onto the PLM career ladder
In a previous post, I discussed the fact that “career development” may mean different things for different people, based on motivation, soft skills and other circumstances. Similarly, undergraduate students might understand different things from “product lifecycle management”, hence be prone to further their STEM studies into product development or engineering, rather than the enabling platforms and data management discipline.
It is not rare to hear stories from experienced PLM leaders about “getting into PLM by accident” rather than by choice (…). This probably means that they have learned about the discipline on-the-job (learning by doing), rather than being made aware of it during their secondary studies or through university degrees. While there is nothing wrong with that, one obvious challenge is the time it might take to develop the broad expertise or in-depth knowledge required when embarking in the field of PLM.
PLM opportunities from engineering and technology
Students are likely to learn more about the PLM discipline by studying either broad programs with engineering and technology, general engineering or production and manufacturing engineering subjects. From undergraduate degrees, they are likely to learn about a given discipline: from data management (from CAD and CAE to AR, VR, IOT, dig data, etc.) to automation, process development and re-engineering, cost and talent management, digitalization and other IT principles, procurement and outsourcing, supply chain networks and integration, people development, etc.
Learning about problem-solving scenarios combines multiple engineering and business disciplines, including but also beyond the technology, into operations and strategy. Learning technology concepts and learning to learn from new operational advances from a business point of view is equally important for graduates to be prepared for continuous learning during their career. As tools and technologies change, business value creation requires new ideas and data continuity solutions. Understanding how to translate strategy into execution plans and operations is a great asset to any PLM expert.
Coupling hands-on experience with conceptualization
The World Economic Forum published a study in 2015 highlighting how market needs are gradually growing into non-routine analytical and interpersonal skills (a.k.a. collaboration skills), rather than manual work or even routine cognitive skills alone. This study highlighted the need for foundational literacies (STEM, ICT, financial, civic subjects), coupled with competencies to manage complexity (critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration) and adapt to the changing environment (curiosity, initiative, persistence, adaptability, leadership, social and cultural awareness).
Most of these criteria or skills can only be developed with practical application to a given subject, as the context matters. Somewhat, most of this relate one way or another to the PLM discipline—which is a very contextual subject matter. PLM crosses multiple perspectives: technical, functional, business (operations / finance / talent management), data, IT tools and integration platforms. To my knowledge, there is no prescribed entry level path for graduates to address all subjects at once. Graduates must learn from a combination of in-depth subjects with broad business strategy models and theories, in order to learn about the “true value” of PLM, and how to put it into practice for the greater good of businesses.