ENGINEERING: THE SOLUTION ISN’T ALWAYS TECHNICAL
Whilst studying to be an engineer, Jiao Yang focused on her technical abilities but when she began solving real-world problems it became apparent that her soft skills were just as important.
Jiao grew up in Yunnan, China. She comes from a family of engineers who often brought her to the factory where they worked, sparking her interest in engineering from a young age. But it wasn’t until she read an article, about a mirror that didn’t mist, that she decided she really wanted to learn more about technology.
“A Japanese company had found a way to stop water molecules from attaching to mirrors so they didn’t steam up. I was fascinated by it. To me, it was like magic.”
Jiao went on to study Materials Science at university and later received her PhD on this subject. She noted that whilst at university the emphasis was mostly on solving complex maths and science problems but learning how to collaborate and communicate effectively, was mostly overlooked.
“At university you learn the theoretical side to engineering but there isn’t really the opportunity to practice your softer skills. Being able to assess a problem and tailor your message appropriately to different audiences is vital to product development.”
After completing her studies, Jiao was interviewed for an engineering role at John Crane. She was so impressed by the manager who interviewed her that she decided to take the job.
“I was inspired by his focus and passion to create an open and collaborative environment. Working with him and our director made me realise just how important it is to communicate and share ideas in order get the best solution.”
Jiao focuses on innovation and technology development at John Crane and has been responsible for setting up the R&D department in China. She relies on the support of various teams to help develop new materials for mechanical seals and processing technologies.
“The importance of good communication in my job can’t be overstated. I spend a lot of time collaborating with suppliers, customers and engineers across different disciplines to develop new formulas for materials.”
Jiao also focuses on establishing a network amongst the top universities in China to support John Crane’s R&D objectives.
“The ability to build relationships is really important in engineering and it’s enabled me to establish partnerships with some of China’s most prestigious universities. This has helped us develop new innovative formulas for coating seals and recently has meant we no longer outsource a particular material because we now have the expertise to manufacture it in-house.”
It is important to understand that engineers don’t just work with chemicals, machines and detailed measurements but they lead teams, negotiate, build networks and work together to solve problems. Jiao believes that there should be more emphasis for engineers to learn these softer skills.
“There needs to be more of a focus on teaching students how to collaborate effectively. Engineering doesn’t only require a good understanding of science and mathematics. For projects to succeed, we need to communicate.”