Engineering Drives the Outdoor Industry

As the design and manufacture of outdoor products gets increasingly more technical, we’ve seen a significant up-tick in the number of engineers we’re placing with outdoor industry companies. The bar continues to be raised for the safety and performance of outdoor products. As a result, never before have the opportunities been so great for engineers with a passion for the outdoors.

Design engineers are in particularly high demand at present with companies across the outdoor industry, as they are the pinwheel around which product development, manufacturing and marketing are centered around. In a small company, a design engineer may be responsible for taking a new product from concept to shelf, while at a larger company, that same engineer may work on one or more aspect of a new product’s design, manufacturing, or packaging.

The design engineer works within a matrix of professionals including, but not limited to industrial designers, product and/or category managers, graphic designers and other members of the marketing communications team. Many outdoor companies employ 6-10 design engineers, which may work under the “product engineer” title at some companies. Often, these engineers will work under a senior engineering manager who is also a player-manager. This means they balance team management duties with a limited amount of design work.

What does it take for an engineer to break into the outdoor industry?

Entry-level engineers in the outdoor industry are often required to have 3-5 years of post-graduate experience. Outdoor manufacturers value engineers with high attention to detail, excellent project management skills and the ability to “wear many hats” effectively. In addition, successful outdoor industry engineers must be skilled in both verbal and written communications. Today, a design engineer may be asked to communicate effectively with senior management, dealer partners, media, or speak in videos appearing on YouTube or other sites.

As you might expect, experience using 3D CAD software such as SolidWorks is also a requirement for most positions. Another necessary quality that’s perhaps a bit more challenging to quantify is passion. Outdoor industry employers understand the role passion plays in the pursuit of excellence, and they’re looking for engineers that share their passion, both for the products they make and for the customers they serve.

What about more senior engineering positions?

A job as a senior design engineer, or product engineering manager, requires more total experience — most specify 8-10+ years of relevant experience.  Employers may also be looking for experience or focus in a specific engineering field, such as fluid systems or composite materials, or expertise in a specific product category, such as road bicycles or suspension products.

Senior engineers must have strong collaboration skills, as they often interface with a wide variety of stakeholders, working hand-in-hand with other company leaders to craft the company’s strategic vision and manage the its execution through the products and/or services it offers. A successful senior engineer is one who can define a strategic direction and effectively get the engineering team on-board with the stated goals, priorities and and direction.

Often, senior engineers will define the processes and expectations for areas such as quality control, product development, tooling, or manufacturing support, among others. These processes serve as a road map for critical performance and durability metrics, and successful implementation can have a direct impact on the quality of a customer’s experience with a product.

In smaller companies, a senior engineer may still take projects from design to production, much as a more junior colleague. That said, senior engineers often have oversight responsibility on projects by other team members, where their experience gives valuable perspective to many, if not all, aspects of a product’s development.

Larger organizations may use senior engineers as managers for a specific product category, where they may lead a team of design engineers. As mentioned earlier, many of these managers also do some design and/or engineering work in addition to their management duties.

How do I start my career as an outdoor industry engineer?

If you’re an engineer looking to leverage your passion for the outdoors into your next dream job, or an experienced outdoor industry engineer looking to make a fantastic move, please send us an email at info@highlinesearch.com. We’re looking forward to getting to know you better.


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