As a project manager engineering, you will lead the development, implementation and evaluation of complex designs and processes of projects in the production site. But what skills do you need to excel in this job? What is the state of supply and demand for these profiles in the current Belgian labour market? And what salary can you expect in this role? Jülide Tunali, senior manager at international recruitment agency Robert Walters, answers our questions.
"As a project manager engineering, you are in charge of investment and improvement projects in the organisation's production environment," Jülide explains. "These projects vary in scope and can range from modernising or replacing machines or production lines, to starting up a new production facility.
For example, consider projects that focus on productivity enhancement or quality improvement: as a project manager engineering, you will be responsible for overseeing the investments related to the purchase of new machines and redesign of the production lines so that production is not affected. You will oversee the research and development phase of the project, identify the needs of the various departments involved and outline the budget, personnel and equipment required to complete the project."
Jülide: "As with any job within engineering, you need a base of technical knowledge and analytical skills, along with several years' experience as an engineer in a process or production environment. In addition, you must have strong communication and interpersonal skills, as you will be in daily contact with both internal and external parties. Internally, you work closely with your team members, but also with other stakeholders within, for example, the quality and procurement departments. Externally, this is mainly with engineering services companies to assist in matters such as water treatment, energy, health and safety measures, or with machinery suppliers. Furthermore, you need to be a real go-getter and a strong multitasker, to be able to complete complex projects from A to Z."
"Where you evolve from the role of project manager engineering depends very much on your personality and ambitions," says Jülide. "If you have several years of experience as a project manager in a small to medium-sized organisation, you may choose to move to a larger organisation, for example, where you will lead projects with international scope and higher budgets."
If, on the other hand, you would like to lead a team, you can advance to the position of head of project management. In this role, you take charge of a team of engineering project managers, each specialising in a particular type of project. Other leadership roles, such as engineering director or plant manager are also within the range of possibilities.
Belgium, and especially Flanders where many production sites are located, has been facing a real shortage of project managers engineering for years.
The demand is particularly high in sectors such as food, pharmaceuticals, packaging and chemicals.
"This talent shortage has several causes," Jülide explains. "On the one hand, it is because many Belgian production facilities were built in the 1960s and 1970s, without any major investments towards modernisation since then. Today, organisations realise the importance of innovation and improvement projects, and want to bring in the right project manager to make the production site run as efficiently as possible and to make it future proof. Moreover, we also see many organisations that are in full growth and are looking to invest in new production plants abroad. Here, the project manager is engineering 'the brain' behind the project, examining where, when and how to take the next step. In other words, it is a vital function for growing organisations."
All this increases the demand for project management talent and makes it very difficult for organisations to find the right candidate. After all, the candidate should not only have a strong technical background, but also be able to supervise a team and strategically develop and lead projects from A to Z.
"This is why we recommend organisations that are urgently looking for project managers engineering to open up to international talent and invest in language courses," Jülide continued. "Organisations that abandon their requirements for local language skills and open their search for candidates beyond national borders have the best chance of attracting scarce talent."
For project managers engineering with 3 to 6 years' experience, we expect a gross annual salary between EUR 70k and EUR 90k in 2024. If you have 6 to 10 years of experience in the role, this gross annual salary will be between EUR 87k and EUR 110k. Professionals with more than 10 years of experience to show will be able to expect a gross annual salary of EUR 115k - 170k. In most cases, this salary is accompanied by a company car and bonus, insurance package, mobile phone, meal vouchers and share options.
"Because we find ourselves in a proper 'headhunter' market, there is a lot of room for salary negotiation for project managers engineering - which naturally drives up salaries," Jülide adds. "Especially when the project manager's specific expertise and experience matches the organisation's needs, employers are willing to put down a little extra to avoid missing out on the ideal candidate."
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