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Mechanical Engineering Talk with Colin Brook
Colin Brook – P.Eng, is President of WIKA Instruments Ltd. and is a graduate of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Alberta. He is a huge proponent of reflection and takes pride in setting a vision, setting goals and achieving powerful results.
Mechanical engineers research, design and develop machinery and systems for heating, ventilating and air conditioning, power generation, transportation, processing and manufacturing. They also perform duties related to the evaluation, installation, operation and maintenance of mechanical systems. They are employed by consulting firms, by power-generating utilities and in a wide range of manufacturing, processing and transportation industries, or they may be self-employed.
This occupational group is expected to face labor shortage conditions over the period of 2019-2028 at the national level.
University – Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. A master’s degree or doctorate in a related engineering discipline may be required. Licensing by a provincial or territorial association of professional engineers is required.
Range: $62,588 – $110,823
$90,624 – Median wage in Canada
(Visit the jobbank.gc.ca Canadian Website For Most Recent Numbers)
Full Length Episode:
Complete Episode Transcript
Today’s guest is Colin Brook.
Here’s our Job Talk with a Mechanical Engineer.
Welcome to the Job Talk Podcast.
Where we talk to people who love their jobs.
Our guests open up about their challenges surprises and secrets to success in their industries.
Through conversation we explore their careers past work experiences and the education that got them to where they are now.
did you know exactly what you wanted to do career wise?
Yeah, well, geez.
The first maybe the first appropriate thing to answer is whether I knew what I wanted to do and and the answers is no.
I wanted I thought law would be something I would be interested in.
I I tended to argue a lot, so I thought that being a lawyer would be fun.
But then I realized that that, you know, not everything about law is dramatic.
You know, it’s not the same as what you see on TV.
And so I wasn’t really sure my father is an engineer, so I naturally gravitated towards that through that experience, and I tended to excel in the maths and sciences.
So, you know, it was definitely my aptitude coming out of high school.
As far as a student, academically, I was not a superstar.
My my academics were directly related to the amount of effort I put in.
And so you can imagine how much effort I put in to be a maybe a little bit better than average student .
I was interested in a lot more things than my academics.
Obviously, your high school grades were were good enough to get into engineering school.
Is that what happened with with your education?
Did you immediately jump into engineering or how does that work?
No, because I had such poor study habits.
I was interested in all these other things in high school.
I was quite concerned with whether I could survive the rigors of an engineering degree because it is quite a difficult program.
So I went from high school into general sciences at the university.
first of all, in my first year with with an eye on the ball for engineering, but that was my first step to post-secondary people.
Listening to this might not know the process.
So do you get a four year Bachelor of Science degree and then you go into engineering?
Or how does that work?
No, you can leave Grade 12 and apply and go straight into engineering, and then it’s a four year undergraduate degree.
And then they have a co-op program, which adds a fifth year that gives you some work experience.
Could you tell me what kind of a student you were in high school and The only reason I went into science was just because I was slightly concerned with how well I could do.
It’s a it’s a big difference.
It’s a big jump from Grade 12 in your and your teachers to the academia at the university.
And how did you find that first first semester of science?
Did did anything surprise you?
Yeah, the the care and attention that you receive in in high school, from everyone, everyone from your parents to your friends and then your teachers is is way higher than what you receive.
You become kind of a lone wolf the day you arrive at university and.
In my first year in science, the plan was to develop my study habits and then transfer to engineering, and I only realized after I was enrolled that you you can’t just pass your science classes and have them move to engineering.
You need to excel at them, so you need to do really, really well.
Otherwise, you won’t get transfer credit.
And that was a surprise to me more than anything.
So the lack of care and attention was my number one surprise.
And then my number two surprise was how well I had to do to transfer to engineering.
OK, did you have a social life in in university or when you’re taking engineering?
Are you studying all the time?
No, I’m pretty social, so I moved the needle a little bit from from almost all social in high school to a little bit better, better balance in university.
But I did a lot of social stuff in university, but I had to work at my my education as well.
What kind of courses are you studying when you’re taking.
And I believe you graduated with mechanical engineering?
Yeah, I have a degree in mechanical engineering.
So what kind of courses are you taking to to achieve that?
You need a couple of sciences.
So depending on what what stream of engineering you go into, mechanical engineering requires physics.
And then depending on which stream you go, you need biology and or chemistry, so you need two of those.
I believe the requirements are are the same or very similar.
I can’t speak to exactly what they are now.
They’ve changed a bit.
At that time, you also needed another language coming out of high school.
So I had French as my second language.
I believe that requirement is is no longer there, but you need calculus, which is math.
31 coming out of Grade 12 You need Math 30-1, so you need the academic stream of high school classes.
And then, of course, grades well enough to be accepted.
How’s your French today, fluent?
I know it’s it’s out of practice, so it’s not so good.
Used to be pretty good, but not not too good anymore.
So when you graduate from engineering, this is interesting.
Interesting to me.
You wear a ring.
Is that correct?
Yeah, we wear an iron ring.
Could you could you tell the story of why engineers wear the ring?
Yeah, it it dates back to the early 1900s.
There was a bridge that had collapsed and and the the reason for its failure was attributed to the design, a bad design and and a number of people were injured and killed.
And at that time, back in that in those days, the bridges were made out of iron.
And so the Society of Engineering decided that it would be.
It would serve as a reminder for all future graduates to wear an iron ring that is representative of your obligation and your commitment to public safety and and professionalism.
And back in the early days, those rings were in fact made out of iron, and then they turned green on a bunch of people’s fingers.
And now they’re made out of stainless steel, but still called iron ring back to that bridge failure.
I love love that tradition.
OK, you graduate with mechanical engineering.
What happens next?
Let’s let’s talk about your first job.
Yeah, my first professional job, you know?
Jeez, I had a number of them before I ended up graduating, but I was fortunate enough to be hired by Schlumberger Big Company.
At that time, I was to be based out of Grand Prairie, so I moved to Grand Prairie and started in the summer of my graduation year.
Working for Dowell as a frac engineer.
So there’s lots of talk about fracturing, hydraulic fracturing in the oil and gas industry.
Back in those days, it was it was pretty, pretty well in its infancy.
It was well known here, but it wasn’t shared into the United States like it is now and and whatnot.
So, yeah, moved to Grand Prairie.
Packed up and started as a frac engineer.
What was your day to day duties in that job?
Well, if you’re, you know, the oil patch in the oil industry can be a little bit cruel.
It’s a hard life.
You work, it’s a hard life on a number of levels for everyone.
And if you’re a white hard hat graduate engineer with an iron ring on your finger, you don’t earn a whole bunch of credibility until you spend some time earning some credibility.
So you’ve got to earn your stripes a little bit.
And and I I learned a lot from that experience.
And the day to day.
There’s a lot of, you know, just trying to fit in with the team, trying to learn the new surroundings and you know, you come from sitting at a desk and running a calculator and and learning all the theory to being out when it’s -40 in the snow.
So steep learning curve.
Do you have any stories of a veteran oil worker looking at you and maybe not giving you the respect maybe you felt you deserved?
Oh, a lot.
Almost every minute of every day for a long time, like six months, it’s you’re low man on the totem pole.
You’re the new guy and you’re reminded pretty regularly.
And either the.
Poor jobs are the difficult jobs are for you to do this sort of like being the youngest in a family, you know somebody somebody’s got to clean the washrooms and do the dirty jobs.
So, yeah, lots of those great stories and you learn a lot from from those veterans, for sure.
How long did you stay up in Grand Prairie doing this, this job?
I was there for a year.
Yeah, just yeah, basically a year, I had to go down to Kellyville, Oklahoma and do a bunch of Dowell training down there, so I was down there for about three weeks.
And then came back and did one winter in Grand Prairie before the following spring.
And are you married at this point?
I was married in 99.
And this was 1998.
OK, so let’s talk about leaving that job and did you relocate back to Edmonton?
So I was laid off from Dowell.
And as good as anybody thinks that they are being laid off is a is a humbling experience.
And you know, it sticks with you for the rest of your life.
And then if you have an opportunity to lead a company laying people off, you certainly don’t take lightly.
So there’s there’s a lot of life life lessons in there.
But yeah, I left Grand Prairie just thinking that my opportunities for new employment would be much higher in Edmonton.
A lot bigger opportunities, like number of opportunities as well as maybe an opportunity to not be out in the field as much as I was as a frac engineer, so.
So you avoid the the -30 Celsius temperatures doing your job and.
Yeah, the cold is one thing.
The rotation is another, you know, you’re away from home for long periods of time.
I was on a 15 day on and five day off rotation, so working three weeks and then off for five days is, you know, it’s tough.
It’s tough to maintain any relationships like that outside of work.
So the cold is one thing, but you know, back to these veterans, these guys and gals, as much as they give you a hard time because you have to earn, earn some some stripes.
They’re also your your survival mechanism, you know?
It’s a really close knit team and learn how to dress in the warm weather.
I knew what to buy and more.
And maybe more importantly, what not to buy to stay warm.
So, you know, they’re tough, but also super helpful.
And it’s those things that you actually miss.
You know, I miss that.
I don’t miss the -30.
I I always consider myself very fortunate to look at the snow and the cold weather through my window.
OK, so you return to Edmonton.
Is this when you started at WICA instruments?
Yeah, I actually started with a company called All Temp Sensors and All Temp Sensors was acquired by WICA that following year.
So I didn’t start directly with WICA, but I joined them through an acquisition.
OK, and what was your position starting?
I was the engineering manager.
So, you know, there’s so much luck involved in in any of these timelines, in some cases, bad luck to be laid off and then good luck.
I come to Edmonton and back to Edmonton and I come at a time when you know you’re walking around with physical resumes, with the Yellow Pages, you know, old phone book, trying to find a job and was fortunate enough to come across All Temp, where the current engineering manager at the time was moving back home to Nova Scotia.
And they’re a small company, management engineering management was a bit misleading because it’s not a big team you’re managing, it’s a small company, so wearing lots of different hats, lots of versatility.
You needed to have a really broad general knowledge and and I brought that to the table.
So just pure luck.
You almost get into a situation where you’re managing people, right?
So maybe you’re not doing as much engineering work.
Are you more managing people in this, this first position that you had?
Yeah, no, it was.
It was mostly engineering at the time.
Of course, the last 13 years have been almost entirely managing people, but we’ll get to that.
No, it was pure, pure engineering at that time.
So when you were manager, what what lessons did you learn as you were going through that part of your career?
You can you can be really good at what you’re trained to do.
You can be really good as a as an engineer, you can be really good as an engineer in management.
But the management side is difficult to learn in school.
So you have to be well-rounded enough and get involved in enough other things that aren’t academic to set yourself for success managing people.
How long were you in the role of manager before the opportunity of of becoming president happened?
Can you talk a little bit about that process, how you you got the president’s role?
So I was the engineering manager for ten years, and during that time, my boss, also with quite a bit of luck, was given the opportunity to to move out of Canada overseas.
So if he didn’t do that?
Things would be probably quite a bit different.
I would suspect.
But this was ten years doing mostly engineering and managing a small team.
And was there an interview process to go through for becoming president of the company or is this were they just watching your career?
And then they approached you and said, Would you be interested in this?
Yeah, it’s more the latter.
I mean, I think it’s almost like a ten year interview process.
Really good businesses.
We identify talent and then you nurture the talent and wait for an opportunity to to have that person show some ambition or put them into a new role.
But if you can do that, then that’s the best case scenario for a business, and that’s what WICA did for me.
They recognized some potential.
And basically a ten year, ten year interview process.
And what is your day to day work like?
Take us through a typical day being president of a company.
It changes all the time, and the the one, the one constant is touching base with your group and with your team back to managing people.
My my time horizon on on the business is further than anybody else.
So I look at things three and five years into the future.
So what has to be done today for me is, you know, other than putting out the odd fire is not so critical.
But what is critical is to show some, you know, genuine interest in how people are doing and remove obstacles so that they can be successful.
And that’s a constant every day.
And then these little fires get in the in the middle of the day.
Strategy sessions and things like that.
Well, I would imagine one of the challenges was the pandemic that we just came came out of.
How how was your business and your job throughout the pandemic?
Yeah, our business suffered, as most did.
2020 was not a great year.
This year has been much better.
I think the industry starts to, as the world does live with, with the pandemic.
So things started to move.
So the business wasn’t great.
I think my job was to make sure that whatever culture we had spent years building and culture is, is how much you can spend with people and care about them and try to do that remotely and do it disconnected.
And one of the ways we did that was for any of our social events that we would have done in the past.
The really easy thing to do would be to cancel them.
But I never allowed them to be canceled.
They needed to be reinvented so that we could do them virtually or remotely.
And and and that.
Just keeps everybody connected in a time when you can’t be connected physically.
So it was a it was a tough year.
It was a tough year on on lots of people’s families.
So our group here, you know, understanding what would trials and tribulations they might be going through at home, especially when we started to be busy at work through 2021.
You get to keep keep an eye on that and see what you can do to help.
What do you love about your job?
Easily, the people.
Yeah, yeah, I think it’s a sad, sad state of affairs if if you only work for a paycheck.
I do employ orientations.
I mean every new employee and I tell them, if you plan to just live in a dark room and then this is probably not the place for you.
It’s supporting each other.
It’s caring about each other and caring about each other’s families.
So the people, for sure.
You in the pre-interview you mentioned that you have some strategies around self-reflection.
Can you could you talk a little bit about that?
I think you mentioned you asked your staff actually to do an exercise.
So I’m not I’m not a big meditation person per se.
You know, I don’t I don’t participate in yoga, although I do think it’s a good idea.
And a lot of different levels.
But I’m not a real meditation person, but I do believe in reflection.
And I ask every year at this time of the year, ask everybody between Christmas and New Year’s.
It happens to be always a nice, quiet time of the year to take your favorite drink, your favorite hot beverage or cold beverage and and just spend 15 minutes thinking back on your year, both professionally at work and at home .
And and be proud of what you accomplished.
Be be proud of your family and your friends and and be proud of your colleagues and what you’re able to do.
And and I think, you know, only those 15 minutes, it’s amazing where your mind can wander and how good you can feel about yourself and what you’ve been able to do and the people around you.
So I ask everybody to do it.
I don’t know how many people do it, but I know I do, and it’s something simple.
So I hope you do it, Kim.
Maybe that would come my nerves down a little bit.
You had I mean, you went from engineering and now your career is president of a company.
If you were talking to somebody that was interested in taking engineering and, you know, starting their life down that path.
Do you have any advice that you could give them?
I probably would have lots of bad advice.
I know what, what mistakes you don’t want to make.
I think it’s going to sound really overdone, but working hard and working hard doesn’t necessarily mean academically.
You have to find the right balance.
If you want to go into engineering, you need to be ready to study.
You need to be ready to be kicked around a little bit academically.
Park your your ego a little bit at the door because as good as you think you are, you’re going to have to work at it .
And when you spend the time to work at that, then you have to work extra hard at the relationships around you.
And all of those relate to just putting in the time and putting in the effort with a genuine interest in doing well.
OK, Colin, I think you’ve given us some great advice today, and I just want to thank you for joining us today and giving up some, some valuable time to do it.
Well, it’s my pleasure.
Thanks very much.