Unlocking Success with Kieran Coughlan: Contracting Trends, Career Advancement Strategies, and Tips for Building Strong Rapport

Posted Mar 4, 2024

Last week, we sat down with Kieran Coughlan, LSC’s Managing Director, to tap into his wealth of experience as a Senior Automation Engineer and get an insider’s perspective on contracting. Our conversation covered current trends, tips for career advancement, and effective rapport-building in the dynamic contracting world. Kieran’s advice? Focus on mastering communication, continuously evolve your skills, and stay ahead of industry changes to enhance your earning potential.

What recent trends or shifts have you observed in contracting?

Over the last 5 to 10 years, there has been an increased emphasis on the need for contractors to possess strong communication skills. This not only involves the ability to present information effectively, but also places significant importance on emotional intelligence. With the increasing prevalence of teams spread across multiple locations, diverse backgrounds, remote work, and digital communication, all these factors put a greater strain on one’s ability to communicate and understand how their communication is being perceived.

The need for skillsets to evolve is also becoming key. Many years ago, you could have a skillset and you would get through a long part in your career based on those skillsets, whereas now your skillsets need to be evolving at all points. Technology is constantly changing, and the products and the technologies being used to produce those products are also changing. So your skills need to evolve to meet the marketplace. Therefore, it’s crucial to invest time and energy in evolving your skills.

This need for evolving skillsets is allied with a noticeable shift towards greater specialisation. Tighter project deadlines, more complex delivery frameworks and evolving technologies are placing a strong emphasis on contractors with highly specialised expertise. Experience in configuring a particular system or general process design might not be enough in the future. Future success will require a deeper understanding of specific parts of client processes, in depth knowledge of implementation, and a proven track record. It’s not just about technical skills; it’s about knowing how to deliver applications successfully. In the future, engineers are not just competing on technical abilities but also on their grasp of the project delivery process.

In your experience, how have you seen contractors advance their careers?

As a contractor,  your future contracts depend on successfully completing your current one. It is not by accident that most people tend to move in large teams from one project to another. It is very largely down to the fact that people want to work with people who they know can deliver. The most successful contractors are those who comprehend their clients’ needs and grasp the criteria by which their Manager/Supervisor evaluate success. Those who have excelled in understanding these aspects have proven to be the most successful. Those who can communicate better also have an advantage over those who don’t.

Obvious things like hard work and dedication are usually important, but that drive to get better is also key. For those individuals who pause to assess their situation and ponder how to progress to the next level, it’s about understanding and being prepared to act on the decisions necessary for advancement. For example, this may entail taking on a role in a different location, moving to a project where you can gain new experience or leaving a contract for a number of years to get exposure or experience to new technologies.

How can contractors build rapport with the team/stakeholder when working on a short-term contract?

Firstly, it’s crucial to understand not only what you’re expected to deliver but also what your Manager or client aims to achieve. Familiarise yourself with your client’s specific needs, keeping in mind that your primary responsibility is to make the life of the person you report to as seamless as possible. If you’re making their life easier, it’s amazing how much more work there will be available for you afterwards.

What’s your one piece of advice you would give to contractors?

I think there’s two pieces of advice. The first is what I mentioned previously, about having an in depth understanding of what you are expected to deliver. The second is about keeping your eye on where the market and the technology is going in the space that you’re in. That doesn’t necessarily mean looking at the new buzzwords that are found in in every job spec. Instead, it’s about anticipating trends and adopting a Wayne Gretzky approach—positioning yourself where the puck, or in this case, the industry, is heading. Anticipate what the key drivers will be shaping your specific field over the next three to five years and strategically position yourself to be at the forefront of implementing whatever that may be. This proactive approach will significantly boost your earning potential in the coming years.