Secondments – The pros and cons

Thinking about packing your bags and taking that secondment opportunity?

Caitlin Percy, Sensing & Technology Integration Engineer – BAE Systems – Air gives her perspective:

I was lucky enough to take on a secondment while on my graduate scheme. It was a great opportunity to experience working in a very different environment to the one I was in, in going from an engineering prime into a small business. Alongside the experience, new skills, new location, and new domain knowledge (aerospace instead of defence), my main realisation was that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Companies all have their own challenges and priorities that present themselves in completely different ways of working and managing time. There’s still a lot we can learn from the ways other companies have had to adapt to face their own challenges and be more responsive in their own ways. Sharing people is such a great way to share these ideas and learn from each other.

If I had any advice, it would be that you need to drive the opportunity. Some secondments might be on the placement postings for graduates but not always. You need to find the people who can help you and engage with your early careers team to make it happen. It’ll be worth the effort!

Secondment Pros & Cons

Here are three pros and cons to help you decide if this route is for you.

Pros:

  • New skills: The main professional development opportunity to be gained from a secondment is to either, gain new skills, or develop skills you already have in a new context. The secondment could mean working in a completely different business area to your main career path, or in a specialist area within your wider business area. Either way they offer a great opportunity to boost your professional skill set.
  • New perspective: Seeing a different way of working, can often help in working out which processes; team dynamics; IT systems; and a whole range of other enabling factors work well, and which don’t. This exposure can give you the experience to help make good decisions when you enter a leadership role later in your career.
  • Sense of adventure: You may just feel like doing something new in your professional life, but don’t want to completely and dramatically change career path. Secondments offer a way to develop in a new area of the business. When you return to your home department you will have more of the skills and knowledge needed to steer your own career towards your ideal role.

Cons:

  • Personal upheaval: While secondments can be seen as an opportunity to try something new, this can also have a downside. Embarking on a secondment often means having to travel or live away from your home – sometimes even abroad. How much of a downside this is depends on your own personal circumstances and personality. Some people may find the disruption to their lives to be too high a cost, while others may be excited by the prospect.
  • Uncertainty of role: Sometimes the role of a secondment is well defined, but often this isn’t the case. The uncertainty can be an opportunity to steer the secondment towards areas of professional development you want, but can also be challenging especially if there is a difference of expectation between your ‘home’ department or company and the department you are seconded to.
  • Fitting in upon return: When your secondment ends, while you will almost certainly have a job to come back to, you may not have much choice about the exact role you will return to. You may have to return to the group or project where there is a resourcing need rather than your preferred area. It is important to keep regular contact with your functional management back at your home company to try and mitigate this.

Ultimately secondments aren’t for everyone, and there are plenty of other ways to develop new skills.

New Professionals Forum – supporting development in early careers

The New Professionals Forum was set up by ADS to support professionals new to our industries. The Forum offers networking and collaboration so that those keen to progress and develop their careers can benefit from the shared knowledge and experiences. We have a Hub where we detail all out latest news. We have also outlined seven great development opportunities for early careers.

Caitlin Percy is Chair of the New Professionals Forum (NPF).

I’ve been involved with the NPF committee for just over a year and we’re excited to challenge ourselves this year to give you all opportunities to get together and find other like-minded people across the aerospace, defence, space, and security sectors. Our events – including virtual events – are a great way to meet others to learn more about their companies. Find us on Linkedin to hear about upcoming ways to get involved.