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Strength in (Small) Numbers
Software Engineer David Lee and Technician Nice Celine Morales share about the supportive work culture at HOPE Technik, a local engineering SME.
After stepping into the building’s black and red façade, HOPE Technik welcomes its visitors and employees with an impressive indoor wall-climbing panel, a tall slide descending down from the main office space above, and a few ping pong tables at its entrance.
Beyond the casual setup that greeted us, employees on the main floor can be found engrossed in their tasks at their work stations – suggesting that while the engineering SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) may be a fun organisation to work in, these guys mean serious business when it comes down to it.
The team at HOPE Technik develops industrial products and provides innovative solutions for clients across the globe. Under HOPE Technik is the company SESTO Robotics, where both Software Engineer David Lee and Technician Nice Celine Morales work on developing industrial-applied robotics.
Together with their teammates, they develop Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) which are typically used in logistics and manufacturing settings to transport loads from one point to another.
However, working for SESTO Robotics isn’t the only thing Lee and Morales share in common. Both of them had interned at HOPE Technik before transitioning into their full-time roles.
Proud and passionate about what they do, Lee and Morales shared their thoughts and experience on how the company’s work culture and their internship experience have helped shaped their careers thus far.
Learning through early responsibilities
For Lee, his current role as a software engineer is to develop intelligent fleet management systems for the applications of the AGVs. Lee had joined HOPE Technik as a software engineering intern before becoming a permanent member of the SESTO Robotics team.
During his internship, the NUS graduate with a degree in industrial and systems engineering was placed in a small team that only consisted of two to three people.
The size of the team did not deter Lee from learning and developing professionally during his internship. Instead, it was very much the opposite as it enabled him to carry out high-level tasks at an early stage.
“I was really privileged to be part of this team because whatever we’ve done [during the internship] was integrated into the actual product,” Lee said.
“Normally as an intern, you wouldn’t expect this kind of responsibility and exposure.”
Lee also added that interns are treated just like any other full-time engineer at the company. The early responsibility thus gives interns at HOPE Technik a lot of autonomy, allowing them to take ownership of the projects they are involved in.
For Lee, this made HOPE Technik a good training platform for him to hone his skills as a software engineer.
Echoing similar sentiments is Morales, who shared about how the early responsibilities she received as an intern have benefitted her.
Morales had interned at HOPE Technik while she was studying for a diploma in aerospace engineering at Singapore Polytechnic. She is currently a full-fledged technician who assembles AGVs from scratch.
After her internship, Morales had attended a sharing session with her fellow coursemates to talk about their internship experience.
“Compared to everyone who had done internships in other companies, ours was really different because we were engaged on specific projects,” Morales said.
“We had insights to share, instead of just doing paperwork and administrative work. There’s a lot to take away and we managed to acquire new skills and knowledge as well.”
Despite the lack of formal and structured training, both Lee and Morales were able to learn on the job and engage in high-level tasks as interns – opportunities that may not be typically afforded to interns.
Supportive work culture
Being entrusted with early responsibilities isn’t the only great thing about working at the company. Both Lee and Morales explained that the close-knitted work culture and their supportive teammates were their motivation for staying as a full-time staff after their internship.
According to Lee, the best part about his job is working with exceptional teammates who are very forthcoming in sharing their expertise and experiences.
“The senior engineers are always willing to help out and guide me along the way,” Lee said. “I felt that there was a lot that I could learn [from them].”
Working in the fast-paced engineering industry, the pressure to keep up and not fall behind can be difficult to handle – especially for young graduates. A robust support system within an organisation is pivotal in making sure that team members remain motivated and efficient.
This is certainly the case for Morales. She explained that she often has long days that require her to stay behind in order to meet project deadlines. However, she easily overcomes such hurdles with the support of teammates who rally with her.
“Our team stays together most of the time, instead of just leaving one person to stay back and finish up because that’s his or her responsibility,” Morales said.
“It makes things easier and finishing the task isn’t as tough as you would think it is, because there will always be people behind you.”
Advice to graduates
As engineering graduates who have successfully transitioned into the working world, Lee and Morales gave their two cents to fellow graduates out there.
Lee warned that a common misconception about the software engineering industry is that one can be an overnight success simply by building a multimillion-dollar application program.
“Software engineering is actually a very long and tedious process,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of learning and hard work involved.”
He also reminded graduates that they have to be consistently learning and dedicated to improving themselves in order to be exceptional in the field.
Also, some graduates may think that they will be able to apply all their lessons from school when they enter the working world. According to Morales, this is not always true.
Using herself as an example, Morales explained that what she had learned in polytechnic had merely provided a foundation for her current role, but the bulk of her skills and knowledge that she uses as a technician was learned on the job.
Additionally, formal education may not always prepare you for real-life challenges. “Not everything you learn from books will happen, because there will always be other things happening,” Morales said.
To keep up with the immensely rapid pace of the engineering industry, both Lee and Morales agreed that it is important to keep an open mind and to consistently learn about your role and the sector as a whole. Only by exposing yourself to new challenges and knowledge will you be able to grow and thrive in your career.
Quick Advice: Finding an Engineering Job or Internship
Finding graduate engineering jobs and industrial placements can be quite the journey. Here’s some basic advice to help you with your application.
Whether you’re looking for a job, internship, or industrial placement, the journey of a jobseeker can be pretty daunting, especially after going at it for some time.
But here are some basic tips to help you through your journey.
- Besides getting good grades, be sure to apply early. While most companies do adjust their application deadlines according to the graduation timeline of local universities, there are also those that offer programmes for different periods of the year, so do keep track of the companies you’re keen on.
- Do your research and get help from a careers advisor.
- Network. Get to know people and start building your network as soon as possible, especially with professionals in the sector that you want to work in. Career fairs, presentations, and conferences are good starting points.
Consider jobs or internships at small companies
- Apply to both MNCs and SMEs. Limiting your applications could mean missing out on the opportunities that SMEs can offer you – SMEs often allow its graduate employees to take charge of greater responsibilities than MNCs. Graduates thus have a chance of picking up a wider variety of skills.
- Many small and medium-sized firms can also offer a unique experience that MNCs with a defined graduate scheme can’t because of fixed syllabus/structure, such as opportunities to chart out your own career pathway or to pick up specialised skills outside of your industry that you think might benefit the company.
Finding work experience
- Work experience is highly valued in the industry as engineering firms prefer candidates with the relevant technical skills, so do apply for internships or part-time positions to improve your chances at your next job interview.
- Strategise and plan out your process. You can start with smaller companies for part-time jobs while waiting for internship programmes from major companies. MNCs typically only take in final year students, so prior experience from part-time gigs will certainly bulk up your résumé and give you the leg up in future applications.
- Be persistent! If need be, call up recruiters that you’re interested in, and apply to as many quality employers as possible. Ask for shadowing opportunities if there are absolutely no positions available, or opt for unpaid work if necessary.
Research the industry you most want to work in…
- Do your homework and research about the sectors and engineering firms that you are interested in, but don’t just stop there. Look into the positions and specific areas that you think you’d like to develop deeper knowledge/skills in. This shows initiative on your part and will give you an extra edge, especially during interviews.
- Read up on the latest industry news to help you develop commercial awareness. You’ll need to show that you are actively keeping in touch with developments in the sector.
… but don’t get obsessed with an ‘ideal job’
- Getting your ideal job is an ongoing process. Your first job is only the first step. Instead of just waiting for the “ideal” job, apply to a breadth of engineering sectors for a variety of experience and skills development.
- Be willing to go beyond your specific degree area. Sometimes, you might find engineering jobs in other industries which might be even more satisfying than initially expected.
Non-engineering experience can boost your CV
- Gaining experience in the industry can greatly boost your résumé, but don’t pigeonhole yourself. Experience in non-related fields can help you develop key transferable skills, such as problem-solving and negotiation skills, which are just as important to employers.
- Remember to participate in co-curricular activities in school even as you strive to maintain an excellent CGPA. The activities are great avenues for you to develop both transferable and technical skills (depending on the society that you join).
- Consider volunteering or charity work to help you develop people skills. It will also appeal to companies with CSR objectives.
- Learning a new language or taking part in activities out of your comfort zone can help to demonstrate your willingness to try new things and initiative to grow.
- Travelling can also help you gain experience, survival skills, and people skills that may be useful at the workplace.
Prepare properly for applications and interviews
- Be meticulous when filling in application forms and always tailor it according to the position offered.
- When interviewing, demonstrate commercial awareness: e.g. cost-performance trade off and other commercial pressures, alongside technical knowledge. Demonstrate that you know how to use both to add value to the company.
- Know your basics well, especially during a technical interview. Be honest if you don’t know the answers. Your interviewers will be able to tell if you’re lying your way through.
- Pinpoint competencies that are desired by the employer before you go for your interview and pre-arrange examples of how you’ve applied these qualities in both your work and daily life.
- Go to your interview with questions on hand – particularly about the role, company, or prospects of the position. Make use of your research about the company to help you form these questions – this will demonstrate your level of interest.
Be positive and passionate
- Target jobs that you’re passionate about, instead of jobs that you dislike but offer great pay. This will translate during your application process, such as during the interview and the assessment centre sessions.
- Work on personal projects on topics that you’re interested in. For instance, you can start a project on mini-bot building and use it as part of your portfolio.
- Never write an application when you’re down in the dumps! It shows!
Don’t limit your job search by geography
- Don’t limit yourself to jobs within your neighbourhood or Singapore. There are many employers and organisations offering foreign internships – they can help build character and expose you to unique working experiences.
Get feedback on unsuccessful applications
- Be active about seeking constructive feedback from employers, especially after the interview. Find out how you fared, and how you can improve.
- Consider calling your interviewers/recruiters for this instead of emailing as emails can be easily ignored.
Engineering Postgraduate Study: MSc, PhD, or EngD?
Doing your postgraduate studies can open up plenty of new opportunities, but what are some of the things that you must consider before making your decision?
While a postgraduate degree does not automatically lead to employment opportunities, it does greatly impact your career direction.
It is highly advisable to spend some time gaining experience in the field before pursuing a postgrad, so that you’ll know for certain which area to specialise in your course of study.
Additionally, years of dedication to an employer might also lead to some form of support from the company.
Here is a brief outline of some of the certifications that an engineering student may consider for their postgraduate studies – whether locally or overseas.
Most masters courses typically take no more than a year for a full-time student, allowing you to specialise in a specific area of interest.
If you already have a BEng degree, it may even speed up the process of achieving a chartered status.
An engineering postgrad student can select from three types of courses: The MSc (Masters of Science), MRes (Masters of Research), and MPhil (Masters of Philosophy).
Each degree provides you with in-depth knowledge of a specific subject, but has very different course structures.
MSc is course-based and may sometimes require the submission of a short dissertation, whereas MRes and MPhil are typically research-oriented.
If you plan to continue with a doctorate degree, then the latter two is better suited for you as they will help you build your foundation in research skills.
Working adults may opt for part-time courses instead, although these courses may last up to two or three years.
You may want to speak to your employer before applying for the course to gauge the level of support they can provide you with – in terms of a more flexible schedule to accommodate both work and school or any form of financial backing, for example.
There are two types of doctorate courses available for engineering students, the traditional doctorate (PhD) and the engineering doctorate (EngD), each catering to different needs.
A PhD usually takes about three years to complete, and involves ground-breaking research. This route is typically recommended for those interested in becoming an academic.
You will primarily be guided by a supervisor as you conduct your research, although there will be plenty of opportunities to work alongside other PhD students and researchers.
While some may opt to do a purely academic PhD, many others may incorporate industry-related training from an industry partner for a more practical and hands-on experience.
Depending on university requirements, you may have to commit at least three months to working on the premises of the industry partner.
Engineering doctorates can take up to four years to complete. It typically focuses on researching about and finding solutions to contemporary industrial issues in the sector.
While EngD students are required to go for taught courses on specialist technical and professional development subjects related to the area of research, onsite industrial training will take up nearly 75 percent of their time.
Graduates with an EngD typically go on to become highly-specialised experts in their own field, guiding others interested in their area of expertise.
In Singapore, there are scholarships offered by universities, government bodies, and companies to help postgraduate students. You will need to communicate with the respective departments for more information.
For instance, the NUS Graduate School offers the Commonwealth Scholarship for Integrative Sciences and Engineering for students from any of the Commonwealth countries, whereas A*STAR has the National Science Scholarship and various collaborations with international universities around the globe.
You may also want to keep an eye out for international scholarships offered by various third-party funding organisations.
Opting to study locally or at your alma mater is a good idea given that you will be familiar with the culture and staff in the university.
You may also get special waivers or access to additional sources of funds, but don’t reject the idea of doing your studies in a different institution.
Doing your postgraduate studies in a new environment gives you the chance to explore new networks, academic sources, as well as expertise.
Be sure to run a basic check on the institution’s admission requirements, facilities provided, and the resources that will be made available to you.
Pharmaceuticals: Graduate Area of Work
Engineers in the pharmaceuticals industry need strong interpersonal skills to work with people from varying backgrounds.
The pharmaceutical industry offers work in a broad range of drug manufacturing and development work, such as classic pharmaceuticals (prescribed medicines), biopharmaceuticals (such as vaccines), medical technology, and consumer business (over-the-counter medicines).
Pharmaceutical engineers are mostly involved in researching and manufacturing prescriptions and products.
They may work alongside pharmacists and chemists to develop active medicinal ingredients and then synthesise it into a consumable product, or maintain and optimise pharmaceutical production facilities.
Singapore is widely acknowledged as a top-rated clinical and biomedical R&D centre in Asia, and its pharmaceutical industry is set to grow further with the government’s investment of S$3.7 billion, spent over five years from 2011 to 2015.
Its continued growth and highly advanced status has managed to attract leading biomedical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis, which have contributed to a highly innovative and competitive industry landscape.
Pharmaceutical engineers thus have an access to an ample amount of resources when working on their projects.
Trends and developments in the pharmaceuticals industry
Globally, the pharmaceutical industry is under pressure to make medication more affordable to patients in lower-income brackets and countries.
Companies are thus now investing in improving production efficiency and yields via automation to keep costs to patients low while still maintaining profit margins.
There are also efforts on improving trial tests and copyright processes to make them more efficient.
Constant regulatory updates on drug manufacturing quality are another challenge that pharmaceutical companies face. Engineers are thus needed to develop increasingly sophisticated production line monitoring and measurement systems in order to maintain higher production standards.
There is also an increased consumer demand for lifestyle- and age-related illness medication (e.g. heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s).
Heightened focus on gene research and vaccine development has led to trending growth in the production of biopharmaceutical and biological medical products worldwide.
What it’s like working in pharmaceuticals
It is common for pharmaceutical engineers to work in teams made up of different disciplines.
Those involved in R&D and manufacturing projects will need to work with scientists and other engineers, whereas engineers involved in the commercialisation of a product may need to work with sales and marketing staff from the company’s corporate division.
Teamwork, communication, and people skills are thus essential to maintain good working relationships with team members and clients.
Engineers may also be required to communicate complex engineering processes to non-engineering clients and colleagues.
Patience and excellent problem-solving skills are absolutely necessary in this field because even though R&D projects can take years to execute, only a small percentage of products under research actually make it to the market.
In spite of the slow lead time, work is still demanding and fast-paced as you’ll have to continuously explore new ways to produce a product or prescription.
The ability to evaluate your options clear-headedly, take the appropriate level of risk, and be accountable for your actions are valued skills in the industry.
Getting a graduate engineering job in pharmaceuticals
Most employers in this field hire through graduate schemes, where graduate engineers are rotated through a range of departments to experience different roles before they settle on a particular division.
Consider your background and personality before deciding on a position. A background in chemistry will help you in a role in drug research.
On the other hand, manufacturing positions require someone with good technical abilities.
The highlights of a career in pharmaceuticals
Pharmaceutical engineers are able to contribute to the betterment of people’s health and help improve quality of life.
The opportunity to work with advanced medical technology in a dynamic industry is also an exciting part of working in this field.
The pharmaceuticals industry seeks graduates in...
- Power systems
Materials and Metals: Graduate Area of Work
Covering a broad range of disciplines, engineers in the materials and metals sector have the chance to develop rare alloys or discover brand new materials.
Almost every engineering and technology industry is dependent on the materials and metals sector, where materials and components are supplied and/or developed for companies and manufacturers.
This sector covers a broad scope: from the provision of raw materials and research into new compounds, to the manufacturing and sale of completed products.
Due to the competitive nature of this industry, it is common for materials suppliers to differentiate themselves through value-added approaches.
One such approach is through specialisation – focusing on specialised products such as coated steel, rare metal alloys, or the development of materials for specific purposes.
What it's like working in the materials and metals industry
This is an exciting sector to work in as you have options at any stage of the production cycle.
Depending on your position you may be involved in back-end responsibilities, such as developing new materials, products, and processes; or front-end duties like the liaising with clients or closing supply deals.
The time needed to execute each project depends on your role and the nature of the project. General maintenance projects or production efficiency improvements don’t usually take more than a few weeks.
However, product expansion projects intended to penetrate new markets can go on for years, as you and your company will need to encourage manufacturers to adopt your materials and solutions.
For roles in materials production lines, expect to work in a fast-paced environment as you will have to handle the daily challenges of keeping facilities running.
You’ll need to be able to apply your technical knowledge and communicate proposed solutions to people at all levels of the production cycle.
Trends and developments in materials and metals
Graduate opportunities in materials and metals in Singapore can be boiled down into two broad categories.
The first is production roles with companies running local materials production facilities (e.g. NatSteel). The second category is operational or sales roles with materials and metals companies running operational/trading hubs in Singapore (e.g. BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto).
One issue that continues to plague the industry is its harmful effect on the environment. Materials and metals suppliers are thus constantly working on developing efficient production and waste management systems to address problems such as industrial pollution.
The high energy and material cost involved in each production cycle is another chief industrial concern. Many materials companies are re-evaluating their product portfolio and inventory to optimise their resources for maximum profit.
A few major materials suppliers have even spun off certain items in their materials portfolio under separate subsidiary businesses in order to better focus on their core products.
New and more durable materials are also emerging, such as bio- and nano-materials, which may soon determine the growth pathway of the industry. Composites are another huge potential growth area for this sector.
Getting a graduate job in materials and metals engineering
Different positions require different degrees. Product research, for instance, needs graduates from materials-related subjects (e.g. material science and metallurgy), whereas manufacturing roles are usually filled by mechanical, control, manufacturing, and electrical engineering graduates.
Established companies generally run a graduate scheme, giving their new recruits the opportunity to experience working in different roles and departments.
On the other hand, smaller organisations will typically place you directly in a specific role before providing on-the-job training.
If you prefer a position with commercial functions, you can opt to work in divisions such as sales, trading, customer support, operations, or materials supply chain management instead.
The highlights of a career in materials and metals
Most engineers working in the materials and metals industry enjoy the opportunity to develop new products and compounds, especially considering the large-scale industrial applications of such items.
The sheer scale of materials production can be very exciting, considering the fast pace of the industry and its global reach – from mines in one continent to refineries and manufacturers in another.
This translates to a huge variety of possible job roles in this sector as well.
The materials and metals industry seeks graduates in...