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Engineering Design and Construction: Graduate Area of Work
Engineering design and construction careers give graduates the opportunity to work around the world on large-scale projects for multinational clients.
Every company that produces ready products from raw materials may need the services of the engineering design and construction (EDC) industry – an industry that provides the necessary infrastructure and technology for manufacturing processes.
EDC engineers are basically contractors catering to the specialised needs of clients such as petrochemical companies, chemical manufacturers, and processed food producers.
The industry is divided into two distinctive divisions: “onshore” and “offshore”. This is further split into hydrocarbon and non-hydrocarbon-based industries.
EDC engineers working in the hydrocarbon industries will generally work on projects related to oil and gas production, but may also be contracted by manufacturers of chemicals and polymers.
The non-hydrocarbon industry is more diverse, servicing areas of work such as pharmaceuticals, foods, minerals and metals, water treatment, industrial gases, and environmental treatment.
Typically, EDC companies are appointed by major organisations to oversee large-scale projects that can be worth billions of dollars (e.g. building a new oil refinery or refitting an old chemical plant).
Their job is to turn such requirements into commercial realities through the conceptualisation, procurement, construction, and initial operation of the project.
Trends and developments in engineering design and construction
As a sector that caters to a variety of industries, the EDC industry is often affected by many of the vagaries that affect those other sectors as well.
These may include hot-topic issues such as commodity prices, energy scarcity, development of sustainable energy sources, and reducing carbon emissions. As such, EDC engineers will need to pay special attention to such factors when working on projects.
Another important issue in this industry is health and safety. It is paramount for EDC contractors to ensure that all projects they work on adhere to international health and safety standards while still minimising costs.
What it's like working in engineering design and construction
Work in this industry is usually project-based, and depending on your role, your involvement can last from a few months to several years. A conceptual study project, for instance, may take no more than a few weeks to a month.
However, a complete project – from the awarding of the project to its completion – can go up to three to four years.
You’ll be working in multidisciplinary groups – anywhere from a few engineers to several hundred – so good teamwork and communication skills are indispensable.
As you climb the ranks, expect regular overseas travel, as many companies now choose to build their facilities closer to resources (raw materials, labour, etc.) in order to reduce costs.
Some of these places – such as deserts or the middle of the ocean – can be quite challenging, and you’ll have to adapt your projects according to climate, political, economic, and social changes.
While EDC work can sometimes be quite conservative (clients often try to reduce risk by sticking to tried-and-tested technologies and methods), companies also look for innovative graduates who will push for fresh ideas to help them stay on top of the game.
You’ll need to be extremely patient and motivated to push for more effective ways to work while still adhering to strict international standards or navigating clients’ reservations.
Getting a graduate job in engineering design and construction
Recruitment in this industry is open to graduates from all engineering backgrounds: from chemical and process to civil and environmental engineering.
You will, however, need to demonstrate sound understanding of your subject and the ability to apply your knowledge at the workplace. Fresh hires are typically put through a structured training programme, so an aptitude for learning is important.
Career progression can come in two forms. You can progress into the technical engineering division as a principal engineer or a discipline expert, or into the management division as a section manager or a salesperson.
These two divisions call for different skill sets, so you should discuss your intended career pathway with your supervisor or mentor so that they can help you match your aspirations with the type of training and experience you’ll need.
The highlights of a career in engineering design and construction
One thing that EDC engineers like best is the chance to work on a wide range of projects and to be a part of a fast-moving global industry.
The variety and pace of work is exciting, and the chance to travel and work in many different locations around the world is another highlight. The fact that the pay tends to be pretty solid helps too!