What Else Can I Do With an Engineering Degree?
Just because you have an engineering degree, it doesn’t mean that you have to be stuck in an engineering-related job forever! The best thing about an engineering degree is that it equips you with skills – such as logical thinking, problem-solving, and strong numeracy – that are technical enough for a specialised sector, yet general enough to be transferable to other areas of work as well.
Most companies have positions where engineering graduates can combine their existing technical skills with commercial, financial, and management opportunities. Here are some alternative career options:
Whenever something has to be moved from one place to another – whether it’s transporting raw materials to a manufacturing facility, or distributing retail products to customers – that falls under the purview of logistics.
You’ll be responsible for everything that is related to the process: the planning and financial costs, processing and tracking orders, the liaising with other departments, and so on. Two of your main concerns will be expenses and deadlines. It’s your job to balance quality service and timely delivery with minimising costs.
Some of the skills needed:
- Problem-solving and logical-thinking skills to tackle urgent last minute problems.
- Most situations will boil down to a cost-benefit analysis. You’ll need to be able to consider the impact of your choices on the business as a whole.
- Good communication skills – you’ll need to be clear and precise when managing colleagues and customers, especially when you need to be firm with them.
Operations management bridges the manufacturing and the business side of a company, linking them to form an efficient supply chain. As such, work in this area is very diverse; you can be involved in nearly everything – from the purchasing of raw materials to the delivery of a complete product to a customer.
Roles in this area are primarily occupied with planning and implementing strategies to increase productivity and to reduce costs. Here are some notable “engineer” attributes to have in this type of work:
- Analytical thinking skills to deduce necessary information from compiled data.
- Quick-thinking ability to solve problems that may have a huge impact on a process.
- Able to see the overall picture and final objectives even as you focus on improving specific areas.
Patent law and intellectual property
Engineers make good patent lawyers and agents – specialised legal professionals who advise and help clients protect their intellectual property (IP) – because of their technical knowledge and ability to understand the process of invention. This allows them to negotiate intelligently on behalf of their clients.
You won’t need a lawyer’s licence to practise as a patent agent, but you do need the right type of technical knowledge, such as knowing how different IPs need to be protected. You may work with patents (which protect technological innovations) or other types of IPs such as registered and unregistered designs (e.g. the unique shape/appearance of a product).
Potential employers include the in-house patent division of a private firm or an organisation, public establishments, and government departments. Some skills that you should consider boosting:
- Excellent communication skills – especially written skills – as you’ll be dealing with a lot of reports and legal liaisons.
- Good time management ability, because you’ll have to work through continuous client meetings, tight deadlines, and multiple projects.
- A patient and persistent nature due to potentially resistant clients or officials, as well as long training periods and exams (which can take up to three to five years).
Procurement, purchasing, and buying
Procurement is all about scouting out and purchasing equipment, parts, and materials for projects at the right price and quality. You’ll have to prepare a list of suppliers and quotations to select from; check on the quality, prices, and schedules; and liaise with transporters and logisticians to ship purchases to the right place at the right time.
Engineers are well-suited for this job because of their familiarity with specific parts, equipment, and materials, which means that they can help with quality control. Here are other qualities that you should improve on for this line of work:
- Meticulousness and accuracy in your calculations and handling of the purchases. Some orders can be worth millions of dollars!
- The ability to work under pressure and think fast because you may have to contend with tight deadlines and last-minute problems.
- Good communication and negotiation skills to bargain with your vendors.
- A good technical understanding of the process that you are purchasing for. You’ll need to accurately gauge timescales and the impact of any changes you make.
Supply chain management
Supply chain management manages raw materials, production lines, manufacturing processes, and logistics to maintain a steady supply of products to customers, ensuring that nothing is delivered late or lost.
To succeed, you’ll have to learn to strike a balance between providing good customer service and minimising costs. To improve processes and act as a liaison between different parts of the operation, you’ll need to understand the functions of other teams as well as their individual roles.
Many engineering graduates branch out to this particular field because of its focus on quantitative skills. An engineering background helps with picking up necessary technical knowledge, which could lead to better business decisions. Pay attention to these skills:
- Analytical and investigative skills to seek out new opportunities and strategies that may boost profits.
- Effective communication skills, as you’ll be working with people from a variety of backgrounds – from business managers to line technicians.
Teaching, academia, and lecturing
If you’re not all that into the corporate world, why not go into teaching? Many engineers discovered their passion through their exposure to the subject in an educational setting. So why not draw from your personal experiences and theoretical knowledge to train students to become future engineers?
You may need to pursue additional qualifications to teach specific subjects, but enthusiasm for your subject matter is a definite must-have. Complement your knowledge with the following:
- Excellent communication skills to simplify in-depth, specialist technical knowledge for your younger, less experienced students. Consider also that this is not just confined to verbal communication – your job may include practical laboratory and research work.
- Creativity that helps you present your subject matter and teach problem-solving skills to your students in a way that’s both engaging and interesting to them.
- If you’re teaching at university level, you may also need to carry out personal research or write academic papers for journal submissions periodically.
Technical consulting offers broader business-oriented opportunities, and will usually involve using mathematical and computational theories to troubleshoot problems that impact the profitability of a business. Engineers are highly sought after in this field for their technical knowledge.
As a graduate, you’ll usually start off in this line of work with research-based duties, but will eventually move up into performing data analysis and statistical modelling to help clients solve commercial problems.
Other skills that will help you in this line of work:
- An eye for detail, superior logical reasoning, and keen problem-solving skills. You will be dealing with tremendously large volumes of data (known within the industry as “Big Data”).
- Excellent communication skills for presenting technical information and analyses to audiences from a non-engineering background.
- Specialist knowledge to advise on the implementation of specialised technology or equipment.
Technical sales is a branch of sales that focuses on selling highly technical products or solutions to specialised clients. You will need to persuade clients that your organisation’s expertise and products can meet their requirements. This requires a solid understanding of both their business and their needs.
A solid engineering background is essential – you’ll need to understand clients’ technical issues and challenges, as well as how your organisation can help them address those problems. Other skills that you may need as a successful technical salesperson:
- A disciplined nature will help you remain level-headed in a sales environment, especially when under duress.
- Good communication and listening skills, as well as attention to detail. You’ll need to absorb and interpret information on a regular basis.
- Self-motivation and a positive nature will make you more approachable, and will help with generating new business opportunities.
Some technical systems and solutions – especially particularly complex ones – are sold with a provision of training for clients. That’s where technical trainers come in: they teach clients’ employees how to install, operate, and maintain these purchases. This may include topics such as technical standards, company-specific software packages, manufacturing equipment, and health and safety processes.
Most employment opportunities in this field come from agencies or internal human resources and development teams. Other necessary skills:
- The ability to anticipate the training needs of your clients. You’ll need to prepare courses and materials suitable for all levels of staff – from those with only basic technical and IT knowledge, to highly-specialised engineers.
- Good presentation and communication skills to effectively relay your “lessons”.
- You’ll need to keep up with the latest industrial developments as well as work with specialised course providers or accreditation bodies.