Choose the Right Engineering Career and Graduate Employer
Here’s something to consider: getting employed is one thing. Getting satisfactory employment in engineering, on the other hand, is a whole different ball game altogether.
Most engineering firms present a good mix of specialist and management career opportunities – each of which offers a very different type of career springboard. While this may not necessarily determine your future career pathway, it certainly does influence your professional growth as a graduate engineer!
For this reason, it’s important that you put some thought into applying to the right employer and position:
- What are your priorities: Developing your technical knowledge to become an expert in that particular field, or throwing yourself into the thick of the action in a manufacturing plant?
- What type of function suits you best: A customer- and product-oriented role, such as in the supply chain management, or a strategy planning-related position in project management?
These are only broad guidelines for you to think about, however. If you’re still unsure, then you may want to try applying into a rotational training programme, offered annually. These are mostly offered by larger engineering firms, and they allow you the opportunity to “sample” duties across different departments, including commercial and technical ones.
However, depending on the employer, the structure of these programmes may or may not be role-specific. Some engineering firms will want their graduate employees to experience the best of both worlds, offering programmes that cross technical and non-technical fields. Others are more particular, sorting applicants out into “streams” upon admission.
On the other hand, smaller organisations prefer recruiting directly into specific engineering roles, so make sure that you know what you’re aiming for if you’re applying to such firms.
Choosing your working environment
Start by considering whether you’re more suited for a fast-paced or research-based working environment. Factories and manufacturing plants tend to be more exciting, requiring a lot of immediate attention and action. Inversely, the R&D and design departments may provide more chances to work with technology, but are less speedy.
How about spending most of your working hours outdoors? Some positions will require you to travel and perform your duties out of the office, such as the construction or oil extraction areas of work. Others, such as design engineering, are mainly office-based. If you’re the type who gets bored by a desk-bound vocation, then you may want to opt for an engineering specialisation that can sate your wanderlust.
The working environment may also affect the type of opportunities and projects that are offered to graduate engineers. Larger organisations with structured training schemes will usually let you participate in big international projects, supported by a good network of senior engineers.
Smaller organisations, in contrast, are more selective with their projects, usually going for specialised niches. The lesser manpower at such firms means that you’ll be given more early responsibilities, which translates to faster growth and more experience. While this may also mean that the learning curve may be quite steep, you may achieve early acknowledgement if you can pick things up fast enough!
What are you prepared to do?
Before you decide on who you want to work for, think about how far you’re willing to go for your work – both literally and metaphorically! Consider:
- Are you prepared to move around the region for your work, or travel overseas on secondments and long-term project assignments? How long would you be willing to do so?
- Or are you more comfortable being rooted in the office, where you can build positive working relationships with your team members?
Oil and gas engineers, for instance, are usually required to be particularly mobile – often travelling offshore to oil rigs and refineries. On the other hand, a process controller may find themselves tied to a specific manufacturing plant, monitoring its operational efficiency day in and day out.
Think about the hours that you’re willing to clock in as well. It’s not uncommon, for instance, for manufacturing engineers to have to do shift work, whereas those involved in maintenance sometimes pull unusual hours. If keeping ordinary working hours of 9-to-6 is a priority, then perhaps other engineering specialisations will be more suited for you.
Obtaining additional professional qualifications
Another concern that you may want to consider is the educational support that you may get from your employer. Are you aiming to become professionally qualified: as a chartered engineer or an incorporated engineer? What about further studies?
Most recruiters do provide such support and opportunities. Be sure to clarify, however, because some employers will only support your education to a certain level.
In addition, make sure to ask about alternative training opportunities – both internal and external – and other forms of sponsorship that can benefit you or help you with your career progression.
Make the match
Don’t neglect the culture fit between you and the potential employer either! See if you can request for a tour around the workplace during interviews to get a feel for the company culture or the kind of work that inspired you to apply to this employer in the first place.
If you have the opportunity, try speaking to current employees or any connections you may have within the company for insiders’ views. You can also use this time as an opportunity to observe your potential colleagues. More often than not, if you’re comfortable talking to them from the get-go, you’ll be fine working with them if you do get hired.