An engineer’s career guide – where to start, and where to aim for

02.07.2018

Engineers are in high demand: from the point of graduation, a qualified engineer can apply their skills to a number of sectors and contribute to the improvement of people’s lives and the advancement of society. No matter which way the winds blow, we will always rely on engineers to design the future; we will always need them to make things faster, stronger, more efficient, more cost-effective and environmentally friendly.  

By 2025, EngineeringUK predicts that the UK will need 1.8 million trained engineers and technicians to fulfil requirements in aerospace, railway, electronics, mining, automotive manufacturing and design, and the civil nuclear industries. With a variety of career paths to take, your journey from budding graduate to well-seasoned engineer is what you make of it. But where to start? 

Set your goals 

Before you can chart a course to success, it’s essential to determine the destination you would like to reach. If you’re fresh from university, this means deciphering what you want your CV to look like in three or four years’ time. At this point, your goals need not be colossal - they should simply help you to identify what you want and what you don’t - for example, do you want to gain a masters in engineering? Do want to work for a large company? Which sector excites you the most? 

Rarely will a career pan out exactly as it was planned, but setting clear goals and realistic deadlines will allow you to maintain a focus when the road gets rocky underfoot. 

Improve your soft skills  

No matter what your destination, sharpening your soft skills is a sure-fire way to accelerate your career. Along with technical skills and knowledge gained in a degree, the best and brightest engineers can create solutions to problems that we aren’t even aware of yet. In order to identify the best materials to use, the most effective production methods and anticipated costs, engineers must boast strong skills in critical thinking and an eagle-eye for detail. In a crisis, they must be able to keep a cool head and find innovative ways to tackle complex issues. Further to this, impeccable communication skills will allow you to effectively relay technical information to a non-technical audience and navigate your way through negotiations on project briefs.  

Aim high but keep your horizons broad 

All too often, engineering graduates rule themselves out of roles under the pretext that it doesn’t correlate exactly with their particular discipline. In doing so, they shut themselves off to potential opportunities later down the line. In fact, the basic principles of engineering are widely applicable, and any business experience is valuable - especially if you can get your foot in the door with a household name. 

However, while you should always aim high, it’s important to note that some of the most groundbreaking engineering is happening in the legions of small to medium firms, most of which you may not even have heard of. These smaller firms tend to require more niche skills, and so can often struggle to find the right graduates.