The job of an engineer is varied and exciting, often taking you to interesting places around the globe and exposing you to intriguing problems that you’re asked to solve. It’s also well paid, given that this is a position that requires your training and devotion for a number of years. As such, engineering tends to be a highly competitive and lucrative space in which to build a career. But how can you get there? This guide helps point the way, showing the educational opportunities you should seize in order to develop a career as a successful engineer.
All careers begin at school. You may, of course, be years from your time at school, making a career change instead of starting out in your career for the first time, but your classes at school do give you a good idea of which subjects you’re passionate about and which you tend to excel in. Engineering courses tend to be looking for those who excel at math and science subjects, ordinarily grouped together into “STEM” subjects. If these were the classes you enjoyed at school or that you’re currently enjoying at school, a career in engineering might be just for you.
Whether you’re still at school or you’re considering making a career move into engineering, you should be careful to attain high grades in the aforementioned subjects, as that’ll sit you in good stead to apply to further education courses later in life. Retake your exams in the STEM subjects in order to achieve better grades that’ll make you a more attractive proposition when you’re applying for these courses. Skills and passions develop at school and are usually the first indicator that you’ll thrive in a career in engineering.
You don’t need to be at school in order to study and learn. In fact, in the modern era, it’s incredibly easy to access educational materials that might help propel you toward your chosen career path. You can choose to perform this extra study any time – from your time at school through to your time in full-time work. And it’s this extra study that can often make the difference when you’re looking to impress with your resume – either when applying for university or when looking for your first job.
Take the time to search online for free or cheap courses, usually divided into modules that will help you gain valuable knowledge and experience in the engineering space. You can find a huge variety of courses that’ll do this, from those that help develop your maths and statistics skills through to the more practical side of engineering. Some online courses even provide you with a qualification or a certificate that you can reference later in your career as a sign of both your dedication and your qualification in a specific area of engineering.
One way to get into engineering is by applying for an engineering course at a university. In order to do this, you’re going to need to have worked hard at school, perhaps picking up extra-curricular studies alongside those that you’ve chosen at school. These are competitive courses that require high grades in order to accept you, which is exactly why this guide recommends you retake your school exams as one path into the engineering industry.
University is an excellent opportunity to pick up a variety of skills that you’ll need for an engineering degree. But it’s most certainly not the only path to being an engineer. For instance, you can instead search for a program that’ll deliver a Master Of Engineering Management – a field that requires engineering knowledge and know-how as well as strong management skills. It’s this branching of engineering into its specialties that you should research in order to understand which entry point into the industry might be most enjoyable and profitable to you.
Like any other sector, engineering has many different sub-fields. For instance, there are materials engineers who look into different types of stone, metal, and wood in order to decide which materials ought to be used in which building design. There are structural engineers who are focused on building structures, and there are engineers who are instead concerned with the macro-level of their activity and how their buildings affect the overall structure of a city and its infrastructure.
These are the kinds of specializations that you may well come across if you take a course in engineering, but it can help to research these before you take the leap into a degree or master’s program. Knowing which specialism you’re keen on heading into can give you the power, early in your career, to make choices that’ll get you there faster. Speaking with tutors and experienced engineers is also helpful if you’re thinking about working towards a specific niche or specialism.
Whether you’ve studied hard for your degree or you’re about to apply to an engineering course, networking is one of the most important life skills to help you in any career. Engineering is certainly no different, seeing as it’s often the case that engineers work on project teams that are comprised of workers who’ve known each other for some time. Networking can also help you to understand more about the industry, making contacts who will be happy to mentor to tutor you through the more difficult and confusing periods of your schooling.
Meanwhile, it’s also important to build up a contact book of people who may one day be able to link you up with a job. Of course, you may well find yourself in an established engineering firm when you finish your studies – but there are other engineers who prefer to take on bit-part work, working on a project-by-project basis. It’s these engineers who can profit, especially from networking, seeing as a strong network is often the best route to finding interesting opportunities in the engineering space.
A network is not essential for getting your first job. You’ll simply need to scour online job platforms in order to find the opportunities that you’re eligible for. Indeed, it’s by doing a job search such as this that you’ll understand the job requirements for entry-level positions in the kinds of firms that you’re interested in being hired by. Often, you’ll discover gaps in your knowledge that you can plug up with new education. Elsewhere, you’ll find that you need some experience in order to be eligible for the jobs that are most exciting to you.
If you’re struggling to find your first job in engineering, you should consider searching instead for work experience opportunities. You could search specifically for temporary and part-time work, or you could contact a recruitment agency that specializes in placing new engineering graduates in appropriate roles. Search also for internships and apprenticeships, as these are often a brilliant route into a full-time salaried position in an exciting engineering firm.
Engineering is a career that requires experience. Your first job is likely to be more administrative, as the big decisions are left to more senior members of staff who have worked in the field for decades. As you progress, you’ll find that you’re given more and more responsibilities and the chance to work with all the skills that you picked up over the course of your education. The tip here is to leap at any opportunity to broaden your skillset, and that means either seizing opportunities when they’re offered to you while also asking for more work when it suits your schedule.
Engineering firms often run on-the-job training sessions or are perfectly willing to invest in their staff in order to build up their skills in a specific aspect of engineering. You might see some of these training sessions as irrelevant to your career ambitions, but they always work signing onto in order to get to grips with different skills and tools that you’ll eventually need to call upon in your career. Be open-minded when it comes to educational opportunities and new tasks in order to make yourself an engineer who can pick up and complete a wide variety of tasks.
Ambitious junior engineers should search for a mentor when they join an engineering firm. Mentors can come in all shapes and sizes, from a colleague who’s been in the job a handful of years longer than you to your line manager, all the way through to a senior engineer who’s looking to educate and inform the younger generation of engineers who are coming through the firm. In some firms, mentorship schemes are actively encouraged, while in others, you’ll have to be more proactive – asking senior colleagues with whom you’re friendly and familiar if they would be interested in guiding you through the first months and years of your career.
Mentors are wonderful individuals to have in your life. A good mentor will offer all the career support and insights that you need, as well as giving you peer and pastoral support when the job becomes stressful, or you’re looking for someone to help you with pressing problems. They’re also your voice in the boardroom or in senior planning meetings, fighting your corner and suggesting you for promotions or more exciting tasks on bigger projects. Find a mentor in order to advance your career prospects and to make a senior friend in your firm.
To advance your career in engineering, it’s often advised that you search for open roles in other firms or more senior roles in your current firm. That’s because you’ll find yourself climbing the ladder faster if you’re proactive about finding that next rung. Remember that it’s up to you to advance your career and that hard work and dedication alone may not be enough to get you noticed and rewarded with more senior positions with higher salary packets. You may need to take your skills and experience elsewhere in order to give yourself the best chance of advancing your career and getting experience in exciting areas of engineering.
Keep tabs on the major job sites in order to not only understand what opportunities are arising for you but also what kind of salary you should be expecting from employers. This is handy when it comes to paying negotiations at your own firm, as it’ll give you some leverage in discussions over your pay and your seniority. Applying for a new role in engineering might take an hour, but it can open up new opportunities that’ll refresh you, challenge you, and develop your skills in entirely new ways.
If you’ve worked in engineering for a number of years, you’ll be considered senior by your employer and your colleagues. You might even pick up a mentee of your own, passing on some of your knowledge to the next generation. Importantly, though, you’ll be able to make the next great leap in your career, becoming a partner or taking on projects as a manager. It’s when you reach this stage in your career that you’ll have far more power to pursue what interests you, either within your current firm or in other firms that work in your space.
Make sure that you’re always aware of your bargaining power once you’ve risen to this level in your career. You’re more indispensable to your firm when you know its operations inside-out, which means that you can often be successful in salary negotiations or when you’re looking for your next promotion. You’ll also be able to search for new roles in your firm, even suggesting the creation of a new role that will suit all of your career ambitions. Again, a network is helpful here, as you’ll be able to ask those who you’ve met over the duration of your career about new opportunities. Having a strong network of other senior engineers will help you to understand where you should go next in order to take your career from strength to strength.
There you have it: some tips to help you achieve qualifications in engineering before launching into a career in one of the most stimulating and exciting fields in the world.
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