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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Employability in engineering

Jake Tudge, winner of the Engineering Undergraduate of the Year award writes his view on how to improve employability in engineering. Some really great tips.

As you may be aware, I am pleased to announce that I have been awarded the Engineering Undergraduate of the Year and I wanted to write about employability in engineering and perhaps some tips along the way. So you’ve left university with a strong 2:1 in engineering – perfect! But is this enough to guarantee a graduate job anymore? Some would argue not. I was at a university employer engagement meeting last week, where my university (UWE) works with employers to further prepare their graduates for employment. It was noted that 75% of the engineering chartership process is looking for the ‘softer’ skills and employers are forever more searching for candidates equipped with a host of soft skills to successfully deploy their technical knowledge in industry. So, in my opinion, what are the easiest ways to go further than your degree?

Do you have a student representative and student ambassador system at your university? If so, get involved. Through undertaking both at UWE, my communication skills have progressed significantly through having to deal with senior members of staff within the faculty or having to meet with members of the public at open days. Furthermore, I’ve had to learn how to be presentable and articulate at senior level meetings or when simply talking with prospective students at UCAS fairs. Both schemes, which are common at most universities, demonstrate a host of soft skills which can be used as examples in interviews or situational questions. Through my time at UWE, I have progressed through to the Departmental Forum Chair of the Student Representative system, as well as acting as a Team Leader on University Open Days; both proved extremely helpful when having to demonstrate potential leadership qualities during my E.ON interview. Not to mention, the chance to act as a STEM ambassador to school children has been both extremely rewarding and great fun.

Demonstrating your motivation for a career in engineering will definitely prove to a prospective employer that you are committed to a future role and wish to progress through the sector. An excellent way to do this during your time as an engineering undergraduate is to engage with the professional institutions such as the IMechE, IET, RAeS, etc. Not only can you build up a strong network, but you can learn about the face of engineering that is so often not explained in the text books. I started off during my time at UWE by simply attending events by the three institutions around Bristol and networking with their members. As a result, I joined the committee of the Bath and Bristol IMechE Young Members branch and I volunteered to organise an event. As a student interested in the energy sector I decided to organise an Energy Question Time, hosting senior representatives from National Grid, EDF Energy, AECOM, South West Water and the Energy Institute, while I acted as David Dimbleby for the evening. (If you would like a summary, please view http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkEwYMopimE ) The event took weeks of organisation (and I seriously mean weeks), but the final evening was great fun and the contacts established will prove very helpful. This is just one example of showing initiative and this is something employers value; someone who can stand on their own two feet.

It would be foolish of me to write a blog on employability and not mention the key work – experience. At UWE, we are extremely proud of our employability and experience plays a large part in this success. For students leaving our engineering courses, we achieve an 88% rate. That is 88% of students are within a graduate level role within an engineering company within six months of graduation. For those with a placement year, the figure is over 99%. Not bad. So why are employers so keen on experience?

Essentially, it’s the ability to apply your knowledge successfully to real world problems. During my last summer, I completed a summer internship at South West Water in their Energy and Carbon team where I was sponsored by the Environmental iNet through European Union Funding. The experience allowed me to understand the practical applications of all that theory I have learnt in lectures, but also helped me to develop those essential soft skills. As a result of my completed projects, I was awarded the Intern of the Year sponsored by Rathbones Wealth Management. This experience and the associated award, I believe, were instrumental during my E.ON interview in proving that I had the ability to apply knowledge successfully, as well as working in a new environment. So my advice, get out there, network until you are tired of talking and secure some experience.

It is argued that employability is all about successful self-marketing. It may be at risk of being obnoxious, but I believe it is essential to market yourself professionally in order to succeed and this is easily achieved through the use of professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. It is often underused, but if used successfully LinkedIn is a wonderful tool for post-networking connecting and keeping in contact with those industry players. Furthermore, it can even lead to future opportunities. For example, I was contacted by a senior academic regarding PhD opportunities and this is something I could look to pursue in the future. So, if you’re not already on LinkedIn, set up an account and start populating it with information. It’s quick and free, which is always good. It’s a fantastic resource and you will definitely not regret the opportunities it may hold.

So the summary of this blog is really to understand what helped me win and what the attributes of a winner are. As you have hopefully seen, I have tried to do much more than my degree during my time at university to demonstrate attributes to contribute the assumed technical knowledge from an engineering degree; I am hoping that my placement at E.ON will only strengthen my CV. Of course, I have only shown a small range of the potential opportunities available to increase your employability while at university. In conclusion, I have one piece of advice, hunt out those extra opportunities; get involved in societies, join a sports club or search for your local professional body! Network, network, network and you could find yourself looking very employable. Remember, employers are looking for the leaders of the future.

Want to know more about improving your employability in engineering, read our TARGETjobs Engineering sector pages.