Treading the career path
The first step to walking the career path is often determined by how you get on it.
Whether you enter a big conglomerate through the graduate scheme or start at an SME (small or medium sized enterprise) as a junior engineer, the route to advancement will look different.
Engineering graduate schemes can give you a fast track into some of the biggest firms in the country. The likes of Arup, Aecom, Balfour Beatty etc. all take graduate intakes every year. These usually last two to four years and by the end of the scheme, a clear succession path to stay within the company is often laid out; it is why so many engineers still spend the majority of their careers at one company.
As well as providing a first step on the career path, graduate schemes offer a real-world, hands on introduction into the industry. They allow you to develop your skills under the careful watch of those who have been there and done it before. They also allow you to turn your hand to different specialities allowing you to develop a full picture of where you want to be at the end of the scheme.
Meanwhile, entering at an SME can lead to different opportunities. If the timing is right you could move up through the ranks if senior staff members leave at the right time. However, an SME start-point is most likely going to give you an upper hand when looking to move on; SMEs tend to be more specialised and therefore you are likely to become more of an expert in one certain field; be that marine engineering, tall structures or transport models. As a result, you will become more attractive to the right type of employer compared to your peers who entered a graduate scheme at a larger firm.
Likewise, entry into the profession is also entirely dependant on you level of qualifications. Graduates with an engineering degree will usually begin work in a technical role learning about different areas of a business, usually in a design aspect. During these early years it is also vital to get out on site and if you are lucky enough to be placed on a graduate programme this will most likely be built into your development plan.
From there it’s is likely that you will then move into a senior engineer position after four or five years at a company. This can involve acting as a project manager on a particular project, leasing with the client to understand what they need, instructing junior engineers on what you want from initial designs and then developing those designs through to the implementation and maintenance phases of the task.
And from there the path is clear to move up to a technical manager or principal engineer role. Most senior positions will require chartered status so it is time to get the text books out again. From there, an ambitious engineer could reach the level of engineering director, chief engineer or programme director.
But, remember that you do not strictly need a degree to enter into a career in engineering. Apprenticeships for school leavers are becoming more and more common, especially on some of the UK’s biggest infrastructure projects such as High Speed 2, Crossrail and the Thames Tideway super sewer tunnel.
Non-graduates usually enter the field as an operator or technician. Operators account for around a third of the industry’s labour force and they can often move through the ranks to positions of greater seniority. Some employers will even offer operators the chance to study alongside their work.
Technicians meanwhile are often given responsibility of managing workers on site. This can lead to a middle management jobs on a longer term basis, including becoming project managers or team leaders.