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The quality of job applications to graduate recruiters in the engineering and industrial sector is well below average.

A survey conducted by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) in summer 2011 asked companies to rate the quality of applications they received on a scale of 1-6, where 1 was very poor and 6 was very good. The lowest rating for applications was the engineering sector (3.9) which was well below the average of 4.4. This highlights the need for engineering students and graduates to improve their written communication skills and improve the quality of their CV, cover letters and applications to impress the graduate recruiters. Seek the advice of a careers adviser or use graduate career advice to ensure you are selling yourself in the best possible way.

Different engineering disciplines require different technical skills. However, skills are not just about the technical abilities you have gained from your studies but also the soft skills you have developed. Soft skills can include: team work, written and verbal communication, organising and planning. Employers are looking for evidence of these skills from a variety of areas of your life – not just from your course.

Technical – specific technical knowledge and skills you need that are needed for your job

From your education, be it an HNC/HND, a degree or an alternative qualification, you should have gained the basic technical skills needed to become a professional engineer. However, the technical skills can vary given the engineering discipline and job role being performed. For example, it may be common for a chemical engineer to use chemical process simulation software such as Aspen, whereas a mechanical engineer may need to use 3D CAD design software to design mechanical components.

Do some research on employers to find out which technical skills are needed for your engineering discipline or specific role. Most job descriptions from employers will specify both the technical and soft-skills needed to perform your job. By doing your research early, you can anticipate what employers want and learn the knowledge or skills prior to making an application.

Analytical – Ability to analyse data and interpret what data is telling you

You need to decide how much data is required to make a sensible model. Will a quick and simple model suffice or is a more complex model required?

You need to know how to gather data for analysis in order to gain an understanding of what is happening. Sometimes you just need to put a volt meter on a certain part of a circuit, at other times you may need to use an oscilloscope to see how that value changes over time.

There are many things that you could look at, what you need to be able to do is narrow down the possible data sources to only that which is relevant and important.

Problem solving – Use a logical and creative approach to solve complex engineering problems

To be an engineer you really have to love problem solving. You need to be creative and think outside the box to solve problems as often problems are multi-faceted and are not just clear A to B causal issues. Creative thinking about the problem to locate it is more important – the solution comes second.

Become familiar with how to perform a root cause analysis and get this right before jumping to conclusions too quickly. You may need to deal with resolutions, i.e. multiple solutions and understand a cost/benefit analysis to make decisions as to which resolution should become the solution. It is necessary to be objective in problem solving and not influenced by what you think the outcome should be.

Planning and organising

Throughout your career you will not only have to plan and prioritise your work especially when you become responsible for projects. Good project management skills are related to planning and organising and it is worth familiarising yourself with standard project management methodologies, such as PRINCE2, as they are used widely in industry. Planning for project risks, slippages and regular reviews are all part of good project management practice.

Communication

Verbal and written communication is an essential requirement for any job. In your team you may need to explain something technical to someone from a non-technical background or a different engineering background. Engineers will often receive instructions from non-technical colleagues and clients, this information needs to be translated into something which technical staff can work with. Do ensure your written prose is up to scratch, as this is where most engineers fall down. You may have to write reports for the projects on which you work as well as write tender documents to help your employer secure future work.

Research/Internet usage

It also helps to know how to research properly; nobody knows everything. However, most things are out there if you know where to look. These days, the Internet has replaced the bookshelf; it’s much larger, much cheaper, much more up-to-date and much more interactive. Credibility can be an issue on the Internet, but half of the skill in using a search engine is in knowing which results and information to trust.

Professional accreditation

To gain accreditation from the Engineering Council, such as the CEng or EngTech, you will need to satisfy certain criteria which include your educational and professional experience. The UK Standards for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC) provide a full range of competencies a professional engineer should achieve. See the Engineering Council’s website for further information: www.engc.org.uk/ukspec.

Alternative careers

Not all engineering graduates will seek chartered status or even pursue a career in the engineering sector. The skills and competencies you have developed through your studies are attractive to many different types of employer in various industry sectors including finance, consultancy, and public services. Around 60% of graduate recruiters will recruit from any degree discipline. Some engineering graduates go on to be patent attorneys or science writers.

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