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6 lessons to supercharge your engineering career from EngRec 2021

Joseph Flaig

The hall at EngRec 2021, the virtual fair for early engineering careers
The hall at EngRec 2021, the virtual fair for early engineering careers

EngRec, the virtual fair for early engineering careers, returned for its second year on Friday (29 October).

Aimed at boosting careers with exciting job opportunities at leading organisations, networking with experienced engineers, and expert advice in webinar sessions, the Professional Engineering and IMechE-organised event included exhibitors such as the Royal Air Force, BAE Systems and the National Grid.  

The virtual auditorium hosted recorded sessions from the Chartered Institute for IT (BCS), the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST) and the IMechE, and live sessions dedicated to different aspects of careers progression and engineering. Here are six lessons to help supercharge your career from the live events, which are now available on-demand.  

Hone your cyber-skills 

It is a common theme of modern engineering careers advice – hone your software and coding skills, and you will be well-prepared for the world of tomorrow.  

Nowhere is that more true than in the Royal Air Force, which is going through a period of major change as it prepares for the battlefield of the future.  

“Cyberspace is the way forwards for the air force,” said sergeant Michael Mitchelmore, during “Life in the RAF – what it’s really like”. “Rules are changing... the air force is certainly looking to invest, we’re changing and adapting and becoming more agile.”   

A keen extra-curricular interest in computer technology can be a particular asset, he added. “If you’re into e-sports, software design, coding, things like that, that will stand you in very good stead for where the air force is going.” 

Develop your ‘carbon instinct’ 

We all have a nutrition instinct, said Professor Carl Perrin from Coventry University during “Sustainability and what it means for the future” – we know that an apple is probably healthier than a chocolate bar, for example. Similarly, we all have a price instinct – if we are thirsty, a bottle of water is likely cheaper than a soft drink. These instincts are based on data, Professor Perrin said. Food carries nutrition information, and shops tell us how much an item costs.  

Unfortunately, he said, our carbon instincts are less developed. “I think this is something that we all need to develop a bit more,” he said. “How many of us think that we’ve got a good carbon instinct around the things that we buy, and the things that we use?... What we don’t have is data to help us make those decisions.” 

This is particularly important for engineers, he said, with sustainability already a central part of many roles. Develop your carbon literacy and your carbon instinct, he encouraged attendees, and “you’ll be pretty well placed in your career.”    

Highlight role models 

Earlier this year, the Hamilton Commission – led by Sir Lewis Hamilton and the Royal Academy of Engineering – found several barriers limiting the progression and recruitment of black people into engineering and motorsport careers.  

Since the report, the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers (AFBE-UK) has helped some organisations take steps to tackle the barriers. The thing that will always make a difference is leadership, said AFBE’s Mara-Tafadzwa Makoni, but mentors can also have a very positive impact by being role models and highlighting the available opportunities.  

“There are meaningful things we’ve done for Mercedes, we’ve worked with black and minority ethnic employees who have gone out and become mentors,” she said. “It’s slower, but it’s meaningful. However, in the long run... we need to make sure all opportunities can be defined as fair.” 

One thing that can help achieve this is AFBE audits of organisations’ recruitment processes, she said. Questions include ‘Who is doing the hiring?’, ‘What benchmark are you using?’ and ‘Who is coming through referrals?’ “Let’s look at all of that, what is going to be the best intervention point?" 

Don’t stop developing 

Applying for a job in another country, early in your career and during a pandemic, could be daunting. For Theodor Spencer, however, it has paid off. 

Now a design engineer for Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team, Spencer’s move was successful thanks in part to a willingness to embrace new things and continue developing as an engineer.  

It's really important to get out there and see what there is... try and keep improving your understanding of different cultures,” he said, speaking during “Early careers experiences”.  

Young engineers should also continue to develop new skills as they apply for jobs, he said, such as his own efforts learning to code. “It’s important to keep developing skills where you can – but at the same time don’t get too wrapped up in the job process. It's easy to get disheartened if you don’t have a great interview.” 

‘Today is a very good time for engineers’ 

Good news for all young engineers – the sector enjoys an enviable and consistently high level of demand. No matter the main opportunities or challenges of the day, engineers are always needed to support society’s needs and drive the economy forward.  

That is particularly true at the moment, said IMechE president Peter Flinn as he opened the event on Friday morning. 25% of the UK economy involves a physical output, he said, such as manufacturing and other obvious engineering sectors – but all the other sectors involve engineering.  

“Today is a very good time for engineers,” he went on. “There are those who argue we’re in the midst of a fourth Industrial Revolution... but in many ways that is only part of the story, because there are huge drivers of technological change from climate change.” 

Decarbonisation, electrification and the use of hydrogen are all key challenges, he said, and engineers are leading the way. “There is a lot that we can do to assist with the problems that society is facing.” 

Do your homework 

It is a common ‘Catch 22’ in job applications, regardless of sector – you want a new job to gain experience and further your career, but you need to have experience to get the role in the first place.  

The conventional academic route, with some industrial placements and group engineering projects, is a common way of getting the experience you need. There are other ways of doing it if you are not in that position however, said Lara Mallett, business development manager at the IMechE – working ‘sideways’, for example.  

“I know people who have started off doing admin work in an engineering organisation, got themselves known or worked in stores, and were able then to get into the organisation,” she said. 

She also stressed the importance of keeping up with the opportunities available in your area.  

“Do your research,” she said. “Have a look... at what organisations are growing in your area. For example, I come from East Anglia – the big thing that is here is about Sizewell, and the development of a nuclear power station, so that is an opportunity. 

“So you need to do your homework, and there is no such thing as a closed door – just keep thinking, be creative, and think about the different avenues you can use.” 

Want more engineering careers tips? Visit the EngRec site and register to receive a free careers guide. 

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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