I am often asked by people for careers advice for their children. Therefore, I have decided to write a short blog entry on this subject which will hopefully be of use to you. In my opinion there has never been a better or more important time to look at engineering and science for a career.
The opportunity to create huge value and solve some of the biggest challenges facing society whether that be new treatments for disease or energy saving components for electric and hybrid vehicles or renewable energy generation and distribution to help fight climate change, there are endless possibilities.
The change and disruption happening at the moment are huge whether that be electric vehicles, robotics or new drugs and therapies due to advances in science and engineering enabling some incredible new technology. Even the humble light bulb is now packed full of electronics and embedded software to enable ultra-low power consumption LEDs to work, and robotic dispensing systems for anaesthetics are set to revolutionise the medical profession.
I am also a huge believer that you cannot manage a process that you do not understand, as you need enough knowledge to be able to ask smart questions and understand the answers. So if you’re hoping for a great future career in corporate management, science and engineering are also a great foundation for future career progression. This could also apply to marketing and sales, as the world becomes more technically complex it takes a depth of understanding of a product or service to understand how it works and what value it brings.
The critical thinking and problem solving developed in science and engineering jobs are also hugely transferable so there are no dead ends, train as an accountant and it’s unlikely you will ever get a job as a scientist or engineer or in fact anything other than an accountant. However, I know a lot of people who trained as engineers who decided it wasn’t for them and then went to the dark side of law or accountancy. These professions highly value the skills that engineers have. It is also an opportunity to be hugely creative, I often describe the fantastic engineers at AVID as artisans, people who are able to create solutions and solve real problems with a passion for what they do.
You do not need to go to university but you can still go to university! There are many great routes including apprenticeships which are suitable for the best and brightest. Apprenticeships used to be pegged as the alternate path for people who didn’t get the grades to go to university, but that shouldn’t be the case anymore. Particularly with the changes to funding in the U.K. for higher education that now mean you have to pay fees of several thousand per year for a full-time degree course taught by a university, whereas the same university probably runs a Degree Apprenticeship Program where you will earn a salary, gain experience with a company and still come out with a degree qualification. The time taken is probably less overall certainly no more than doing the degree and then starting work in a graduate position to get to the same level in a company. Let’s say that it takes 6 years to get a degree by the apprenticeship route, but at the end, you have 6 years of work experience as well. That would be the equivalent to 8-9 years on a conventional linear approach.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with a conventional degree if you think that is for you, just be prepared for the fees! One bit of advice though would be to engage in relevant experience and pastimes. Travelling in Thailand and playing in the lacrosse team is all fine and well but if you can secure a relevant job in your holidays not only will it help you to get a good job on graduation but it will also help to apply cost context to your studies. When I was at University I struggled in some subjects that I now use every day and I think this was due to a lack of context in how they were taught (You also really do not need to memorise the derivation of Bernoulli’s from first principles in the real world.) You also do not need to be a maths genius. (Although if there was one subject to make sure you pay attention to it would be mathematics.) I personally found maths as taught in the classroom to be quite dry and boring, but I love playing with maths in real-world problem-solving. The ability to get your head around datasets and spreadsheets and understand the importance of calculus is also valuable.
So what type of engineering should you look at? My personal recommendation would be electronics, embedded systems or software. (Disclaimer my BEng is in Mechanical Engineering, but I was always passionate about electronics as well, there is a long story as to how that unfolded.) With reference to my previous comment about the humble lightbulb the world is seeing many changes such as the development of new electric vehicles, new advanced robotics systems, high efficiency distributed renewable energy generation and consumer electronics all of these have smart electronics at their heart. Hydraulic systems are gradually being replaced with more controllable electrically powered actuation systems in everything from subsea robots to aircraft. Someone who has a good grounding in electronics but also understands mechanical engineering and in particular thermofluids will always be able to find an interesting job. As the boundaries of electronics and electrical machine performance are pushed the thermal management of the device is often the key technical challenge.
The shortage of engineers of all disciplines is not a problem unique to the U.K., but one experienced by all countries around the globe. There are lots of reasons behind this. In the past medicine, law and finance were seen as the noble professions and engineering was often seen as a bit grubby and overlooked. However, at the time of writing most law schools and medical courses will be hugely oversubscribed whilst engineering and science courses still struggle to fill their places. As a result, law graduates will find it very hard to get their first paid job whereas in engineering you will have companies lining up to offer you paid summer work!
What do I look for when reviewing CVs of potential employees? I am interested in how someone has done at school, make no mistake if you spend your one hanging out with the wrong people and messing about this will have an impact. This being said, poor grades can be in part reversed by interesting hobbies and extra-curricular experience. We have hired people who did not get great degree or school results but because they worked as electronics technicians in the summer, built their own racing motorbikes from scratch and were responsible for sound and lighting for the local theatre group. Best of all they talked about these activities with a passion that we recognise if applied to a challenge that excites them at work, in the same way, will yield extraordinary results.
There are also plentiful examples of scientists and engineers who have gone onto huge success. People like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk. These guys all dropped out of their degrees in computer science and engineering to enter the business world with products that they had developed themselves using the skills and knowledge they had acquired. Furthermore, they are practising science and engineering professionals in their own right, leading successful companies that are changing how we live our lives. Next to these outstanding billionaires who may seem out of reach, there are millions of others who enjoy great careers in science and engineering, and you could be the next.
To find out more about great career opportunities in engineering with AVID Technology, check out our careers page here
You can also watch the short video below to learn more about careers at AVID.