The engineering job market has slowed slightly after last year’s steady growth, but getting a foot in the door is just the first step to building a career in the industry.
According to Engineers Australia’s latest Engineering Job Vacancies Report, in the first half of the year the number of engineering job vacancies fell slightly, after a year and a half of steady growth.
The number of engineering jobs on offer has grown from 3675 in June last year to 4308 in June 2018 with most in the civil engineering field.
The overall health of the engineering job market is good news for engineering students and new graduates seeking their first job, but standing out from the crowd is the key to securing the best jobs and building a successful career.
Director of Two Degrees Group, Phillip Jones, says while an engineering degree shows graduates have the professional qualifications employers are after, young engineers have a responsibility to develop their own careers.
Crafting a professional brand
A good way to build a professional profile is to work on projecting a personal brand. Mr Jones explains that a personal brand means being consistent and articulating your expertise and the value you bring to your employer and the profession at large.
“Allocate time to develop your career and build a profile within the profession,” Mr Jones says.
One strategy is to systematically tailor your online presence, as employers will often use Google to gain further insight on a prospective employee.
Mr Jones suggests keeping online platforms up-to-date and removing information that is no longer relevant. Another tip is to think about the purpose of individual social media platforms.
For instance, LinkedIn should be reserved for professional contacts and information, and Instagram or Facebook for family and friends.
LinkedIn profiles are particularly important, as they are often the first hit in internet search engines.
Consistency is key, Mr Jones explains: “Assume that your digital presence reinforces what you do in the real world and vice versa.”
Publications, volunteering, involvement in professional associations (such as Engineers Australia) and speaking opportunities can also help to establish a personal brand.
“It’s a form of giving back to the profession and paying it forward… all these things add up,” Mr Jones says.
Treat networking as a project
Personal branding is also important for building connections through networking.
“If people don’t know what you know, they can’t help you,” Mr Jones explains.
According to Ms Link, mentorship programs are a good way of learning about this important skill, which is crucial to building a career in engineering.
“Networking in the engineering world is very important, it’s what takes you from job to job,” she says.
Mr Jones suggests that engineering students and graduates treat networking as a project: know why you are doing it, measure success, and put in a continuous effort over a long period of time.
When engineers know why they are networking and what results they are looking for, even those who find the idea confronting will start to relax into the process, adds Mr Jones – who says he was once an introvert, but “learned not to be”.
It can also help inform the narrative that engineers speak or present at networking functions and this can help them get on the front foot and start conversations, Mr Jones says. His advice is to research who is likely to be present, and ask organisers for introductions to people you find interesting.
Following up on new connections is also crucial. Mr Jones says it is an accepted practice to send a LinkedIn invitation after meeting at a conference or other event – and personalised invitations will get the best results.
Once the connection has been made, it is important to keep in touch – through posts and articles on achievements and passions within the engineering field.
“It’s a subtle but effective way of highlighting your skills,” Mr Jones says.
While it may be tempting for engineers to network within their own profession, Mr Jones suggests there is real value in cultivating contacts over a broader range of industries, for example: government planners and public sector employees who may be involved with infrastructure projects.
He likens this to sowing a seed for the future: “Peers now could be potential clients or referral partners.”
Building connections through mentorship
Mentorship programs help students to build a professional profile and industry connections from the first year of their degree, says Helen Link, General Manager of Engineers Australia, Newcastle.
The Engineers Australia mentorship program in Newcastle, now in its eleventh year, works with engineering students at the University of Newcastle. This year, just over 100 students have signed up – and more than 30 industry mentors.
Mentors may take on up to three or four students depending on the amount of time they have available, Ms Link says. She explains that mentors may have students at different stages in their degrees.
“Some students sign up in first year and want to stay with the same mentor through their degree. Then the mentor will take on more students,” says Ms Link.
During its decade of operation, the Newcastle program has helped students build their confidence and skills in areas such as communication, report writing, and negotiating skills. While they learn some of these skills through their degrees, seeing their mentor using them in the workplace – and during meetings and site visits – gives them more context, Link says.
The program has helped students find placements for the 12 weeks of industry experience required to complete their degrees and opened pathways to their first graduate position. Alumni also keep in touch with their mentors for ongoing professional support.
“They always have someone to touch base with as their career progresses,” Ms Link says.
As a result, many graduates come back as mentors later in their career to give back to the program.
“It’s a win-win for everyone.”