For the first time for many years I've had the chance to recruit recent graduates earlier this year. It was an interesting experience.
We found that graduates who were:
1. straight out of University
2. had some industrial experience (maybe as a summer placement)
3. had a genuine interest in engineering, perhaps a hobby interest, and
4. not only knew their degree subjects but knew how to put them together to solve problems
had multiple job offers to choose from. The flipside, is that if any one
of these was missing, then they struggled. Fortunately for us, we had the sense not to be too bothered about item 1. In fact, an excellent graduate we appointed had been doing a completely non-engineering role for the last two years, and had consequently found it hard to get any other employer to take him seriously.
Now, originally in our short list process we didn't worry about points 2 and 3 either. However, we found very quickly (and depressingly) in the interview process that graduates without some type of engineering contact outside university really struggled to answer surprisingly basic questions that involved the use of cross curricula knowledge from their degrees. Now, I'm not going to claim that this is neccesarily true for the graduate population as a whole, however having discussed this with university staff it does seem to be a common problem.
Something desperately needs to be done about this, as it's bad for employers, students, and universities. Areas that I've thought about which would help would be:
1. Sponsorship of student placements (who by? Dunno unfortunately.) Student placements are a pain for employers because they tie up our often already overworked work force in supervising them. But they are, to my mind, an essential part of an engineering degree. Something needs to be done to make it a no-brainer for us employers to take them on.
2. More involvement from companies in the 1st/2nd year of degree courses to make it clear what we're looking for. For example, following the painful interview week mentioned above, myself and a colleague are arranging with our local university to hold mock interviews with honest feedback to help guide students in what they need to get out of their course.
3. As much team project work as can be managed. Yes, I know university is about individual learning, but part of that is individually learning how to work in a team. The majority of engineering is teamwork, most recent graduate CVs (and, in our experience, interviews) give us nothing to judge whether candidates can do this.
I expect I'll think of more things as this discussion continues.
If we were a real profession
such as medicine or law we would have structured training programmes. In fact, when I started in the late '70s there still just about were (for example, the huge number of ex-Marconi trainees there are of my age). There are a few programmes starting up to address exactly this problem, for example in my industry - railways - there are serious discussions going on between the different companies to set up an established programme. We do have to be aware that such programmes are at serious risk from financial nerves and competitor rivalries. Personally I feel if there was ever a role for the Engineering Institutes to act as a gaurdian angel to support inititives, this is it.
Back to earth:
So, where do graduates who want to be an engineer start?
To some extent where they always did - applying, applying, applying. In my opinion it's MUCH harder now that adverts are web based: in the electronics industry for example we used to have all the job adverts gathered together nicely in "Electronics Times" and "Electronics Weekly", now you have to scour the net constantly.
Also you haven't said whether you're prepared to move. The impression I'm getting from the market is that you have to be prepared to work anywhere to get that bit of experience. But employers would always rather have someone local (because they're more likely to stay). If you have relatives perhaps in a more employment friedly part of the country you may find you need to borrow their spare room for a while to get that first job.
Make certain your CV is perfect. I have seen some appaling ones this year. The candidates may have been fine, but when you're trying to get from a hundred CVs to one employee it doesn't take much to make you chuck CVs in the bin.
Try and get as much feedback as you can from any interviews (or even CV submissions). Some employers will be cagey, because they don't want to risk being sued for discrimination, better ones will give you as much as they can. If you're up against a candidate who was doing exactly the same job last wek as the company is looking for then you probably haven't got much of a chance. But if you were both inexperienced but you came across as less confident, or too arrogant, or didn't seem to understand some areas (because of poor communication) then you want to know that.
Basically, Best of British luck, it's tough out there, all you can do is make sure that you're not doing anything daft - plenty of candidates are!!!!
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMIhttp://www.linkedin.com/in/millarandy
"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert