Graduates in a meeting

Real prospects for graduates?

Want a snapshot of graduate life in the engineering and technology sectors? Annual survey Real Prospects shares with E&T the views of the 700 engineering and tech grads interviewed, showing us what attracted them to their current jobs, what salaries are like and the training that’s on offer. Read on to find out the reality behind the graduate dream…

In 2010 graduate unemployment rose to the highest level in 17 years and engineering graduates were some of the hardest hit with those who studied mechanical and civil engineering particularly struggling. Those who did land a job in the sector counted themselves lucky, but does the graduate dream match the working reality?

Real Prospects, an annual survey of graduates who have been in full-time employment for up to five years, asked 700 of those working in engineering and technology to share their experiences – the highs and lows, stresses and achievements of their first few years of working life.

It’s interesting to see what attracted respondents to their jobs in the first place as most went for leading organisations, interesting roles or those that offered good opportunities for progression over high salaries.

When it came to actually landing a job, more than one in five had worked for their employer as a student, demonstrating that work experience is a good source of employment. In fact, contact with an employer pre-application was found to be a strategy taken by most successful candidates with many people applying for their current position after the company did a presentation at their university or after they had attended careers fairs.

Salaries and benefits

The majority of engineering graduates received between 25-29 days of holiday entitlement a year and a medium salary over four years of £25,000. The top three preferred additional benefits were pension contributions, assistance with travel costs and time given for study leave/support. Least desirable were use of a company car, subsidised meals and subsidised healthcare.

Less than two thirds of graduates were satisfied with their pay and benefits package and less than half felt it compared well with others in similar roles. However, there was a large proportion of respondents who felt they didn’t have enough information on what other graduates in the same positioned receive, which could give some explanation of why few respondents reported positively in this case.

Training opportunities

Once in a job, training became hugely important to this group of new graduates. Three quarters of respondents were employed on a graduate training scheme and were studying for a professional qualification. Most were looking to become chartered engineers and participated in training programmes accredited by professional bodies like the IET.

Training opportunities in technical skills and project management were particularly sought after, and those that received training were generally satisfied with the quality of courses. However, this was also an area of disgruntlement with more than one in five respondents feeling that their training needs were not being met.

Organisational leadership and management 

Overall most engineering graduates felt valued, that their manager encouraged personal development and that their employer had lived up to their expectations. However, more than half felt they would like more opportunities to innovate and nearly one in five had no confidence in the senior management team.

Graduates are often surprised by how much they value performance feedback because it isn’t something they would have thought much about before they joined a company. Those who benefited from regular performance reviews found constructive criticism helpful because it helped them identify their strengths and weaknesses and work out where they needed to improve.

However, half of the graduates surveyed didn’t receive as much feedback as they would have liked, which has left them feeling overlooked and undervalued. One engineering graduate described how he felt demotivated after receiving very little feedback on his performance, “I’ve lost any confidence in my work - I don’t think I can do my job”.

Support, supervision and progression or ‘the future’

Most employees are supported in their role by a line manager, but many training schemes are coordinated by a graduate development team or provide graduates with a mentor or buddy. Many respondents found mentors in particular to be a really valuable source of additional support, enabling them to draw on their experience when learning about the industry and planning career progress.

Work-life balance and corporate social responsibility (CSR)

The research reported that graduates have a strong desire for employers to have some form of corporate social responsibility policy, with two-thirds or more feeling that it is important for companies to promote energy saving measures, recycle, or encourage energy efficient travel. 

When asked about work life balance the majority (75 per cent) were satisfied, placing particular emphasis on preferring employers that offered flexible working and time off in lieu. This is encouraging given the competitive nature of today’s working environment.

This positivity was recognised further with, despite being in the middle of a recession, three quarters of respondents felt confident about the security of their job role and 84 per cent expressed confidence in their employer’s future within the sector. When questioned whether they were planning to leave the company they worked for, almost two-thirds responded that they weren’t.

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