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Engineering graduate schemes: what to expect and how to apply

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Many large employers offer dedicated programmes for recent graduates. Should you consider applying? Here’s what you need to know.

Graduate employment schemes are a really popular calling for those who have recently completed their degrees, both because of their flexibility and the possible prospect of securing a permanent job at the company. Graduate schemes are usually offered by reputable and well-known employers across a broad set of skills.

Engineers are in constant demand nationally and on a global scale across all sectors and industries, so having an attractive benefits package as well as being a reputable company to work for is essential in attracting a graduate to a scheme. Initial salaries often start from £20,000 a year upwards. Graduates want to be able to combine their technical knowledge with abilities such as team-working and problem-solving.

Most engineering graduate schemes will require a suitable degree. For example, engineering support services organisation Babcock specifies that you’ll need a 2:2 degree in a related subject.  Moreover, “as most of our programmes are accredited by institutions such as IMechE, IET, RINA, IChemE, IMarEST and ICE, your degree will also need to be accredited in order for you to be eligible for the programme. You’ll also need to satisfy the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD’s) security requirements (and may need to complete a medical assessment).”

One of the most frustrating things about getting your first proper job after university or college is the experience you require to land said job. Needing experience to get more experience can be really infuriating.However, graduate schemes offer a way round that. For example, the 2017 UK graduate electrical engineering scheme with global management, engineering and development consultancy Mott MacDonald specifies that applicants should have less than 12 months experience and have achieved a 2:2 or above in one of the following degree disciplines:

■ Electrical engineering

■ Building services engineering specialising in electrical engineering

■ Architectural engineering

■ Engineering science specialising in electrical

■ Power systems engineering

Is a graduate scheme for me?

Simply put, if you have a qualification in physics, maths or other science subjects then a graduate scheme may well be for you. If you have a degree (or if you’re currently studying for a degree) and you don’t know what to do next then looking at a graduate scheme as a pathway to your career can be very beneficial. You’ll be getting paid and you’ll be learning on the job – not unlike an apprenticeship.

Progression towards Chartered Engineer status is sometimes given through the schemes as well as a permanent, secure job with the company when the scheme is over. Some organisations such as Mott MacDonald have graduate programmes that run for four years and run alongside a professional development scheme.

Make sure you find a scheme with a company you actually want to be associated with and want to work for in the future and not just a name-dropper for your CV. As well as this, ensure you apply for a scheme in your preferred area of engineering. There are so many areas that you may not know quite which one you want to specialise in, and that’s fine. However what you do need to make sure of is that the company can offer you what you want. It’s worth asking how many others go on the scheme and how many jobs are on offer at the end of it. Sometimes the company won’t offer a permanent job at the end of the scheme and in other instances there will only be a few spaces available. Depending on the number of graduates compared to the number of permanent job positions, you could be up against an awful lot of competition.

However it’s also worth thinking about whether you actually want a job at the end of the scheme. It’s okay if you’re not looking to work for the company afterwards. A good thing about the graduate schemes out there is that you can treat them as paid work experience. They’re good for your CV either way. You might find that the area of engineering in the scheme isn’t for you – in which case the experience you’ve had will be invaluable.

Applying for a graduate scheme is like applying for a job. There will be lots of applicants each year and you need to make sure you stand out. As an absolute minimum, make sure you meet the requirements asked of you in the specification before applying. Don’t go to an employer with nothing and expect to be given all of the training they offer. It’s still a paid job you’re applying for.

There may also be interviews for the scheme, or even experience days where you go to the head office with other applicants and take part in several workshops. This is like an interview except you get to see how the company works and the company can see how you work too.

Take a look at what the requirements are on similar graduate schemes that you don’t plan on applying for – just to get an idea of what’s expected of a graduate generally and what tasks you may be responsible for. Look for particular keywords and phrases you could use in an interview to help you stand out. You don’t want to be too knowledgeable and appear overqualified. It’s about finding a balance between knowing your stuff and being eager to learn.

There are several things you can do to make your time at a company worthwhile. Especially if you’re thinking about moving on at the end of the scheme, you want to make sure you’ve got the best out of it. At the end of the day it’s a paid job and should be treated as such. There may be allowances for inexperience but not for poor attitude or work ethic. For example, Mott MacDonald wants the following characteristics in its graduates:

■ Methodical approach to problem solving

■ The ability to use your initiative to undertake tasks efficiently and independently.

■ Excellent verbal communication skills, which allow you to confidently liaise - with clients and team members.

■ Excellent written communication and attention to detail, and be able to demonstrate accurate technical drawings and good report writing.

“We are looking for flexible and motivated graduates with a genuine passion for electrical engineering, and a desire to make a difference in the world,” the firm says.

Find a mentor to learn from during your time with the company. You may learn more from one or two mentoring sessions than your whole time with the employer. ‘Real’ advice in any career is always invaluable and can serve you well. Take the opportunity to ask any questions you have, because a graduate scheme will cater to this.

Join a professional engineering institution so you’re always up to date with what’s going on both in the engineering world and your chosen area. There are lots of engineering networking opportunities available too through events run by the institution.

If you joined a large scheme with many other entrants, its possible that everyone could be leaving at the same time. Keep in mind that you’re likely to be going for the same jobs as these people, so get ahead with your job search, references, extra experience and so on – so when the scheme ends you’ve almost got another job lined up right away and you can beat the competition.

Graduate schemes are what you make of them. You get to experience the real working world out of a university lifestyle, you’ll be earning a competitive salary and you’ll also be honing your skills so you can see what area of engineering you’re after. If you find that the scheme isn’t for you, it has still done you a favour – nobody likes to be years into their career and feel like it’s too late to change.

As long as you’re honest with others about your capability and you’re determined to do well, a graduate scheme is a great way to get into a suitable, long-term engineering career after university. 

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