Richard Thorburn, 27, Graduate Engineer at Thales UK
Job History: When I was much younger I was described by my grandmother as 'a fiddler' as I was forever taking things apart and putting them back together again. So although I took Geography, English and Drama as A-levels, my work experience was at a mechanical engineering company and so decided to study that at university. I did a foundation year, which allowed me to choose between mechanical and electronic engineering, and then opted to spend an extra year at university to get my MEng masters degree.
I originally took a job in the financial sector, but I wanted to use my engineering skills so I applied for Thales UK's graduate programme as I had already done a placement with them. I'm now working for them on projects in aerospace and defence.
Best and worst parts about the job: The best part about this graduate scheme is the responsibility I get with the specific projects I'm involved in, and taking charge where I can. Currently I'm working on the Thales TopFlight Satellite Communication (SatCOM) system that will allow you to have connectivity on planes - send texts, surf the net etc... I like the fact I'm working on real things that affect the real world, and how people go about their everyday lives. Before that I worked on the Ministry of Defence's Watchkeeper unmanned air vehicle programme.
The worst bit is that it's difficult to talk about your job to friends outside of work. Obviously there are certain security and confidentiality implications, but the usual problem is people often aren't that interested in engineering - they think it's a bit 'geeky'. Not everyone is an engineer and our challenge is to be able to explain what we're doing using language that everyone understands.
Advice for wannabe engineers: I would recommend people really investigate the graduate programmes each company offers. I know from talking to friends who went on graduate programmes before me that some of them were disappointed with the amount of training they received and also the level they were working at. I'm really pleased with the responsibility I have and the Thales UK's graduate programme training has really helped me to succeed.
CV essentials: A degree is a must for an engineer, but it's important to remember you don't stop learning once you leave university. The Thales UK graduate scheme is four years long and we are supported by experienced people at all times. Eventually I'll become one of them.
Being a member of a professional association can look great on the CV. The main ones for my field of engineering are the Institution of Engineering and Technology; the Royal Aeronautical Society; and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
As you'll need a degree to progress in engineering you'll need to go through university. A-levels in sciences, engineering and maths are always an advantage; although as Richard showed there are other routes in. Foundation and access courses allow those without the required qualifications the opportunity to start a degree course.
Most major engineering companies have graduate schemes that you can apply for while still at university. They may come to university recruitment fairs; otherwise you can check the websites of companies you are interested in. The person who interviewed Richard for his job at Thales UK said that he was chosen because of his obvious passion for engineering, alongside his knowledge.
An engineer's role is very dependent on the type of work that they are involved in; but primarily it's a mixture of practical development and testing and then all the work that supports that. This could include report writing, project planning with your team, and then meeting clients and doing site visits.
As a graduate engineer, Richard spends around 25% of his time training and developing his skills. This has involved staying on a Royal Navy warship to understand one of Thales' major customers better and staying in the Lake District to develop teamwork skills. He's also undertaken leadership, project management and customer management training.
Who would it suit?
Engineers need to be technically proficient and interested in how things work and how to make them better. But often this isn't enough. Engineers also have to participate in business meetings and so will need to have good communications skills both with people they know and those they don't. Engineers will be expected to explain things to clients, who may not, or don't need to, understand the product to a high technical level, so an ability to present at the right level for your audience and with confidence is also important.
Graduate engineers can expect to start on a salary of c£25k, dependent on the area of work they are in. The salary will increase once they complete a graduate scheme and become a chartered engineer (CEng).
Dependent on the type of work and company they are involved in, they'll gradually take on more responsibility. Engineers can quickly progress to management roles, taking senior roles in large organisations, or they can be promoted for being technically excellent at what they do without taking on management responsibilities as part of 'The Expert Scheme'.
Engineers are required around the world so there is plenty of opportunity for travel.