What can I do with an engineering degree (apart from being an engineer)?

Tony Hadlow - GradAustralia
Tony Hadlow
Team GradAustralia
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During the course of your engineering degree, you’ll likely have studied subjects ranging from advanced calculus to fluid dynamics. Together, they’ve prepared you for a promising career in engineering - but that’s not all! If you’ve decided that’s engineering’s not for you, or simply want to avoid placing all your eggs in the one basket, you’ll be happy to know that the skills you’ve developed - such as logical thinking, problem-solving and strong numeracy - are highly valued in a range of alternative careers. Read on to learn more about your other options.

Logistics

Logistics involves the physical movement of materials – for example, the transfer of raw materials to manufacturing facilities or the distribution of products to customers – as well as all the planning and financial transactions involved in these operations. The aim is to move things around at the lowest possible cost. Logisticians are responsible for processing and tracking orders, working with planning departments to check availability of products, forecasting market changes and dealing with contracted services such as shipping.

  • As a logistician, you will apply your problem-solving and logical-thinking skills to problems and situations as they arise.
  • Every situation also requires a cost-benefit analysis. You need to consider the impact of your decisions on the business as a whole, so it’s important to be able to see the bigger picture.
  • Good communication skills are essential. You have to be clear and accurate in what you say to colleagues and customers, particularly when you meet resistance to changes in procedures.

Banking

With your highly developed numeracy skills and talent for detecting patterns in data, you’re set for a successful career in banking. Like engineers, bankers are frequently responsible for analyzing data, building predictive models and processing large amounts of information.

While there are many positions within the banking world, engineers might find themselves particularly well-suited to research, analysis or trading roles that require the quick synthesis of data from multiple sources and the solving of complex investment problems.

  • In addition to your technical skills, you’ll need strong communication skills and the ability to quickly detect patterns in unfamiliar data sets.
  • You can impress recruiters by discussing your experiences solving complex and high-stakes problems.
  • If you’ve done computer engineering, or played around with MATLAB, you can draw on your coding experience to pursue technical positions in banks. For example, you might contribute to the development of predictive models used for high-speed trading.

Operations management

Operations managers oversee organisational processes and look for ways to make them more cost-effective and efficient. They’re frequently tasked with ensuring that the manufacturing and commercial branches of an organisation work together to achieve business goals.

To succeed as an operations manager, you’ll need to plan ahead, anticipating any challenges, taking advantage of new opportunities and implementing strategies to maximise efficiency and performance.

  • Communication and interpersonal skills are invaluable. You’ll have to work with the people who run organisational systems and processes, and find quick solutions to any problems they present you with.
  • You’ll use your analytical thinking skills to draw insights from large amounts of data.
  • You’ll work closely with logisticians and other people involved in supply chain management to ensure consistent performance across the organisation.

Patent law and intellectual property

A patent attorney is a specialised legal professional who is qualified to advise clients on how to protect their intellectual property (IP) by applying for or defending patents. A legal background is advisable but not obligatory - what counts most is a strong understanding of technical concepts and the ability to differentiate between different technological innovations. This allows successful patent attorneys to identify the unique aspects of their clients’ innovations, and ensure their intellectual property isn’t infringed upon by competitors.

As an engineering graduate, your ability to grasp high-level technical and mechanical concepts will stand you in good stead if your decide to pursue a career in intellectual property. You might might find yourself working for a private firm, or perhaps in a larger organisation’s in-house patent department. Either way, it’s stimulating and very well remunerated work.   

  • In addition to a good degree and broad-based interest in engineering, excellent communication skills are essential, particularly written skills.
  • You need to be comfortable dealing with demanding clients, working to tight deadlines and handling several projects at once.
  • It may take from three to five years to qualify as a patent attorney - there’s a long period of study followed by rigorous exams.

Procurement, purchasing and buying

As a procurement specialist, you’ll be responsible for buying equipment and parts for projects while taking care to balance quality with cost-effectiveness. Depending on the scale of the project, you may be asked to oversee a tender process and evaluate submissions from different contractors. You’ll also need to ensure that the right parts and delivered to the right place (and person) at the right time.

The advantage of having studied engineering is that you’ll have a strong technical understanding of the equipment you’re buying, which will help you accurately evaluate prices and account for implementation requirements. Of course, you’ll also need some highly developed soft skills, including the ability to communicate effectively with a range of stakeholders. You may also need to inspect equipment upon arrival to ensure it meets your expectations of quality and functionality.  

Teaching, academia and lecturing

Engineering can sometimes feel like a solitary pursuit, which can make it an unappealing career choice for people who thrive on human interaction. So here’s an idea - why not pass on the skills you’ve learned by pursuing a career in teaching or academia instead?

As a teacher or lecturer, you’ll use your communication skills to inspire a new generation to approach the challenges of engineering with enthusiasm and creativity. In doing so, you’ll focus on imparting the specifics - be it ‘Fluid Mechanics 1001’ or ‘Advanced Modelling’ - as well as the general, from problem-solving skills to presentation strategies. If you prefer to work in a more professional setting, you might choose to become a technical trainer and help employees at large organisations to use, sell, install and operate complex equipment and technological systems.

To become an academic, you’ll need an advanced degree - most likely a doctorate - and the determination required to make it in the ‘publish or perish’ world of postgraduate research. However, the rewards are many, from the satisfaction of focusing your intellectual energy on meaningful problems to the sense of camaraderie that comes from working alongside similarly committed academics.

Consulting

Consultants help organisations to solve their business problems. That may seem like a broad description, but it’s a broad role - you can expect to travel a lot and find yourself focusing on anything from how best to increase a company’s profit margins to how they can navigate a difficult merger period.

As a new graduate, you can expect to work as part of a team, initially focusing on research and analysis. Fortunately, you’re likely to find that your engineering skills prove advantageous, allowing you use data analysis, statistical modelling and other creative approaches to generate novel solutions to business problems.

In addition to your talent for problem-solving and reasoning, you’ll need excellent communication skills so that you can share you results with clients, who will often be stakeholders in senior executive positions.

The good news is that consulting is an increasingly prestigious and competitive career, with graduates at larger firms often enjoying frequent travel, professional development opportunities and, of course, extremely attractive salaries.

Technical sales

Technical sales involves using your engineering knowledge to win future business. You will need to draw on your organisation’s expertise and skills to present innovative ideas that meet your clients’ requirements.

A strong engineering background is essential to be credible in technical sales – you need to understand any technical issues and challenges, and advise the client on how your organisation can help them. You will also need to work with people across your organisation, including those in research, development, design and purchasing, to ensure you have a full understanding of the product or service.