Advice from the Industry

Today I asked my colleagues at my internship for advice about coming out of University and entering the industry. I asked two engineers in my office that I work with, Hannah who studied structural engineering and Blaine who studied mechanical engineering. I am currently working at Thermosash Commercial Ltd. I didn’t ask mechanical specific questions as I think these questions could be helpful for anyone, regardless of what specialisation they want to go into. It can be quite daunting thinking about entering the workplace after graduating, it seems like a big and scary place that is very overwhelming, especially since being an engineer can come with quite a bit of responsibility. So, I hope these questions can provide some clarity and lessen your worries.

What would recommend after graduating uni? 

“Take some time to rest and recover from uni if you can, so you can so you start work fresh and excited! If you are planning on taking an extended break, I would recommend trying to line up some work for when you get back. Uni is a fantastic place to gather contacts and network.” – Hannah

“That depends on you, I suppose, I know a lot of my classmates were really burnt out after 4 years of uni and working part-time. So, if you have the means to do so I would recommend a year off, even if that year is spent working outside of engineering. If you’re at uni but don’t really know what to do once you graduate, taking some time off will help you to figure out what to do next. Although if you know what industry/company you want to work for and you have a graduate program in mind I would recommend going straight into that, a lot of graduate programs have a cut-off for what they consider a graduate.” – Blaine

How important is your choice of specialisation in the long run? – can picking the wrong specialisation limit you, or is it easier to switch between fields once you start working?

“The fantastic thing about an engineering degree is it teaches you how to learn, how to think and how to solve problems regardless of your specialisation. What you pick will definitely play a role in your engineer evolution and where your path will lead. If you have a clear vision of where you see yourself, aim for that, if you don’t that’s ok too so I would recommend picking something that is not too narrow and specialized.” – Hannah

“Generally speaking there are a lot of transferable skills between the different specialisations, we’re all engineers after all. In my own experience, I studied mechanical engineering and now work as a façade/structural engineer. There is a great deal of cross over between mechanical and structural engineering but I didn’t study civil engineering so there’s a lot of background knowledge I didn’t start with i.e. seismology, NZ building codes, structural design principles. So, I’ve had to adapt and learn those skills on the job. So the main limitations are who’s willing to hire you against type and whether you’re able to fill in any gaps.” – Blaine

How important do you think making industry connections is as a student?

“Do everything you can to meet people in your classes and at industry events, you never know when you will next bump into them. Making connections in the industry will help open pathways for you. Don’t be scared to reach out to people you find interesting or aspire to be like.” – Hannah

“Making those connections while you’re still studying is definitely an advantage. I can think of at least one of my classmates who was offered a position based on their rapport with industry partners during their final year research project. Most companies when they’re hiring would prefer to hire somebody they’ve worked with before (e.g. a previous intern) because it reduces training time and uncertainty. But don’t worry if you haven’t formed those connections yet, they’re not the only way to find employment.” – Blaine

Can you tell me a bit about façade engineering and why structural and mechanical students should think about pursuing it.

“Façade engineering is perfect if you are wanting to be involved in projects that are changing our city skyline. If you love designing, being creative, are good with problem solving then façade has those things. I personally find it very rewarding being able to walk around the city and look at the work I was involved in. Yes it is a very specialized field however, it is required for every building and it is all over the world. It is filled with new innovation and technology.” – Hannah

“Façades are generally the outer visible parts of a building, it’s the ‘face’ of the building. Windows, doors, and cladding are all part of it and it sits in an interesting grey zone between architecture, civil/structural engineering, and mechanical engineering. The company I work for, Thermosash, focuses on aluminium framed window panels and doors and we’ve built a lot of notable buildings like Commercial Bay Tower and the majority of the new UoA buildings. The role of a façade engineer is generally to make sure that the exterior of a building is going to meet structural requirements, e.g. make sure that window panels are weathertight and won’t break in a storm or earthquake. Practically speaking it involves reviewing design drawings and making sure they are up to code through calculations and computer modelling. You might want to consider working in façade engineering if you’re interested in having a variety of work. Large scale commercial buildings like the university buildings often have interesting and complex architectural designs that require varied analytical techniques. No two buildings are quite alike so every building presents unique problems. I would recommend façade engineering if you enjoy these subjects at uni: thermofluids/aerodynamics, materials science, statics, and seismology. ” – Blaine

Thanks to Hannah and Blaine for taking the time to answer the questions and I hope they can provide a bit more insight into work life after uni!

– Sophie

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