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Course to Career: The Shift from Student to Engineer
Jaideep Patel speaks to a few up-and-coming engineers and engineering students on their transition from studying to working.
Do you think your engineering course has prepared you for the working world?
Anonymous: To become an engineer, one should know the basics first. Although universities concentrate more on the theoretical side, a greater knowledge of the field can be attained via working experience. Still, without the basics, one will have major difficulties in coping. So, my answer is ‘yes’. My engineering course taught me the basic understanding and somewhat prepared me for my current job.
Kanagesh: In terms of the technical side of things, my course has prepared me for working but mostly theoretically. I felt that I needed more hands-on exposure, especially site visits or other forms of industrial engagements before I could venture confidently into an internship or a full-time job.
Nirmal: Not entirely. One limitation of my education was the lack of ‘real world’ exposure, like what certain equipment looked like or how it really worked. For example, I studied about configuring routers and switches, but I never had a chance to put my hands on the real equipment. Instead, it was done on software applications. The good news is that, many students nowadays are getting these types of practical experience through internships.
Tiruban: Yes, I do believe that the theories learnt at university helped me with understanding my job scope at work in general. The practical and lab sessions, on the other hand, helped me with my hands-on skills.
What are the three main differences between studying engineering and working as an engineer?
- Your communications skills are not really put to the test when you are still a student.
- Your practical problem-solving skills will have to be good when you work as an engineer.
- You will need to focus on continuous knowledge enhancement through working experience.
- You will gain actual experience of functioning within the industry.
- You will be exposed to real-life engineering problems.
- You will be able to solve an issue holistically by taking into account aspects such as economy and safety.
- Your responsibility will be of the utmost importance because you will be performing for your company.
- Your confidence level in handling situations and escalations will be tested.
- Your communication skills will also be put to the test as you need to liaise with clients, technical teams and the management.
- Your studies involved plenty of calculations and not all of them are applied at work.
- Your studies are more theoretical than practical, whereas, work is more practical than theoretical.
How was your transition from being a graduate to being an employee?
Anonymous: I would say it was quite difficult for me, as there were too many graduate engineers out there. The competition to secure a job was intensely high, or might I say, it still is. Nowadays, you may need a strong recommendation from someone in a higher position at the company you intend to work in, or get a 4.0 CGPA at university.
Kanagesh: My transition was fairly comfortable, although I did face some troubles when I entered into employment because I was required to reach the benchmarks set by my host company. It can be tough when you are fresh to the industry.
Nirmal: It was difficult. The theory subjects never really helped me in the corporate world. Engineering students should place more focus on things like technical reviews.
Tiruban: It was difficult at first because I had to put in additional working hours to learn my work. There is a perception that fresh graduates know nothing more than theories, so we have to prove ourselves and show that whatever we have studied and practised at university can, and will be applied at work.
What are the important things graduates should look out for during their probation period at work?
Anonymous: Try to look for experienced working colleagues whom you can learn from, and do not be absent from work without valid reasons. Follow company rules and regulations, and most important of all, do not be arrogant to your subordinates.
Kanagesh: I would say the amount of hands-on knowledge and skills gained would be the most important. One should also look into absorbing management skills during this period. It is the best time for an engineer to test his or her work preferences.
Nirmal: The probation period signifies the time when an employee finally steps into a work environment. Companies provide proper training regarding the job role and scope, so it is also the best time for a fresh graduate to take things seriously, and learn as much as possible and as expected by the management.
Tiruban: Graduates must not feel shy to ask questions, be it to their superiors, colleagues or subordinates. Show good teamwork, and always respect and obey your superiors. Last but not least, be punctual for work, meetings, and discussions.
What is your advice to SPM leavers who want to take on an engineering course?
Anonymous: Have a positive attitude and the willingness to learn. That’s all you need. The mentioned attributes will automatically help you during your working period by increasing your performance without you even realising it.
Kanagesh: My advice would be to thoroughly research on the job scope of an engineer. Regular visits to career fairs will help, and so will referring to online portals such as JobsCentral (www.jobscentral.com.my) and gradmalaysia (www.gradmalaysia.com) for more specific career information and advice. Personally, I think the best thing to do would be to talk to people who are working in the industry of your preference for some quality input. Ultimately, choose your own path and never follow the trails of others.
Nirmal: Focus on technical reviews as well as the theoretical subjects. If you feel that your university has failed to provide you with technical classes or labs, try to learn things on your own. Knowing how to handle equipment before entering the workforce is a must nowadays, and there are a lot of ways to do so. If it is really important to you, you will find a way through.
Tiruban: Put more effort into understanding the theories taught, practise hard during your practical and lab sessions, learn more on management skills during your internships and industrial training, and get a good CGPA in your exams to obtain good job offers from big companies.