Engineering Employers: What They Want

OYL Group, British American Tobacco (BAT) and Shell Malaysia shared with gradmalaysia what they look for when hiring fresh graduates.
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1. Do you think graduates these days have the knowledge and skill sets that are necessary for them to succeed in their careers? What kinds of knowledge and skill sets should students make sure they should have before they graduate?

OYL: Generally, new graduates have the fundamental knowledge and skills to perform to standard requirements in industry. Nevertheless, most of them do not have the necessary in-depth knowledge and people skills to be successful in their careers yet. Apart from good academic qualifications, we are looking for graduates who possess the following characteristics:

  • self-reliance
  • people skills
  • continuous improvement mentality
  • decision making and freedom on the job.

BAT: While excelling in academic pursuits is integral in launching their career, graduates in this day and age should place similar importance on garnering knowledge beyond the lecture halls. Being in university is the best time to develop yourself as an all-rounder. You should have honed your leadership skills by getting involved in associations and events, or developed your presentation skills by joining a debate team.

Shell: There are several elements that shape the progress of your career, and as a graduate sets out in this journey, the ability to think on your feet, communicate and work effectively with others and most importantly, deliver comes to mind as clinchers of the deal. These are behavioural skills that can only be polished with practice. Hence, it is vital that, besides focusing on academic achievements, graduates should participate in activities that will nurture the development of the skills mentioned above. Extra-curricular activities on campus, internships and also community based activities can provide graduates with the opportunities to address conflicts, challenges and work with others.

2. What types of knowledge and skills do you look for when you hire new graduates for your firm? What aspects of their academic experience do you consider most important?

OYL: We are seeking graduates with a strong academic background, preferably in mechanical and electrical/electronic engineering. Good interpersonal skills are a prerequisite.

BAT: We only employ graduates aged 25 years and below for our Management Trainee Programme, hence academic qualifications are important to meet our rigorous screening procedures. Factors that will help land you a spot in the programme are a CGPA of 3.0; upper second class honours or equivalent degree; and active involvement in and leadership of extra-curricular activities. It doesn’t stop there, of course. You will still have to show us what you’re made of during the interview process.

Shell: An academic qualification indicates two things. Firstly, the quality and depth of the knowledge acquired and also the propensity to deliver a given assignment or as we would say it in Shell, the sense of achievement. Academic qualifications are therefore very important.

A postgraduate qualification on the other hand is very much dependent on the nature of the job. A Master’s or PhD would very much be required for a role in research or product development, where detailed expertise in a certain field is required but in most other scenarios, a good degree should suffice. An MBA qualification however, would be better after a few of years of experience as the graduate would then be able to relate theory to the realities of work much better.

3. What specialisations in your organisation’s field are emerging or becoming more popular?

OYL: Among our group of operating companies in Malaysia, one of our core competencies is in the area of research and development. Graduates who like to innovate in the area of new product design and systems will find it a rewarding challenge to work in our Research & Development Center.

4. Is it difficult to recruit suitable employees from fresh graduates today? Please explain.

OYL: Getting the right person for the right job is becoming a big challenge for HR managers in many companies. Graduates with good potential are looking for something more than just an offer of good salary package to them. With many ‘employers of choice’ out there looking for good people, candidates now have the luxury to pick and choose employers that are able to offer them what they are looking for. Good working environments, challenging work and opportunities for future career growth in the organisation are some of the offers that can attract them.

BAT: The toughest part about recruiting management trainees is the identification of the crème de la crème of graduates today. We seek graduates who are analytical and are able to think critically, as opposed to those who regurgitate facts to pass examinations. On top of sound reasoning, we also seek maturity and the ability to articulate your thoughts clearly. Hence, the talent pool is scarce due to a mismatch in what we are looking for and the characteristics of graduates out there.

Shell: Although Shell recruits graduates from diverse background ranging from business and IT to sciences and engineering. Shell has a higher recruitment target for engineers. Among engineering graduates, we do see a gap in petroleum engineering as we don’t have many undergraduates in Malaysia focusing in that area.

5.What kind of expectations are you seeing in graduates today? Is this a positive or negative trend?

OYL: We appreciate dynamic young graduates who always meet and exceed our performance expectations. For those who have high ambitions, we provide various continuous improvement programmes to satisfy their learning ego; job rotation is one of the options. This will allow them to pick up more skills from other departments. We believe by providing job rotation our young graduates will be better equipped with multiple skills and knowledge necessary for them to advance more rapidly in their career path. We have plans to identify and groom potential candidates to become managers in fewer than 10 years.

BAT: We do see a recurring trend in the expectations of the management trainees we have hired. They prefer to work in a stable, multinational organisation which offers an abundance of developmental opportunities and speedy career progression, should they demonstrate excellent performance. They are more aware of what they want out of their careers and we view it as a positive trend.

On the flip side, graduates of this generation also have some expectations that are misaligned with the corporate environment in this day and age. They expect to be highly remunerated but have difficulty when put into situations which require them to perform what they feel are menial tasks, despite the opportunities to learn. They prefer to be involved with enormous strategic projects that are deemed more challenging. While there is nothing wrong with that, they should at least be able to master the basics beforehand.

Shell: Graduates of today are more certain of what they want out of life and if put in a situation would opt to pursue their life goals more than anything else. What’s important is how an organisation bridges the generational gap and is able to manage set of values effectively.

However, we may see a shift in focus, as graduates of today face up to the reality of the current financial crisis. As such it will be interesting to understand their response to this phenomenon.

6. Do you have a preference for overseas graduates or local graduates?

OYL: Based on our past dealings with graduates from local and overseas universities, it was found that both have different characteristics. It is not for us to say who has the winning edge to become better or more successful. Overseas graduates tend to have a wider scope in their views, whereas graduates from local universities are very strong in their academic accomplishments. Both have equal chances to become successful when guided systematically from the start of their career.

BAT: British American Tobacco Malaysia is an equal opportunity employer. Testament to that are our current management trainees, who come from local and foreign universities. We feel there are no distinct advantages of graduating from either local or overseas educational institutions as we would rather assess our graduates based on their individual qualities.

Shell: The difference between an overseas or local graduate depends very much on the university and the attitude of individual itself. The advantage of studying overseas is the fact that one is exposed to different ways of thinking and hence is better equipped for a globalised environment.

However, if an overseas undergraduate limits his or her social network and does not maximise his or her opportunities to interact and learn from others, he or she will not be any different from a local graduate. Instead, local graduates who make the effort to cross boundaries and learn, would fare better and add more value to an organisation.

7. What advice would you give to a student who is seeking employment at your firm?

OYL: The growth of the organisation depends on the growth of the people. In order for the organisation to become the best in the industry, the people have to want to become the best in their own fields. We are looking for these unique and individualistic graduates who share the same passion and vision as the management.

BAT: Be prepared for a multiple stage interview process, inclusive of a whole day assessment centre.

Shell: We do hire an average of 100 graduates a year in Shell Malaysia, out of which 70% would be engineers or disciplines relevant to technical aspects of oil and gas. We have details on our requirements and the assessment process itself on our website and I would urge potential candidates to spend as much time there as possible to understand the organisation and its people.