This article was written before the Covid-19 pandemic. It therefore does not reflect the restrictions to travel and changes to guidance brought about by the pandemic. Please see the foreign travel advice on GOV.UK for advice on travelling to specific countries.
If you’re studying civil or structural engineering in the UK but dream of working abroad when you graduate, there are plenty of options available to you. In summary, you could work for an employer based in another country or apply to an international employer based in the UK that has projects overseas. If you want to work abroad as a student, you can do an internship.
Finding a graduate civil and structural engineering job abroad
Over recent years, the demand for civil and structural engineers in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and China has been very high. Do plenty of research by visiting the websites of different countries’ engineering institutions, such as Engineers Australia, the Chinese Institute of Engineers, the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers and Engineers Canada.
Once you’ve chosen the country where you’d like to work, identify prospective employers that suit your area of interest. Search for job openings through international job boards and use employers’ native websites rather than a UK version that won’t always display international vacancies.
You need to think about visa requirements, the job market and the practicalities of living in another country, plus the fact that some countries require international engineers to have at least two years’ experience. You can get tips on how to get a graduate job overseas in the ‘working abroad’ section of TARGETjobs.
Bear in mind that it will be easier to find international work once you have achieved incorporated or chartered status as these professional qualifications are globally recognised – you may prefer to wait a few years to gain experience in the UK before moving on abroad.
Remember, too, that working abroad on an international project might be offered to you by a UK-based employer as a development opportunity when you are more senior. Construction engineer Sita Shah worked for Laing O’Rourke as a senior engineer in Hong Kong on a project for the Mass Transit Railway Corporation after her graduate programme. She stayed on the project for two years.
Which are the top international employers, as voted for by students in the UK?
According to results from the Cibyl Graduate Survey 2020, as published in the UK 300, the most popular graduate employers in construction, civil engineering and surveying that work both in the UK and internationally are (in alphabetical order):
- Balfour Beatty
- BuroHappold Engineering
- Kier Group
- Mott MacDonald
For these employers, you should apply directly to your target country’s graduate scheme. Sometimes you will do this via a central graduate recruitment website, but some employers have country-specific graduate recruitment websites and social media platforms – for example, Arup has Twitter feeds for the Americas and Australasia.
Working abroad on a UK graduate scheme with an international employer
If you work for an employer who has a number of overseas projects in its pipeline, you may find yourself working on international projects while on a UK graduate scheme. You could work from the UK but visit the site when needed, or you could do a secondment abroad.
Here are two examples from consultancy Mott MacDonald…
- James Straw, a civil engineer, was initially placed in the foundations and geotechnical team in London. A year later, he moved to Dubai to become foundation engineer in a transportation geotechnical team. Two years later, he returned to London to work on a project at Heathrow Airport.
- Paul Matthews has two years’ experience as a fire engineer and works on projects in the UK, the Middle East and Mauritius. He works from a UK office, but has been on a business trip to Bahrain.
But bear in mind that international project work is not guaranteed with any employer. It depends on the organisation’s needs at that time. Remember that you will be hired to mainly fill the company’s resource needs in the UK. You’ll have to seek out overseas work with your employer very proactively, making sure your line managers and project managers know about your aspirations but understanding that they may not be accommodated immediately.
When informing managers of your motivation to work abroad, stress how it would help your professional development (what you would learn from being on the project and the working culture in that country) and what you could contribute to the project.
Note: when applying to a graduate scheme in the UK, be cautious about stating your desire to work overseas as a reason for applying for the graduate scheme. Aman Gill, early careers recruiter at Arup, told TARGETjobs: ‘I’d leave out the aspiration to move abroad unless the role that you’re applying for specifically gives you the opportunity to work abroad. Most vacancies or graduate schemes are an investment in a UK business.’
However, when writing about why you are applying to the company you can state that the company’s impressive range of international projects, and the potential to possibly work on them later on, business needs permitting, has increased your desire for a long-term career with the organisation.
Doing an international civil or structural engineering internship
You don’t have to wait until you graduate to work abroad. There are some internship providers, such as The Intern Group, that specialise in sending students and graduates overseas for work experience placements, although you should research the opportunities carefully to make sure they are right for you and to identify any hidden costs.
Volunteering your civil and structural engineering skills abroad
There are several charitable organisations, such as RedR, VSO and Engineers without Borders, that match engineers with volunteering projects around the world. A lot of the work involves mentoring local teams. You often need a certain number of years’ experience before you can apply for roles (typically three years plus), although the VSO does have a youth volunteering scheme (the ICS).