International work for graduate civil and structural engineers
If you’re studying in the UK but dream of working overseas when you graduate, you could work for an organisation based in another country, apply to an international employer that has projects overseas or do an internship abroad.
Finding a graduate civils job in another country
Over recent years, the demand for civil and structural engineers in countries such as Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and China has been very high. Experienced engineers who can go straight into the workplace are preferred, but there may be opportunities for graduates too.
Do plenty of research by visiting the websites of different countries’ engineering institutions, such as Engineers Australia, The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers and Engineers Canada. 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.
Once you’ve determined 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 British version that might not display international vacancies.
According to results from the 2016 trendence UK graduate survey as published in The Guardian UK 300, the most popular graduate employers in construction, civil engineering and surveying that work internationally are:
- Mott MacDonald
- Balfour Beatty
- BAM Construct UK
- Keir Group
- Laing O'Rourke
For these employers, you should apply directly to your target country’s graduate scheme. Some employers also have country-specific graduate recruitment websites and Twitter feeds – for example, Arup has Twitter feeds for the Americas and Australasia.
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.
Working abroad on a UK graduate scheme with an international employer
If you don’t want to commit to spending several years in another country, there may be some opportunities to work overseas while on a UK-based graduate scheme. You could work on an international project from the UK but visit the site occasionally, or you could do a secondment abroad.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are more opportunities with consultancies, such as Mott MacDonald or Buro Happold, than contractors, but bear in mind that this option is not guaranteed with any employer. It depends on the organisation’s needs at that time. For example, James Straw, a civil engineer, started working for Mott MacDonald in 2006. He was placed in the foundations and geotechnical team in London. ‘In 2007, I moved to Dubai as a foundation engineer in our regional transportation geotechnical team.’ Then, in 2009, he returned to London to work on a satellite pier at Heathrow Airport.
Remember that you will be hired to predominantly fill the company’s resource needs in the UK. So you’ll have to seek out overseas work with your employer very proactively, making sure your managers know about your aspirations, but understand that they may not be accommodated immediately.
Be clear about your motivation because your employer won’t be impressed if you’re only concerned with sightseeing and sunbathing – you should be interested in learning about the developments, working cultures and types of projects in that country.
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.
You could also be fortunate enough to work on an international project during a year in industry placement with a large international employer – if you’re very proactive.
Then there are several charitable organisations, such as RedR, VSO and Engineers without Borders, that match engineers with volunteering projects around the world.
Finally, apply for the TARGETjobs Undergraduate of the Year Award in construction, engineering and design, and you could win an international summer work placement with Laing O’Rourke.
As well as having a great experience during your international internship, you will be able to show on your CV that you have the motivation and adaptability needed to work on other projects abroad in the future.