The engineering design and construction (EDC) industry provides the infrastructure and processing technology that are essential for a range of industries to process raw materials. Companies in this sector act as engineering contractors to clients such as big-name petrochemical organisations, well-known food producers and chemicals companies.
The work is broadly separated into onshore and offshore business, and then into hydrocarbon and non-hydrocarbon-based industries. Projects with the hydrocarbon industry cover oil and gas production through to gas processing and liquids refining, and also through to the production of bulk and speciality chemicals and polymers. The non-hydrocarbon based work covers areas such as pharmaceuticals, food, minerals and metals, water treatment, industrial gases and environmental treatment.
EDC companies turn the ideas and requirements of their clients (for example, a new refinery or a plant refit) into a commercial reality through the conceptual development and detailed engineering, procurement, construction, commissioning and initial operation of the project. Projects in this industry are often large scale and worth billions of dollars.
Trends and developments in engineering design and construction
Many of the current headline issues in the media are related to areas where engineers working in EDC will be able to make a significant impact in the future, such as security of energy supply, new energy sources and the reduction in CO2 emissions. Climate change draws the focus of governments onto the importance of progressing towards new energy sources, including nuclear fuels and biofuels. This focus increases the potential for new EDC projects and brings the opportunity to develop safer processing techniques.
What it's like working in engineering design and construction
It has been suggested that completing a large project from conceptual design through the engineering, procurement and construction phases to successful start-up and operation is second only in complexity to putting a man on the moon. Plants are built in challenging places all over the world (including deserts and in the oceans), so foreign travel will be a routine feature of your working life.
Each location has its own unique combination of local factors such as climate, political demands, environmental considerations and workforce availability. These factors mean that engineers face significant demands, but also experience a great deal of variety in their daily activities.
Project work comes in many forms. Conceptual studies can take just a few weeks but a full-scale project usually runs for more than three years from award of the contract – a ‘monster’ project can take four years or more. Teams can consist of a few engineers up to several hundred in multidisciplined teams.
Although the industry is often seen as conservative (clients often want to mitigate the risk on their substantial investments through specifying use of proven technology and tried-and-tested equipment), there is always the need for EDC companies to push the boundaries forward to develop new ideas and find more effective ways to work. For this reason, they are always keen to recruit graduates with strong motivation, fresh ideas and enthusiasm to meet the challenges of the industry.
Getting a graduate job in engineering design and construction
Employers seek graduates from all types of engineering degree background, including chemical and process, electrical, control and instrumentation, mechanical, civil and environmental disciplines.
Graduates need a sound understanding of their subject and must be able to apply their academic training in the workplace. Training in the company’s work methods is provided so a strong aptitude for learning is important.
Employers also look for qualities such as enthusiasm, drive, self motivation, teamworking, idea generation, leadership, willingness to challenge past methods and a commitment to meeting schedules and delivering work. Numeracy, computer literacy, and good oral and written communication skills are essential supporting skills.
Career progression for graduates in engineering design and construction
Many employers have accredited training programmes that require engineers to experience all phases of projects and types of work. There are an incredible range of activities and roles available, so after the first few days of induction every graduate’s career will be different.
Future career direction is usually something a graduate engineer discusses in conjunction with their supervisor and mentor (for those on an accredited training scheme) to ensure that the right level of training and experience is planned and completed to match the individual’s aspirations and the business needs of the company. Project management, technology leadership, sales or becoming a discipline expert are all avenues that will be open to you as you progress.
The highlights of a career in engineering design and construction
- Working on a wide range of projects.
- Foreign travel: you’ll work in many different locations around the world (and they are not always featured in the media’s travel programmes!).
- Having a personally satisfying and offers good monetary rewards.
- Being part of a fast-moving global industry.
Thanks to Barry Weightman for his help with this article. Barry is senior manager, engineering operations, at KBR London Ltd. He has a BSc in chemical engineering from the University of Surrey.