An engineer’s fundamental skills, such as logical thinking, problem-solving and strong numeracy, are highly desirable in many other business sectors. IT, banking, finance and consulting are just a few of the options. However, you don’t have to leave engineering to explore commercial, financial and management opportunities.
Many larger engineering employers run programmes that focus on these areas of their business, for example operations management, commercial management, technical sales, finance, procurement and purchasing, supply chain management and logistics. Read on to research a selection of your options.
Logistics covers the physical movement of materials – the transfer of raw materials to manufacturing facilities or the distribution of products to customers – as well as all the planning and financial transactions involved in these operations. The aim is to move things around at the lowest possible cost. It covers processing and tracking orders, working with planning departments to check availability of products, forecasting to meet changes in the market, and dealing with contracted services such as shipping.
- As a logistician, you will apply your problem-solving and logical-thinking skills to problems and situations as they arise.
- Every situation also requires a cost-benefit analysis. You need to consider the impact of your decisions on the business as a whole, so it’s important to be able to see the bigger picture.
- Good communication skills are essential. You have to be clear and accurate in what you say to colleagues and customers, particularly when you meet resistance to changes in procedures.
Operations management is a crucial link between the different parts of the manufacturing process and the business side of a manufacturing organisation. The role is often based around the supply chain – operations managers can be involved in anything from buying raw materials to the logistics of delivery to customers. The aim is to assess and improve the day-to-day running of, for example, a manufacturing plant, by implementing systems to increase productivity and reduce costs. You also need to plan ahead and put strategies in place for future development.
Communication and interpersonal skills are invaluable: you will have to work with people running the systems and processes and find quick solutions to problems based on the information you receive. You will use your analytical thinking to get the most from the data, and learn how to deal with problems that can have a huge impact on how processes work. Operations management is good for people who like to look at the business as a whole.
Patent law and intellectual property
A patent attorney is a specialised legal professional who is qualified to write, obtain and advise clients about patents and to protect the intellectual property (IP) rights in commercial products or processes. A legal background is not required, however: the essential requirement for patent law is technical expertise. Patent attorneys may deal with patents, which protect technological innovations, and with other types of IP such as registered and unregistered designs, which protect the shape and appearance of products. A patent attorney can work for a private firm or an organisation’s in-house patent department.
- In addition to a good degree and broad-based interest in engineering, excellent communication skills are essential, particularly written skills.
- You need to be comfortable dealing with clients, working to tight deadlines and handling several projects at once.
- There is a long training period followed by exams – it may take from three to five years to qualify.
Read our 'spotlight on patent attorneys' series to find out more:
- how to get a job as a patent attorney
- what life is like as a patent attorney
- training and progression for patent attorneys
Procurement, purchasing and buying
Procurement is the process of buying equipment and parts for projects at the right price and quality, so that they can be delivered to where they need to be at the right time. As such, procurement careers cover a wide range of activities, including: drawing up lists of preferred suppliers; choosing suppliers based on quality, price and schedule; checking progress and quality; and working with logisticians to ship the equipment to site.
- A wide range of skills are required to be successful. Orders can be worth millions of pounds, so buyers have to cost equipment accurately.
- Selecting a suitable vendor can involve negotiation so excellent communication skills are vital.
- Timescales are tight, so you have to think on your feet and understand what’s going on in all departments.
- An engineering background means you’ll have a technical understanding of the equipment you’re buying, so you can better estimate timescales and the impact of any changes.
- You may also be required to inspect equipment.
Supply chain management
Supply chain management involves managing raw materials, production lines, manufacturing processes and logistics to maintain a supply of high-quality products to customers. It’s all about perfecting the processes in the chain to provide the best service for customers, while at the same time minimising costs and ensuring the safety of employees. It can be quite complex, especially within a large organisation where you could be working with people from business managers to technicians, so good interpersonal skills are essential. To improve processes and act as a link between different parts of the process, you will need to understand the functions of other teams, and other people’s roles.
- Analytical and investigative skills are also important for seeking out new opportunities and proposing new schemes to make the business more profitable.
- An engineering background may make it easier to pick up technical knowledge, which will help when making business decisions.
Graduates working in supply chain roles:
Teaching, academia and lecturing
Many people are first attracted to engineering because they like applying science and using their problem-solving skills. Why not use your knowledge of these processes to help train others and turn young scientists into budding engineers? Teaching an engineeringrelated subject enables you to look at the creative aspects of engineering and help students to develop their own problem-solving skills. You can use real-world examples from your degree and any time spent in business to bring technical and scientific concepts to life. You will need some experience of working with children, enthusiasm for your subject, and strong communication skills.
- You could also use your engineering background to stay in academia and become a higher education lecturer, specialising in a particular area.
- You will need in-depth technical knowledge of specialist areas, as well as the ability to communicate this to others clearly using tutorials, lectures, and practical laboratory work.
- You may also carry out personal research.
Technical consultants help organisations to solve their business problems. This could cover anything that might impact on the profitability of an organisation so, if you are interested in the broader world of business, this may be the option for you. As a new graduate, you could expect to work as part of a team, initially focusing on research. You will then use data analysis and statistical modelling to come up with creative solutions to business problems. You will need excellent analytical and communication skills to present complex information and results to clients, who will often include top management.
- As a trained engineer it will be easier to back up your opinions with technical knowledge and analysis.
- Your logical reasoning and problem-solving skills will be invaluable, and you will need to be comfortable dealing with numbers and large volumes of data.
- You may also need your technical knowledge to advise on the implementation of specialist technology or equipment.
Technical sales involves using your engineering knowledge to win future business. You will need to draw on your organisation’s expertise and skills to present innovative ideas that meet your clients’ requirements. For this, you’ll need a solid understanding of both the business and the needs of its clients. A strong engineering background is essential to be credible in technical sales – you need to understand any technical issues and challenges, and advise the client on how your organisation can help them. You will need to work with people across your organisation, including those in research, development, design and purchasing, to ensure you have a full understanding of the product or service.
- Being disciplined and having a positive outlook will take you far in a sales environment.
- Most importantly, you need to be good at listening to the client, absorbing and interpreting information and then communicating it to others.
- Winning new business is what makes technical sales people tick.
Businesses need to ensure their employees can use, sell, install and operate complex equipment and technological systems. For this, technical trainers are key – they have the technical expertise and communication skills to train workforces on topics such as technical standards, company-specific software packages, manufacturing equipment and health and safety processes.
- You may work for an agency, or be part of an internal human resources and development team.
- You will need to analyse the training needs of the organisation, and then develop technical training courses and materials suitable for all levels, from those with the most basic technical or IT knowledge, to those with high-level technical skills and engineering backgrounds.
- You will need strong presentation and organisational skills, and the ability to communicate with people of all levels.
- You will also need to keep on top of industry developments and potentially work with course providers and examining bodies to ensure the appropriate accreditation.