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Career tips for engineering students from an engineer

Career tips for engineers from a rising star at National Grid

David Adkins, an engineer with National Grid, shares his advice on how to improve your career prospects both at university and at work.

If you want to succeed as an engineer, believe in what you’re doing and remember the impact it has on other people’s lives. That’s one of a number of career-boosting tips from David Adkins, an engineer with National Grid who joined its graduate scheme in 2011. David has plenty of suggestions about how to improve your prospects, both at university and once you have started work, but the common theme to all his advice is the need to take a committed, dedicated approach.

David's career tips for student and graduate engineers

  • Believe in the importance of engineering. It underpins our lives. It’s the thrill of seeing something tangible coming out of your work; the satisfaction when equipment does its job as per your calculation or your design.
  • At university, find out what you’re good at and enjoy doing and take every opportunity to practise and improve. Showcase your skills on committees, in societies and at work.
  • Don’t do extra stuff for no reason. Try and get involved in activities that develop your skills and are relevant to your future career.
  • Join the IET (the Institution of Engineering and Technology) and take part in their student programmes.
  • Beware! Don’t take everything at face value when attending company presentations at university, especially when meeting non-engineering employers desperate to recruit engineers.
  • Choose a company with values you believe in. David points out that the work he does contributes positively to lives and society; maintaining a safe sustainable electricity and gas supply is vital to the economy and people’s wellbeing and livelihoods.
  • Think about the long term. Being an engineer is not just about being a technical specialist; there are also opportunities to work in management and in commercial or corporate areas.

How David made his mark at work

David has made a point of taking advantage of opportunities for development during his career with National Grid. He graduated from Southampton University in 2010 with a masters in electronic engineering and power systems, and became the chair of National Grid’s Newnet Employee Resource Group, which helps new staff settle into work, soon after joining the organisation himself. He bolstered National Grid’s volunteering programme, coordinating staff going out to schools and the local community, and ran a number of STEM events in primary and secondary schools as well as getting involved in events run by the IET.

After completing his graduate programme David put himself forward to join a project called the Engineering Framework, which involved levelling the risk profile across National Grid. David ended up running the implementation and communications strand of the project and managing the work of three other graduates.

He has been involved in business improvement projects and has achieved major improvements in efficiency. One project improved delivery from 53% on time to 100% on time in three months; the solutions from the other project have been packaged up to disseminate across the whole of National Grid’s electricity business.

He believes his attitude has been a key part of his success; he stays positive in the face of problems, remains calm and copes with pressure by prioritising. His communication skills have also helped him to have an impact. He recommends getting key points across in a simple way, having realised early on that if he could sum up his message on one page or in a few minutes people tended to take notice.

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This content has been written or sourced by AGCAS, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, and edited by TARGETjobs as part of a content partnership. AGCAS provides impartial information and guidance resources for higher education student career development and graduate employment professionals.