Choosing an employer

What are the best graduate engineering companies to work for?

19 Jun 2024, 10:18

How do you decide which is the best engineering company for you to join? We reveal student engineers’ most popular employers – but ultimately your choice of workplace will depend on the industry you want to work in, the career you want to have and the life you want to lead.

A plane taking off: which engineering employer will help your career take off?

For graduates, choosing the best engineering company to work for (or to apply to) can be a real conundrum. In a way, you have too much choice. You can be employed as an engineer across many different industries and professions, from the armed forces and government agencies to the automotive, fast-moving consumer goods and marine sectors. And, added to that, you can work in a variety of roles or functions for engineering employers, from specialist technology development to commercial and management roles. So how do you narrow down your choice? Answering our questions will help you to crystallise your thinking. Jump to:

  1. Which are the most popular graduate engineering companies?
  2. Which type of engineering job do you want?
  3. What working environment and travel opportunities do you want?
  4. What support will you have in achieving incorporated or chartered engineering status?
  5. What are your most important priorities in a work culture: innovation, sustainability and so on?
  6. Tip: get the inside track

1. Which engineering companies are the most popular with graduates – and should that influence your choice of employer?

Each year the Cibyl Graduate Research UK survey asks tens of thousands of students which organisations top their list of preferred employers. Take a peek at the top ten engineering design and manufacturing employers . The exact composition of the top ten changes each year, but global manufacturers operating in aerospace and automotive typically dominate.

If you head over to the top ten construction, civil engineering and surveying employers , meanwhile, you will find that consultancies, which specialise in the design phase of projects, tend to rank more highly than contractors, which build the project.

The ten most popular energy and utility companies usually comprise the dominant players in oil and gas, and the ten most popular fast moving consumer goods companies often feature major brands in the health, hygiene and beauty markets.

If you are not sure where to start in deciding where to apply, these employer lists should spark inspiration because these organisations have a good reputation with other students and graduates. However, you shouldn’t only look at these.

You may find that other employers suit you better – for example, there are lots of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in this sector and you may find that individual entry-level roles in these and niche organisations can give you greater opportunities to develop technical expertise and the potential to progress more rapidly than structured graduate programmes at larger organisations would. Experienced engineers often say that larger companies often focus on the big picture and project management, while smaller companies enable you to get closer to the work on technical problems.

So, keep in mind the list of companies that other students and graduates most want to work for, but don’t let yourself be entirely swayed by it. You can search for graduate engineering jobs on targetjobs , where you’ll find employers of all shapes and sizes. However, if you are looking for jobs with smaller companies and start-ups, you will probably find that those local to your university have good links with your career service and innovation and enterprise hubs.

2. Which type of engineering job appeals?

This is probably the most obvious question, but it’s also probably the hardest – because of the choice on offer. It’s true that all engineers solve technical problems and that’s what draws most people to the industry, but the projects and work you will be doing in one industry can be entirely different in another, even if you have the same job title.

For example, mechanical engineers in the chemicals industry improve or support existing automated production assets such as conveyors, industrial ovens robotics or deliver new projects. A mechanical engineer working in building services for a construction employer, meanwhile, will be responsible for either designing or constructing/installing heating, ventilation, air conditioning and smoke ventilation systems. What type of project or sector interests you the most?

If you don’t have a preference on this, think about the stage of a project or process you’d prefer to work on – broadly speaking, would you like to get involved with the design, the building/implementation or the testing?

But bear in mind that the jobs you can apply for may be affected by the degree modules you studied. Many employers either prefer or require you to have completed modules relevant to the graduate programme you are applying for – especially in fields such as robotics.

Find out more about the engineering jobs open to you with different disciplines:

3. What working environment do you want and how much do you want to travel?

Engineering organisations operate differently even within the same industry. Think about which environment would be right for you: a fast-paced factory, a high-tech design office or an offshore oil rig?

Some positions (eg site engineer) involve spending a lot of time outdoors while others (eg design engineers) are mainly office based. Also consider the balance you’d like between time spent in different places: would you be happy working all week in one location or do you need more variety?

Some engineers travel a lot within the UK (for example to different manufacturing sites) or overseas. Oil and gas engineers, for example, generally need to be globally mobile. In the construction industry, whether you work internationally as a graduate will depend to a large extent on which projects your company bids for and wins.

Working hours depend on the sort of role you are in. Manufacturing engineers may have to do shift work, for example, whilst those involved in maintenance sometimes work unusual hours.

Want to find out more?

4. What support will you get with becoming a chartered or incorporated engineer?

A graduate engineer’s future career prospects are enhanced by gaining professional qualifications. The support employers offer you on your journey to become a chartered or incorporated engineer varies.

Typically, larger employers will ensure that their graduate programmes are structured around gaining professional qualifications. They usually provide you with an in-house mentor to encourage and supervise you, and they typically run in-house training around specific competencies, too. They may also be able to move you around projects to gain evidence of the required competencies, although this is dependent upon business needs.

At smaller employers, the training and support could be less formal: for example, rather than attending training sessions in house, you may go to external training courses run by the professional body, and your learning may be more self-directed. Similarly, not all small employers can commit to paying your professional fees. But you might find that the tasks you do at a smaller employer, along with the opportunity to take on more responsibility when working on a smaller team, enable you to gain evidence of the required competencies more quickly.

You might find that a larger employer will want you to start working towards professional qualifications straight away, while a smaller employer may be happier for you to start the process at a later date.

However, the support and attitudes towards gaining professional qualifications really do vary between employers, even if they are the same size and have access to the same resources – so don’t take the above on trust without further investigation. Make sure you research the support on offer at the employers that interest you and ask questions about it when meeting employees and interviewers. Discover more on gaining a professional qualification and becoming an incorporated or chartered engineer.

5. What else is important to you in an employer?

Your personal values and motivations should play a massive role in deciding which is the best company for you to join. For example, is it important to you to work for a company that has a track record of working on innovative projects and on being committed to sustainability? Equally, how important is it to you that your working environment is truly diverse and inclusive, and that you have supportive colleagues? What does a good work/life balance mean to you and is it more or less important than a high starting salary?

Take some time to reflect on what is most important to you and what is less so. Then work out what is non-negotiable for you, taking into account whether what you want is achievable and realistic in your first graduate job. For example, if a high starting salary is important to you, what range do you have in mind and is that a realistic expectation? Most large engineering employers offer graduate salaries in the region of £28,000–£32,000. If you are holding out for a £50,000 pay packet, you are likely to be disappointed.

Find out more about salaries:

How to get the insider info

You should always start investigating employers with some desk research: check out our organisation hubs to see what different employers say about their working culture and their attitudes towards equality, diversity and inclusion.

But a view from someone on the inside is invaluable when trying to get a feel for the culture and the work of the employers you feel enthusiastic about. Talk to graduate engineers at careers fairs. See if friends or relations know people who work at an organisation that interests you or try reaching out to current employees on LinkedIn: follow our advice on how to use LinkedIn effectively . You could also see if it’s possible to arrange some work shadowing.

Interviews and assessment centres bring further opportunities to get underneath the corporate gloss, so use the recruitment process to gain as much of a feel for the working environment as possible.

Make the most of opportunities to talk to current employees and ask questions of recruiters. If you feel comfortable talking to them, it’s more likely that you’ll feel comfortable working with them.

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