So you didn’t get the engineering internship you wanted? You can still develop your skills

Last updated: 22 Jun 2023, 13:20

A formal placement while on holidays from college is desirable experience to get, but placements are limited. If your application doesn’t succeed, don’t panic, use the time to acquire skills which will enhance your appeal to potential employers.

A yellow hard hat on a wooden table

Unfortunately for students engineering internships are at a premium. For those in the first or second year of a four-year degree, it is difficult to get an internship. The good news though is that engineering spans a number of different sectors with almost every major graduate recruiter interested in to hiring those with an engineering background.

We spoke to employers and graduates working in the engineering sector for tips and advice on what skills students can develop and how they can be developed with postgraduate employment in the sector in mind.

What employers are saying

The AHECS Graduate Recruitment and Employability Survey asked employers who they were looking to hire, 48% said that they are looking for engineering graduates. Employers gave a high level of importance to having a relevant degree. Second and third most important factors were gaining relevant experience in addition to overall academic performance.

While an internship is beneficial in acquiring the experience which can make you stand out, it’s not the only option. Employers identified teamwork and a positive attitude as other desired attributes in employees while they specifically said graduates tend to lack business and customer awareness and self-management skills. Therefore, volunteering and part-time work over the summer can be the perfect way to develop skills that employers have identified as lacking in graduates.

Louise Clarke, Talent Acquisition Specialist at pharmaceutical company AbbVie, hires a range of graduates, including engineers, for its graduate and internship programmes. “Assisting students working on PhD’s, helping out with projects, taking an interest in what's going on in the sector and getting involved can really help”, she says.

What graduates are saying

gradireland spoke to a number of engineering graduates about what tips they would give to students looking to increase their employability outside of internships. Here’s what they told us:

  • Don’t be afraid to move abroad to get experience. The tools learned on an engineering course can be applied anywhere. Don’t just think of an internship as solely in Ireland. Think globally.
  • Learn a language. Even if you have to start out from scratch, think seriously about spending a summer doing it. Focus on it properly. More and more research shows languages can be learned extremely quickly if you apply yourself! Check out the language blog Fluent in three months for inspiration.
  • Learn appropriate computer software. The technology used in the sector changes rapidly so keep up to date and aim to be proficient in these systems.
  • Practise your report writing skills. In many jobs, report writing is an essential feature for both your managers and also for your clients.
  • Open-source projects. If you’ve got a great idea, seek out funding through crowd-sourcing. Even contributing to other projects, it shows a level of initiative that employers love.

The career advisor’s view

Angela Collins, Career’s Advisor at Waterford Institute of Technology, tells us about experience outside of engineering which can make you more employable. “It doesn’t matter whether you are working part-time in a fast-food chain, it’s all relevant. In a job like that where you have to take an order, for example, for six burgers, some with gherkins, some without, you have to have two vital skills, attention-to-detail and listening. Graduates tend to overlook these transferable skills and don’t mention them when it comes to an interview. You should put all of your work experience on your CV or else it leaves a massive void”.

“Also travelling can be a great asset on your CV. Graduates have to be realistic. Some engineering companies will hire you and straight away you are sent to Saudi Arabia or Canada to work. Therefore, having travel experience is important. Everyone says ‘I love to travel’, but two weeks on the beach isn't going to differentiate you to employers. You have to show you can adjust to a different work ethic and different cultures.”

Angela also advises engineering students to learn to drive, get a safe pass to go on sites, try to learn software programming appropriate for engineering, such as Metlab, and also to volunteer if they can. “Charity or unpaid work can be really good because it shows you are eager to work and learn”, adds Angela.

Further information

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