Engineering is an incredibly broad profession, as demonstrated by the fact that engineers are found in such diverse fields as agriculture, telecommunications, and robotics.
Given the sheer amount of choice available in engineering, it can sometimes be difficult for students and new graduates to decide how to plan their careers.
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To help with this, we’ve come up with a list of the most common career paths available for engineers. As you’ll see, some engineering disciplines naturally lend themselves to different specializations.
Begin at the beginning
Regardless of your discipline, you’ll almost always start off your career at the bottom, as a junior-level engineer.
This is a basic entry-level position where you’ll “learn the trade” under the supervision of a senior engineer.
The job duties of a junior engineer will vary depending on your specific branch of engineering, but they generally centre around collecting and analyzing data, testing products, doing field work, and assisting with reports and documentation.
Getting your P.Eng license
Becoming licensed as a Professional Engineer can open up many opportunities for you, and it’s something that you’ll want to start thinking about early in your career.
As a Professional Engineer, you’ll be officially authorized to practice engineering in your province or territory, and you’ll be allowed to take legal responsibility for your work. The credibility that comes with being a licensed professional will greatly benefit you if you decide to move into consulting work in the future, or if you want to start your own business.
All this being said, a P.Eng designation is not a requirement for engineering work and there are many successful engineers who do not hold the license. If your area of interest does not require a P.Eng or if you’re still undecided about your career in general, then it might be wise to hold off on applying for your license. You’ll always be free to pursue your P.Eng certification at a later time in your career.
A rotational program is a special type of internship in which an intern rotates through various departments within an organization, or through various roles within a department.
Rotational programs are great if you’re not sure what path you want to take in your career as an engineer, since they let you try your hand at a wide variety of different jobs and tasks.
These programs are also an excellent way for you to expand your professional network, since they offer you a chance to meet and connect with people from throughout your organization.
Many companies offer rotational programs for newly-graduated engineers, specifically engineers-in-training who are working towards their P.Eng license. These programs can last up to four years and generally involve rotating between at least two different departments within an organization.
Networking is sometimes seen as a formal activity where professionals meet with each other on a regular basis to exchange business leads and discuss new opportunities.
For those of you just starting out in your career, however, networking doesn’t have to be nearly this regimented.
Simply making small talk with your co-workers, going out for lunches, taking part in company events like summer barbecues and Christmas parties – all of these are easy and fun activities that can help you build genuine relationships with your colleagues.
By meeting and getting to know as many people as possible within your company, you can build a solid network of connections that you can draw upon later, no matter which career path you choose.
Becoming a senior engineer
Once you’ve spent a number of years as a junior engineer, you’ll hopefully gain enough knowledge and experience to take on the duties and responsibilities of a senior-level engineer. As a senior engineer, there are a number of different career paths available.
One option is to move into project management, where you’ll be responsible for managing and overseeing the work of other engineers.
The responsibilities of an engineering project manager include preparing schedules, managing budgets, allocating resources, reviewing and approving technical drawings, and ensuring that projects are completed according to plan and according to schedule.
This is a job that blends the technical and social aspects of engineering and which requires an abundance of leadership skills, as well as strong organizational acumen and a certain comfort with workplace politics.
It’s a career path that’s well-suited for those interested in moving up the corporate ladder, since it provides for excellent networking opportunities and invaluable management experience.
Successful project engineers can find themselves promoted into the executive branch of an organization, becoming Technical Directors, Vice Presidents and even Chief Technical Officers.
Research and development
Another option is to focus more on the research and development side of engineering. As research and design engineers, you’ll be responsible for developing and testing new products and technologies. To be successful in R&D, an engineer must possess a creative mind, as well as a thorough understanding of the scientific principles behind engineering processes.
If you’re looking to make a career in R&D, you should consider pursuing graduate studies in engineering – in order to undertake advanced research, you will likely need at least a Master’s degree.
The fields of electrical, software, and mechanical engineering provide a particularly broad scope for innovation. These disciplines are at the forefront of the high-tech industry, and there will always be a need there for new and cutting-edge products.
As you gain more and more expertise in your field, you can start to consider offering your services as a consulting engineer.
Consulting engineers provide professional advice to their clients concerning scientific and engineering matters, and often work with both engineers and non-engineers to help design and implement solutions to technical problems.
A successful consulting engineer needs to be extremely knowledgeable about their field of work, and should be comfortable working with professionals from multiple different disciplines in order to bring a project to completion.
This is a career path that’s well-suited for those who enjoy the freedom of working for themselves and making their own hours, at the expense of a regular paycheck and company-paid benefits. Due to the extremely versatile nature of the job, consulting engineers can come from a variety of different backgrounds – from project managers to test engineers – and from every engineering discipline.