How Work Experience Shaped My Engineering Career
4 months ago

We all know how competitive today's job market is, so experience often stands out as the biggest difference between landing your dream job or merely wishing for it. As a Civil Engineering Degree Apprentice, I've come to understand just how important gaining work experience is. It's not just about bulking up your cv; it's about the invaluable lessons learned, skills honed, and networks built that can shape your career trajectory for the better.

Just as a disclaimer, it doesn’t matter what field you want to pursue, my examples show that no matter what experience you get, it’ll make a difference. Also, until about 2 months before I started my apprenticeship, I was adamant I would be going into aerospace engineering. However, with both offers in front of me, I chose the civils route. This itself shows specific experiences aren’t necessary, although it is encouraged. 

The Path to Success Begins with Experience

Before even beginning my apprenticeship, I realised early on that classroom learning, while fundamental, only scratches the surface of what it takes to excel in the real world. Theory provides the foundation, but it's through practical application that knowledge truly blossoms. Work experience bridges the gap between theory and practice, offering insights into the day-to-day realities of the profession. Along with this, certain soft skills can only be achieved through specific experiences. How many of us can say we’ve got customer-facing skills (and not just write it down on application forms)?  

Learning Beyond the Classroom

One of the most significant advantages of work experience is the opportunity to witness firsthand how theoretical concepts translate into real-world projects. I spent a week during the summer holidays of my college years at Siemens, which is a huge engineering company. The focus of that week was to show us how companies worked from the top to the bottom, the processes, and systems in place and even the business aspect. Although the week consisted of mainly manufacturing management within engineering (something completely different to what I wanted to do), it provided a lot of insight into what I could expect once I start working. 

Work experience exposes you to diverse challenges and problem-solving scenarios, fostering adaptability and critical thinking skills. It might be a little surprising but my best example for this would be the few months I spent volunteering at a local optician’s clinic. Just one day a week over 4 months where I worked alongside the receptionists dealing with customers, some database management, and the pre-screening process of the eye appointment. This itself taught me communication, organisation and various other skills. I would then spend time with the optician himself, seeing how appointments are carried out, and how interaction with customers can differ between age, gender and language. 

I’ve also got a Level 1 FA Coaching Qualification, meaning I can coach the younger generation in football (and probably get them to play better than Man United!). This involved the professional training as well as volunteering as a coach for a year.

Building a Network

Another invaluable aspect of work experience is the opportunity to connect with professionals and mentors. These relationships extend beyond the duration of a placement, serving as a source of guidance and support throughout your career journey.

In today's competitive job market, work experience is no longer just a bonus—it's a prerequisite for success. As a Civil Engineering Degree Apprentice, I've witnessed firsthand the transformative impact of work experience on my career trajectory. It has provided me with the skills, insights, and connections necessary to thrive in the ever-evolving field of civil engineering. To aspiring professionals embarking on their career journeys, I offer this advice: Embrace every opportunity to gain practical experience, seize mentorship opportunities, and cultivate a network of industry professionals. By doing so, you'll not only enhance your employability but also lay the groundwork for a fulfilling and successful career.

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