This summer's survey of the UK's Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) revealed some impressive statistics regarding the annual change in graduate vacancies available in the fields of science, engineering and technology.
Compared to 2006, vacancies this year were up 50 per cent in the energy, water and utilities sector; 42 per cent in telecoms; 35 per cent in IT hardware and software, and 14 per cent in the engineering and industrial sector. Vacancies were up 41 per cent in civil engineering jobs; 35 per cent in mechanical engineering positions; 34 per cent in electrical and electronic engineering jobs, and 28 per cent in IT roles.
It is important to recognise the context of these figures; the AGR survey results are taken from a comparatively small base of organisations and vacancies. Nonetheless, they are reflective of a general trend, which indicates that current students and graduates seeking careers in science, engineering and technology have many exciting opportunities available to them.
One current growth area is sustainable energy, which is at the forefront of both technological development and the socio-political agenda in the UK. Opportunities exist in roles across the sector, from research and development to engineering and IT. Other expanding fields include nanotechnology, biotechnology and biosciences. Graduates securing jobs in areas such as these will work at the forefront of developing technologies.
More roles now exist outside the traditional science and technology sectors; IT professionals in particular have opportunities to work within a wide variety of industries, from media to management consultancy.
Many science, engineering and technology vacancies are increasingly open to postgraduate students, and not just in research and development. A growing number of PhD science and technology graduates are pursuing non-academic careers. UK scientists in particular may find that a Masters or PhD could significantly increase their career prospects for overseas work.
Many key organisations in these sectors are multinationals; thus, opportunities may exist world-wide. Many relevant UK qualifications are easily transferable; for example, all EU countries have agreed on the formation of a professional engineer, which takes around seven years and includes education, training and experience.
With such a variety of opportunities, students and graduates need to thoroughly research possible careers. Potential employers will seek evidence that applicants know plenty about the sector and organisation that they are applying to.
Students should use their careers services, libraries, the internet and other resources to research possible roles and industries. Read the trade press to keep up with the latest developments in relevant sectors. Contact industry bodies for information about trends and career opportunities, as well as relevant support networks. Many science and engineering organisations, for example, are attempting to address the lack of female workers within their sectors, and organisations such as Women Into Science, Engineering and Construction (WISE) can offer tailored advice and opportunities for female candidates.
Grab every chance to speak to employers about the kinds of opportunities they offer and the skills, experience and attributes that they want. Several organisations now offer work placements, which are an excellent way to gain relevant experience and insight.
Many employers now demand a broader skillset than in previous years, incorporating transferable or "soft" skills, such as team-working and problem-solving. For example, many organisations are shifting expectations of their IT professionals from technical support to business application, with employees increasingly given more responsibility for business planning and strategy. Any evidence that graduates can offer of having developed these skills while at university – particularly through work experience or voluntary work – may help their applications.
The Science, Engineering and Technology Fair at Manchester Central takes place on 25 October, from 10.30am to 4pm. For more details. See www.manchester.ac.uk/careers/fairs
The author works for Manchester Leadership Programme, Careers & Employability Division, The University of ManchesterReuse content