Maddie Smith: Use your skills and make a difference to the way we all live

A quick glance at some of the employers attending the Science, Engineering and Technology Fair at Manchester on Thursday 27 October should give you an indication of the broad range of sectors and roles available in SET. They include: IT operations, power control engineer, patent agent, analytical chemist and civil engineer, working in areas as diverse as European government, paint manufacturing, energy transmission, utilities, IT operations, defence, engineering consultancy, transport and retail.

Should you not wish to follow a career directly related to your degree, there are still a great many other choices available to you, several of which are still within the sector. These roles often have a strong commercial element, but your fundamental engineering knowledge and technical ability can be really useful too. Opportunities in less well-known careers include: operations management, logistics, intellectual property, supply chain and procurement, to name a few. Speaking directly to recruiters at careers fairs can be a great way of finding out about what these roles involve.

Many recruiters agree that the SET sector is set to expand considerably over the next few years, with a demand for skilled graduates in key areas. For example, the UK is a world leader in science, particularly in research and development and government investment, and the expansion of science parks has seen the growth of new opportunities. The Association of Graduates Recruiters (AGR) reports that vacancies in the UK science sector are expected to increase by 14.5 per cent this year.

Similarly, the engineering and construction sectors are expecting substantial growth in graduate openings over the next five years. The Engineering Council and the Construction Industry Training Board have both expressed concerns about skills shortages; this is in part due to the extensive house-building, transport and infrastructure development that is taking place within the UK today. For example, mechanical engineering vacancies are expected to rise by 24.2 per cent in 2005. There has also been a large increase in opportunities within the public and utilities sectors, with energy, water and utility companies all expecting more than a 20 per cent increase in vacancies.

Likewise, although the IT and telecommunications industries have experienced a relative downturn over the past five years, a skills gap at experienced hire level means that more vacancies are filtering down to graduate level. Again, according to the AGR, a substantial increase in IT graduate vacancies is expected for 2005. Graduates entering IT may experience an added bonus, since salaries are expected to rise by 4.8 per cent from an average of £21,000 in 2004, with key growth areas in the internet and web security.

In terms of trends in the overall job market, employment rates across almost all types of engineering are above the national average. For example, 70 per cent of chemical engineers find full-time employment within three months of graduating, and the figure is even higher for civil engineers. In terms of benefits, the engineering sector offers structured training programmes and support to reach incorporated or chartered status. There may be opportunities for some to pursue specialist business training too. The UK Engineering Council also states that engineers earn more, on average, than other graduates.

Recruiters are taking steps to encourage women to stay in SET; not merely to fill diversity quotas, but because of the skills and abilities they bring to the profession. A number of organisations have been set up to promote greater participation of women in SET professions and offer support and advice. The Women's Engineering Society and Women in Industrial Research Initiative are just two of examples. Other initiatives include awareness-raising courses and mentoring schemes. For example, IBM is hosting several "IT Careers for Women" open days at its laboratory in Hursley Park this month.

Careers fairs are an ideal way for you to speak to companies and find out what they might offer you. Take a targeted, well put together CV to get the most out of the experience.

Maddie Smith is a careers consultant at the Careers and Employability Division, Manchester University
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