School’s Out, What Now?

Posted 3yr(s) ago Reading Time: A few minutes

You finally got that engineering diploma or degree that you worked so hard for. Do you enter the workforce and start earning your keep, or do you pursue further studies? In today’s highly competitive market, is that piece of paper enough? Will you need another certification to move up the ranks or will industry experience get you where you want to be?

We speak to more than 50 engineers who faced exactly the same dilemma to shed some light on the various paths available to you in engineering.

Work first

Money is the single biggest reason for fresh graduates to start working.  Some want to save for a flat, others would like to be able to support themselves and contribute to their families. Working first also ensures you have valuable hands-on experience to complement the academic knowledge you’ve acquired.

If you’re looking to start work, engineers we spoke to advise choosing a company that is committed to developing your potential and helping you grow in your career. For example, ensuring fresh hires are offered good training programmes.

A structured programme over a few months is a great way to help you apply what you learnt in school, to find success at the workplace. Having a mentor guide you through the ins-and-outs of the company will also support a smoother transition to working life.

Always assess the potential for growth. Is there a defined technical career path should you choose to specialise? Or are there avenues for broadening your skills in other business functions?

“For new engineers, it’s very important that you start in a place that offers you a challenging environment to grow. That’s where you can learn many things and build up your career,” said Ranjit Jaganathan, Senior Electrical Engineer, AbbVie.

Keep on studying

On the other hand, committing to further studies can be a difficult choice because of the time and monetary investment involved. A degree or direct PhD programme can take up to four years. In that time, your peers are earning salaries, enjoying bonuses and chalking up work experience.

However, engineers who have done it say it’s worth it in the long-term.

“These days, a first degree might not be good enough. I feel a master’s is necessary and important in the engineering industry now,” said Goh Szu Huat, Deputy Director, TD Diagnostic Engineering, GLOBALFOUNDRIES.

“If you’re really interested in engineering and wish to grow in this area, the PhD programme ultimately trains you to conduct research on your own and gain in-depth learning.”

Striking a balance: Work and Study

A common path taken by many engineers who wish to upgrade their skills after a few years of work is to enrol in part-time studies while continuing their full-time jobs. This certainly has its advantages.

After working a few years, you are better placed to identify knowledge gaps and choose a course of study that will help you progress. Some companies offer scholarships to help defray the cost of further studies, sometimes up to 90%, especially when the field of study is related to the job.

The initial years of work experience will also give you an upper hand when you go back to school. Having navigated real-world engineering scenarios, you’ll find it much easier to grasp new engineering concepts and theories.

Mechanical engineer Fuad pursued a part-time engineering degree while he worked as a CAD designer at Schlumberger after his diploma.

“By the time you graduate with your bachelor’s, you not only have a degree but also work experience. This gives you a different kind of leverage, and you have the maturity that people in the industry appreciate,” he explained.

But the engineers who have walked this path say it’s not always a bed of roses. It can be challenging to juggle both work and study at the same time. Many have had to dedicate their annual leave days to studying and sitting for exams.

In these situations, a supportive line manager who can be flexible about giving you time off for classes, makes a big difference.

“My supervisors are very understanding. When I had classes, if I’m on day shift, they’d let me go off early. Or if I’m on night shift, they’d let me come in later,” said Siti Rashidah Hasali, who was recently promoted from Process Technician to Associate Engineer in SSMC. After a Higher Nitec in Electronics, she pursued a specialist diploma in Semiconductor Technology with a company sponsorship.

Today, she is already looking ahead and has her eye on an engineering degree.

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