Undergraduate Focus: Building a career for the future
Prospects: Many young people out there are aspiring engineers. There is no doubt why – engineering has always been seen as a prestigious career. Engineers are the people that built the world around us, and they are the ones that have a hand in the changing cityscapes and evolving landscapes around us.
In Malaysian society, tradition has it that engineering is one of the best career choices a young person can make. But the profession has surely changed and advanced since our parents’ or grandparents’ times. So what really are the prospects of engineering as a career?
Supply vs demand: The simplest answer to that question is that career prospects for an engineer in the immediate future are very good. Malaysia is a developing country; right now, the government’s Economic Transformation Programme accounts for numerous development projects all over the country. Each of these projects requires engineers of different disciplines.
There is a great number of engineering graduates in Malaysia each year – there were about 100,000 last year. But the supply is matching the demand. Most of these graduates have successfully landed jobs.
Evolution: As a developing country, traditional disciplines such as civil and mechanical engineering will continue to be in demand for some time. But as Malaysia’s economy and capabilities grow more sophisticated, there is need for chemical engineers, electrical engineers, and new and advanced engineering disciplines such as biomedical, marine, aeronautical and even nuclear engineering.
“Matching the type of engineers to industry requirements is a constant juggling act as demand shifts due to economic, geopolitical and other reasons. Universities will probably need at least four to five years to be able to adjust the supply of the right type of engineers to meet any new demand,” says Ir Dr Cheong Thiam Fook, Chairman of the Institution of Engineers, Malaysia’s Membership Committee.
Each engineering specialisation is equally important to the nation’s development, continues Ir Cheong, as contributions from each field will go towards building the nation. What aspiring engineers should look out for are new areas of interest that develop as the country moves forward – areas like green technology.
Skill and experience: If there is a problem that new engineers face, it is the fact that these rapidly developing industries require experience. This is of course a catch-22: one cannot gain experience without a job, but one cannot get a job without experience.
As the progression of our industries gets more sophisticated, so too the requirement for highly qualified individuals gets more specific, says Professor Dr Mohamad Kamal Harun, President of the Institute of Materials Malaysia. The country’s industries have to develop to remain significant, and the country’s engineers have to possess the skills that come up to modern industry standards.
A real life example is what is going on in Malaysia’s oil and gas industry now. This industry requires specialised skills and knowledge combined with the ability to meet stringent safety and quality standards. The industry often faces a shortage of local engineers with the requisite qualifications, and so has had to resort to hiring engineers from overseas.
The solution is for engineers, especially new ones, to take the initiative to upgrade their skills through continuous professional development courses or specific skills training courses. Extra skill or knowledge can very easily be a stepping stone to career advancement.
Engineering graduates are all trained in the fundamentals of engineering, but technology moves very fast, so it would be impossible for universities to really keep up with the latest advancements. “It is very important that engineers skill up a generic degree so that they can fit into technologically advanced industries that require highly skilled individuals,” says Professor Kamal.
This up-skilling is slowly happening as more and more Malaysian engineers take more interest in specific skills or realise that these extra skills can lead to career advancement. But until Malaysian engineers are sufficiently trained to meet the demand, the industries will have to continue to depend on foreign engineers.
Words to the wise: To be a successful engineer, one must of course be proficient in the basics of engineering. Being able to apply this knowledge will also enable engineers to continue learning throughout their career, and enable them to easily update their knowledge and expertise.
However, the most important thing to have is passion. As with any field, students must have a passion for what they are learning. Without it, a person could easily end up at shackled to soulless job.
Having passion also means that the person will have the drive to push themselves further into upgrading themselves and their knowledge, and to build an exciting career for themselves.
Aspiring engineers should not look at engineering just as a way to make money. “Engineering is a profession where the sky is the limit,” adds Ir Cheong. “To be truly successful, one must choose to do what you love and love what you do.”
“Don’t see it as just job,” advises Professor Kamal. “Build a career. Be open to any opportunities for betterment, and build your capabilities. With all this, and with passion, a person can definitely be successful.”