Undergraduate Focus: Engineers give their thumbs up
It’s hard to imagine a world without engineers. Almost everything we see around us was contributed one way or another by an engineer.
The field of engineering has evolved significantly in the last few decades, allowing it to continue to stay relevant. We talk to four engineers who tell us why this field is still very much in demand.
Ron Yap: Yap is a petroleum engineer who specialises in the commissioning of offshore oil and gas facilities. Yap is a graduate of Universiti Teknologi Petronas and says that one will need a degree in engineering which takes between four and five years to specialise in this field.
“A fresh graduate can earn between RM4,000 and RM5,000 on average as a technical staff in the oil and gas industry and the market is very strong for fresh graduates,” says Yap.
At present, Yap’s job entails the management of offshore construction as well as the testing, commissioning and start-up of offshore oil and gas facilities. He says it takes between five and six years to be promoted to a senior engineer and then another five to six years to be promoted to a manager.
“The field is very dynamic and has evolved tremendously over the years. Newer technologies and higher oil prices over the years have driven the demand higher making it feasible to monetise smaller oil and gas fields,” Yap says.
He goes on to add that petroleum engineers have a bright future as they can branch out into other fields including petroleum economics, project management, contracting and procurement. He also adds that petroleum engineers don‘t need to venture too far for job opportunities as there are plenty of opportunities ripe for the picking in Malaysia.
Yap’s advice to budding engineering students: “Select a course or a degree programme, which is heavy on industrial training, lab sessions, site visits and so on as practical and hands-on training is highly important for engineers.”
Professor Mark Spearing: Professor Spearing is the Pro Vice-Chancellor International at the University of Southampton in the UK. Prior to this Professor Spearing was the Head of Engineering Sciences at the university. Although he is now involved in academia, Professor Spearing’s specialisation is in the engineering of advanced materials for structural application.
“I was lucky to have inspirational lecturers in my undergraduate degree in structural mechanics and engineering materials. They alerted me to the very interesting developments in advance materials. This in turn led me to seek out project work with advanced materials, which resulted in my pursuing a doctorate,” he explains.
Professor Spearing says that the standard professional qualification for an engineer in the UK is a Masters of Engineering (M.Eng) which is a four-year degree.
“To conduct engineering research and to teach in a university usually requires a doctorate (PhD or Engineering Doctorate), which takes a further three to four years of study, usually around a specific research project,” Professor Spearing further elaborates.
Professor Spearing says that there is a global shortage of engineers, so the job market is good particularly for graduates who are willing to travel to where the jobs are located and despite the economic downturn.
He adds that it is very unusual for someone to spend his or her entire career doing essentially the same job.
“To some extent this has always been the case, but the need for current graduates to upgrade and continually change their skill set throughout their career has never been more critical for success.”
In his opinion, the most common evolution of skills is for engineers to acquire increasing management and leadership skills, starting with small project management, progressing through group leadership and then taking on responsibility for major projects and then to leaderships of entire organisations.
“In my case I have worked in a number of technical sectors, including aerospace, microelectronics and the energy sector. I have had responsibility for research projects, research groups, departments and now for the international portfolio for a world class research university,” Professor Spearing says.
He believes that the engineering field will evolve greatly in the coming years. “I think that the current trends will continue to be important. I think that we will become more capable at making projections of the total life-cycle cost of engineering systems, including end-of-life decommissioning and recycling, which will allow for more intelligent initial decisions to be made.”
He also believes that engineering will increasingly play a role in addressing the global challenges that we face including food and water security, global healthcare, societal adaptation to climate change and coping with urbanisation.
Professor Spearing views Malaysia, and more broadly, South East Asia as having a very bright future. “A variety of factors have made this region one of great economic and technological potential, and engineering is one of the key disciplines that will be required to allow the country and the region to realise this potential.”
As such he strongly advises students to consider a career in engineering.
Dr Simon Sutton: Dr Sutton studied physics at the University of Reading and then proceeded to do his doctorate in polymer. At present, he works with a supplier of plastic materials which are essential to making underground high voltage cables which supply power to homes and businesses function properly.
He says that most people with a degree in electrical engineering would enter the electricity industry, however, it is by no means essential as his own career path shows.
“I started as a physicist, joined an electricity transmission company doing electrical engineering and now work for a chemical company doing marketing. There has been a common thread through all these jobs, namely, insulating materials for electrical applications, but each role brings new challenges and I’ve had to acquire new skills and knowledge as my career has progressed,” explains Dr Sutton.
According to Dr Sutton the energy sector is a growth market at the moment. There is a vast interest in renewal energy including solar, wind, hydro and wave energy with many countries investing heavily on it. New power generation needs new power infrastructure to move that energy to where people want to use it.
“In developed countries, the original power grid is reaching the end of its life and needs replacing, whereas in the developing countries of the world growing demand for power is leading to a huge investment in building new electricity infrastructure. So wherever you are, the electricity sector is a great place to be at the moment and these investments are going to continue for years to come,” he adds.
Having worked in the field for 15 years, Dr Sutton has seen the field evolve greatly. He says that 20 years ago almost no one had heard of climate change but now the shift to renewable energy is leading to major investments in the electricity sector.
Another example he cites is the deregulation of the energy markets in Europe which has led to many changes. “There are far more participants in the market, many tasks have been outsourced and there has been huge investment in upgrading the power grid.”
He foresees that the field will grow tremendously mainly due to environmental pressure, including climate change which will drive more sustainable solutions in energy delivery.
“Also, people rely so much on electricity and they expect it to work when they flick the switch. This pressure on utilities to build more reliable networks will continue,” he adds.
In Dr Sutton’s opinion electrical engineers have a bright future the world over. “Malaysia is a growing economy with a thirst for energy; that can only be good for engineers with the right skills. Nevertheless, I would say don’t discount working overseas. It’s a tremendous experience and the skills and knowledge that it gives you can be translated to all sorts of jobs.”
Ir Inderjit Singh: Ir Inderjit obtained his Diploma in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the Technical College Kuala Lumpur (now the Universiti Teknology Malaysia) in 1969 and and his BSc (Hons) in Electrical Engineering Power Systems from the University Of Strathclyde Glasgow in 1972.
“At the time I graduated there was not much development and no large infrastructure projects and hardly any high rise buildings. Although the number of engineering graduates was small compared to now, it was also difficult for fresh graduates to get jobs easily. So I joined the army and served in the Electrical & Mechanical Engineering Corps for seven years,” Ir Inderjit says.
He now runs his own business in safety and compliance of electrical installations. He also works in the field of efficient management of electrical energy carrying out safety and compliance inspections for large electrical installations such as hotels, large commercial buildings, hospitals, palm oil mills and water treatment plants.
He also carries out energy audits for large installations where the electrical energy consumption exceeds three million units over a period of six months to identify wastage and inefficient use of energy with the aim of reducing the electrical energy consumption.
Ir Inderjit believes that just because one has a degree in engineering, he does not have to stick with that profession for the rest of his life.
“I know of cases where engineers have become lawyers and accountants. It is quite common for engineers to obtain MBA qualifications and become managing directors of large corporations. In my case, I too have branched out into the safety and compliance field as well as efficient management of energy,” he explains.
He believes that students do not have to go far to excel in the field as the prospects for engineers in Malaysia are as good, if not better, than those overseas. “We are still a developing country that requires a lot of infrastructure and will require tremendous engineering expertise in the coming years.”