IT’S GOOD TO TALK – ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING/TELECOMS
There are few sectors that move as fast, or are as exciting, as Telecoms and Britain has a well-earned reputation for being a cutting-edge country as far as Telecommunications are concerned.
Currently, around 50,000 people work as Telecommunications technicians and engineers and IT professionals in the UK. In fact, as new technologies develop, people who work in the sector increasingly need IT and computer skills alongside their engineering expertise. Many work for telephone and business network providers and mobile phone companies such as BT, T-Mobile and Orange. They also work for cable, satellite and digital TV companies such as BskyB, as well as voice, data and video message installation firms. Other, less immediately obvious employers include the Ministry of Defence, and the Armed Forces. The work itself is also very varied with engineers developing, installing and maintaining everything from the equipment itself to control systems. Some jobs within the industry concentrate on the technical side with Communications engineers providing technical guidance and designing technical solutions. There are also plenty of managerial roles available for ambitious graduates involving the planning of specific projects.
Starting salaries for graduates are good at around £20,000 a year and can quickly rise to £40,000 and above (apparently, the average income for a Chartered Engineer is £50,000). Job prospects are excellent, with plenty of opportunities for working overseas, especially within the European Union, developing Eastern European countries, and in the USA. There is also the option of working on a freelance basis.
To train directly as a Communications engineer, people need a degree in a relevant subject (telecommunications, electrical engineering, physics, IT) before starting work. Some employers may offer gap year employment to suitable students, and Graduate Apprenticeships may be available in England and Wales. If you are keen to progress to management or research roles quickly, you should investigate Incorporated or Chartered status. You need to have a degree, gain corporate membership of the IEE or IIE and successfully complete a period of professional development before you can qualify for Incorporated status. To become Chartered you will need a Meng or Beng Hons degree, gain corporate membership of the IEE, and undertake further professional development. For professional registration as a Chartered engineer, candidates should be members of an Institution and register with The Engineering Council. Students can join the IEE or IIE as student members.
WHAT THE INDUSTRY WANTS
In most years Orange will take approximately 15 graduates onto its Graduate Training Programme, but this year has taken 18 because the quality of the candidates was so good. Nicola Grant is the New Talent Schemes Manager at Orange and she explains: ‘We dropped our entry criteria to a 2:2 for the first time this year. At the start of the year we had a really specific technical brief and were very specific about the type of degree (2:1) our graduates had attained, but we soon realised the people who had those specific technical skills were not suited to moving around on our graduate placements, and didn’t have the necessary behaviours. We realised we were missing out on a huge talent pool of people with innovation and entrepreneurial skills. So now we are not looking for a specific degree per se, but people who have committed themselves to study. Now we are saying if they possess the behaviours and the capabilities to come into our industry in a specific role, we can actually train them in the technical aspect.’
Orange now offers a very broad technical scheme which also goes into other aspects of the business including business management, design, and business analysis.
Grant says the main soft skills needed are communication skills, initiative, and adaptability. If you feel this may be the sector for you, she offers the following advice: ‘Sometimes graduates are not aware we are looking for those behavioural aspects of their personality, rather than the technical aspects. The more graduates can do to develop those behaviours in university by developing their social skills (by joining clubs etc) really helps them when they get to assessment centres as nine times out of 10 interview questions are behavioural based. It’s about their drive and motivation. Behaviours we are looking at are their general attitude; do they understand themselves and others and can they communicate and interact with them, looking at interpersonal understanding and being able to react to different people in different situations. Self-awareness is really, really key. It’s something we really do focus on on our two-year programme here. At Orange the very first course the grads go on after their induction is self-awareness; understanding themselves, understanding the team they are in, and understanding how other people work.’
The future for the Telecoms industry isn’t just Orange, it’s also very bright. Rapid developments in Telecommunications, along with digital technology, means this is one of the fastest changing sectors in the UK. There is consequently a steady demand for Communications engineers, and job opportunities are increasing while there are skills shortages in some areas. Grant says: ‘Our market is constantly evolving and that is a great environment for graduates to come into and develop their careers in, as long as they are looking for constant change and the opportunity to express their ideas. The other thing with Telecoms is we are constantly expanding with converged markets and looking at innovation and ways to do things differently.’
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Engineering Council UK: www.engc.org.uk
The Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) www.iee.org
The Institution of Engineering and Technology www.theiet.org
SEMTA (Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance) www.semta.org.uk