Not all organisations have the resources (or ongoing need) to hire full-time engineers. Others, while they may employ in-house engineers, periodically require specific outside expertise or the ability to ‘scale-up’ by assigning additional engineers to critical projects. That’s where engineering services firms (or consultant engineering firms) come in – by bringing together engineers and technicians from a range of specialities, they’re able to provide clients with a one-stop solution to various challenges in construction, manufacturing, and more.
Some of the largest engineering firms in Australia include BAE Systems, Honeywell, and Lockheed Martin. There is also a range of medium-sized and boutique firms that focus on particular areas of engineering or service-specific industries (such as the health or governmental sectors). Engineering firms hire engineers from virtually every speciality, as well as people with complementary skills, such as technologists, technicians, and project managers. They also employ people with the necessary business, administrative, managerial, and financial expertise.
Consultant engineers work for clients who require assistance with various engineering problems. These clients include land and property developers, schools and colleges, hospitals, construction firms, architects, industrial and commercial companies, government agencies, and individuals.
Engineering firms may be hired on an ad hoc basis, such as when a construction company employs them to work a specific project. Alternatively, they may be paid a retainer to ensure a long-term working partnership, such as with a local government body or architecture firm. Often, larger firms receive a contract and then hire smaller firms to work on specific aspects of an overall project.
Within consultant engineering firms, engineers most often belong to interdisciplinary teams that oversee projects from start to finish. A typical team might include several engineers, a project manager, and team leader. As a junior engineer, you might, during the course of a normal day, meet with a project manager to discuss tasks, complete calculations and sketches, liaising with colleagues, update drawings using CAD software and visit construction sites to observe work in progress.
Engineering firms work alongside organisations in various industries, including aeronautical, agricultural, geotechnical, transportation, environmental, and resources-focused businesses. These clients are themselves geographically dispersed, with operations in both metropolitan and regional areas.
Given the importance of monitoring the progress of engineering projects, many firms dispatch teams on secondment: in other words, team members, though paid by the firm, will often work out of a client’s office for extended periods of time.
As such, while much of a consultant engineer’s work may happen at a desk, that desk could be located practically anywhere: a hospital, an airport, a university, a farm, an architecture firm, a different state, or even a different country. Even for engineers and other professionals who work primarily within the firm’s own office space, off-site meetings and inspections are not uncommon.
It is possible to enter a consultant engineering firm straight out of university, without the need for additional experience. However, bear in mind that, while many major firms run dedicated graduate recruitment schemes, these tend to be extremely competitive. Consequently, the candidates who succeed are most often those who have completed prior work experience (i.e. an internship or other industry placement), achieved excellent marks at university, or acquired additional qualifications (such as a master’s degree).
It’s not unusual for the recruitment process to include multiple stages, such as an online application, in-person interview, and psychometric test. Shortlisted candidates may be invited to attend a second interview that involves meeting multiple people from the firm. They’ll also have an opportunity to demonstrate their technical know-how by completing tests or participating in group interviews.
Graduates are often presented with a limited range of entry-level positions so that employers can more efficiently coordinate training programs. However, the range of possible jobs increases in number as grads accumulate experience and, in many cases, dedicate themselves to different specialty areas.
A junior engineer, design assistant, or junior technologist can ultimately aim to work as a team leader, project manager, construction engineer, or design specialist. Alternatively, they can pursue the leadership of a team or division that focuses on a specific challenge. For example, a large engineering firm may have a team that focuses only on infrastructural projects for the government. Finally, they may shift into the business or managerial side of the firm, climbing its hierarchy to achieve partnership, board membership, or a similarly senior position.
You will, of course, require an engineering degree if you wish to work as an engineer for a consulting firm. Within engineering, there is no particular speciality that is more advantageous than the rest, though civil engineers are generally hired in larger numbers than their counterparts from other areas.
Graduate engineering consultants can expect to earn between $50,000 and $75,000 during their first five years. However, salaries do fluctuate based on the conditions you accept (for example, remote jobs tend to pay more) and the firm which employs you (larger and more competitive firms can often offer higher salaries).
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