Finding a job as a recent engineering graduate can be difficult. If you’re having trouble finding your first engineering job, you may want to open your search to one of these three alternative jobs for entry-level engineers.
In this article, we will discuss three options for steppingstone jobs to becoming an engineer.
These are very common first jobs amongst engineers and can easily lead to full-time engineering positions within a year or two. Almost all employers value these positions over internships, as these jobs add applicable work to your resume.
- Contract Engineer
- Engineering Technician
- Engineering Drafter
What is a contract engineer?
A contract engineer is a temporary engineer hired by a company for a specified amount of time. Contract engineers are hired to work on a specific project that the company expects to need more people on. Contract engineering rates typically range from $30-$50 per hour, depending on the company and your experience.
How to become a contract engineer
There are two ways to become a contract engineer. The first is through direct job listings. Some companies post positions for contract engineers. Another way is to work with a contracting company. You give them your resume and they match you with companies looking to hire contractors based on your knowledge and experience.
Benefits of being a contract engineer
- You will get hands-on engineering experience. It is like an internship except the pay is usually higher and you are held in higher regard. Contract work is typically seen as more attractive to employers than internship experience.
- There is always the possibility they will hire you full time after. You shouldn’t bank on this, but it’s not uncommon for companies to offer you a full-time job once you’ve proven yourself to be a valuable addition to the company.
- It can help you figure out what you want to do. If you’re not sure what industry you want to work in as an engineer, contracting is a great way to move around and get experience in a variety of fields. If you find that you don’t like an industry, you can leave within a few months without any hard feelings.
Downsides of being a contract engineer
- As a contractor, they typically pay you less than full-time engineers and you do not receive any benefits such as a 401k or insurance. For this reason, if you choose the contracting route, you should still look for other full-time positions that will pay you what you’re worth as an engineer in terms of salary and benefits.
- Depending on the company, you may be looked down upon. Some companies make it very apparent who the contractors are and who the full-time employees are. At other companies, both are treated equally, and it’s almost impossible to tell who is a contractor and who is a full-time employee.
What is an engineering technician?
An engineering technician is someone who builds, tests, and fixes things according to engineering specifications. Engineering technicians are essential to engineers. Engineering technicians work with the engineers to find solutions based on their knowledge base.
An entry-level engineering technician’s salary ranges from $36k-54k a year. However, a senior engineering technician’s salary ranges from $60k-$100k. Engineering technician salaries vary based on job responsibilities and location.
Some engineers chose to start their careers as a technician. This can provide hands-on experience and the opportunity to work directly with engineers at your company. If you chose this route, you should make it known throughout the interview process, and once you start your job, that your goal is to eventually transition to an engineering role.
How to become an engineering technician?
The most common route to becoming an engineering technician is through direct job listings. Entry-level engineering technician jobs are easier to get than entry-level engineering jobs. They have fewer job requirements and may only require an associate degree.
Benefits of being an engineering technician
- Technician positions are often less competitive than engineering positions and have fewer requirements. This can be a good option for students with lower GPAs or less internship experience.
- It can strengthen your engineering knowledge by providing the opportunity to work hands-on with equipment and troubleshoot issues.
- Technicians work hand in hand with engineers, so it can be a great way to network with engineers at your company and help you transition from technician to engineer.
Downsides of being an engineering technician
- While technicians are generally very well respected, entry-level technicians tend to receive less pay and status than engineers. If you use this as a stepping stone to becoming an engineer, you might feel inferior to the engineers.
- Transitioning from a technician to an engineer may be difficult depending on the company you work for. Make sure you research the company and make it known during your interview that this is your ultimate plan. At some companies, it is unheard of for technicians to transition to engineers. On the other hand, some companies require or strongly prefer engineers to work as technicians before starting a role as an engineer. Most companies are probably between these extremes, but it’s important to know what you’re getting into.
- One primary difference between engineers and technicians is that technicians don’t typically participate in designing systems. They may lack exposure to typical engineering tasks such as designing, drafting, or manufacturing.
What is an engineering drafter?
An engineering drafter is someone who creates technical drawings or plans. They typically work with engineers to turn their designs into drawings. Engineering drafter salary ranges from $36k-57k a year, averaging at $48k per year.
How to become an engineering drafter
The most common way to become an engineering drafter is through direct job postings. Drafting jobs often require less experience than entry-level engineering jobs. Many don’t even require a degree. Engineering school provides experience with CAD, making engineering students or recent grads excellent candidates for these jobs.
Benefits of being an engineering drafter
- Almost every field of engineering uses some form of CAD and getting experience with it in the industry setting is attractive to future employers.
- It can help you understand designs better. Drafting regularly forces you to reverse engineer designs to present them as meaningful technical drawings.
- Many engineers do drafting work daily, so employers see this as direct engineering experience. The skills you learn as a draftsman will almost always carry over into your future engineering roles.
Downsides of being an engineering drafter
- It can get repetitive. While you get the benefit of working with tons of different designs, the process of actually drafting the designs is ultimately the same. The longer you do it the more repetitive it will feel.
- It can be easy to get stuck. Drafting is seen as real engineering work and many companies hire engineers (with an engineering title) just to do drafting. If you’re taking a role as a drafter because you’re looking to eventually move onto another type of engineering, you need to be clear with your intentions and be looking for other opportunities after a year or two.
- Some people think drafter is just a fancy word for “CAD Monkey”, or someone who does mindless cadding all day. While drafting might have this reputation, don’t let it dissuade you from wanting to pursue it. Drafting is a valuable skill that employers value and shouldn’t be looked down upon.
In conclusion, entering the world of engineering can be hard and a lot of engineers chose to start with contracting, being a technician, or drafting. These positions provide valuable experience and will ultimately help you become a better engineer in the future. Make sure to consider these in your future job searching endeavors!