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Engineering, R&D, manufacturing and science industry overview

Erin Delaney

Careers Commentator
As the proof is in the pudding, so the profit is in the product. This is a talented industry of doers.

It’s one thing to be able to come up with a revolutionary idea, but it’s another to be able to put that idea into practice and make it a reality. We all know someone who is handy with just about everything, and businesses are no different to people — we all need someone to call on who can make, fix or test things! And that’s where the talented people of this sector come in. The classic Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams wasn’t wrong: “If you build/make/test/fix it, they will come” (... calling to offer you a job). It’s slightly paraphrased, but you get the idea.

If you’re looking for a role where you can apply your education and skills to projects and products that help drive growth and improve the lives of others, then this is a great place to start.

Graduate opportunities can be found across a broad range of areas and industries, including telecoms, consumer goods manufacturing, energy, the built environment, health, education and pharmaceuticals.

Roles cover an equally wide expanse of duties, including research, product design and development, management and commercial responsibilities. Many graduates are attracted to the sector by opportunities for travel and the satisfaction that comes from seeing designs turned into finished products.

The average entry-level package is $67,500 and the average hours worked per week is 35, making this one of the hardest-working groups of grads on a dollar-per-hour basis.

Job market outlook

Technology development is relentless, and is expected to continue on this trajectory as we enter the deepest phase of the digital revolution yet. There will be exponential growth of R&D opportunities, especially in the technology space.

While life sciences are still a booming micro-economy, Big Pharma is struggling to maintain its current growth levels. The squeeze of governments trying to contain costs and pushing for generic-branded medicines to be adopted is hitting the margins, but there’s still plenty of life in the ol’ girl yet.

Manufacturing is increasingly moving offshore — by the end of 2017 there will be no more car manufacturers left in Australia — which is causing havoc upstream and downstream, for both consumers and the businesses that supply parts and accessories. This may not be the best time to consider a domestic manufacturing career, we’ve got to be honest — unless you’re thinking of a highly specialised manufacturer, such as Cochlear or with some of the bigger defence manufacturers.

Engineering is still a highly sought after profession from both directions, with employers looking for talented engineers while students clamour to fill university spots. The work will chiefly be found in civil infrastructure, manufacturing, mining and defence. However, the future of engineering is set to turn its attention to robotics, biotechnology and bioscience.

    How to get hired

    Recruiters are looking for teamwork-oriented graduates who can provide technical proficiency along with problem-solving, organisation, communication and project management skills to the company.

    Construction projects can involve a high level of risk and engineering companies are also under increasing pressure to reduce their impact on the environment, so graduates who can demonstrate knowledge of risk management and sustainability will be able to show employers that they understand the key challenges the industry faces.

    Employers rate the following skills as the most important when hiring a graduate, according to the Australian Association of Graduate Employers:

    1. Cultural fit
    2. Teamwork
    3. Interpersonal skills
    4. Oral communication skills
    5. Problem-solving skills.

    Key skills you need

    Attention to detail

    In this industry, the finer details can save lives or make the difference between a product’s success or failure — so attention to these finer details is crucial.


    Being passionate is one thing, but having the drive to see a passion project through from beginning to end — sometimes against the odds — is how a lot of the best products come to fruition. Engineering a new product or method of testing can set you apart from your peers and show what you’ve got in your bag of tricks.

    Project management

    It’s important to be able to manage a project from start to finish so you can see where bottlenecks might occur. Most products and projects in development will be made up of many parts, requiring scheduling and foresight.

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