Greet Brosens is Co-Director and Co-Founder of Sagent Recruitment, a specialist engineering recruitment company. Originally from Belgium, Greet has two decades of experience as a recruiter, and holds degrees from the Catholic University Leuven and the University of Oxford
What's the job market like for engineers right now?
We work mainly in the UK, but I can say for sure that in Britain, in Europe and in the US there is a shortage of engineers. So engineers are very much in demand. Everyone agrees there's a big gap between engineering students and the actual needs of the economy. The demand might not be the same in Asia, however, where the percentage of engineering students is higher. But in the West, the shortage is across the board in engineering: electrical, chemical, mechanical, everything. In fact, the skills gap in the UK applies to STEM
subjects as a whole.
The UK government has taken steps to address this shortfall. Is it doing enough?
There is a bit of a challenge in terms of perception of engineering in the UK. It's tough for the government to change deeply ingrained societal views, but bodies - such as Engineering UK
- are perhaps better placed to do this. A lot of these bodies are doing great work, which is vital in order to portray engineering as being more interesting to students.
It does seem to be a worse problem in the UK than elsewhere.
Yes, when I first studied in Belgium, engineering was the most prestigious subject at the university. Unfortunately it's not given its due status here in the UK at the moment. But we're working on that. It will change.
So engineers are very much in demand. That's music to our members' ears. But they still have to apply for jobs. What do companies often say to you that applicants are doing wrong?
Engineers often don't do themselves favours, and have developed a reputation as being somewhat short on 'soft skills'. There is still a perception that the majority of engineers will not be great at communication. However, if you then get a cover letter full of typos, or a CV without a good structure, that's obviously much worse. So be clear and positive in your communication at interview. And before that, a clear cover letter and a well-structured CV with good layout will get you far. These are the basics but they're essential: you only really have a few seconds to attract the attention of someone browsing through hundreds of CVs. They are looking for a reason to reject you, so make sure you present yourself with clarity.
And are internships an essential component of CVs?
It's not essential but it really does mark you out. If you can show anything related to experience in the field, or even a research project which relates to the job you're applying for, something that shows you've already worked in the industry, it conveys that you're genuinely interested in that career.
Are you optimistic about women in engineering?
Yes, I am. It's something we're very passionate about and work very hard at. It does seem to be a cultural issue. There's lots of work being done in schools to make girls realise engineering is as much for them as for boys. But then at industry level, it's such a male-dominated industry, so that can be tough. Women applicants are, most of the time, assessed by men. It's possible there's an unconscious bias at work in organisations when it comes to hiring women engineers. The good news is that companies are very willing to change this. They all want to hire more women. It will take time, but it's being addressed.
Any final tips for engineering students thinking about their career?
Don't rush in. Your first job will really be important in terms of defining your career. Pick wisely, go for what you're passionate about. So the thing to do is use your student time well: make the most of all the opportunities and projects on offer at university. That will help you define yourself as an engineer and make you stand out when applying for a job. Otherwise you graduate, and then apply for jobs, and it might not be right for you. If your first job is the wrong one, you can get stuck in the wrong career.