BY S. INDRAMALAR
DUBBED professional problem-solvers, engineers search for quicker, better and cheaper ways to use materials to find practical solutions beneficial to society. They use mathematics and science concepts along with communication and critical thinking skills.
They are multi-taskers who design, create, build, improve and invent products, from heart valves to microchips, skyscrapers and space vehicles.
In short, engineers produce technical products or systems to meet specific needs.
An engineer you can choose from many types of jobs, including research, design, analysis, development, testing and even sales. For example, if you are interested in breakthrough knowledge, research engineering would be more suitable, but if you are imaginative and creative, design engineering may be the best choice.
Engineering is also organised by traditional academic fields of study of which the five largest are: chemical, civil, electrical, industrial, and mechanical engineering. However, there are more specialised fields like aerospace, ocean, nuclear, biomedical, environmental and telecommunications engineering.
In some countries, there are options like microwave engineering, industrial engineering, ceramic engineering, agricultural engineering and fire protection engineering.
In Malaysia, most universities offer undergraduate and even postgraduate qualifications in engineering. Alternatively, private colleges offer twinning as well as 3+0 programmes in various engineering disciplines.
A challenging career
Having always been game for a challenge, Kumari Nalini Subramaniam decided to become a civil engineer.
She says: “Engineering is still a very male-dominated field. Employers seem to always doubt if a lady engineer can do on-site work, and climb buildings or structures. They are even sceptical about whether women would be willing to soil their hands and clothes.”
“However, it is not at all difficult for a woman engineer to make it out there. All you need is self-confidence. The qualities women have – being more meticulous, careful and possessing inner strength to endure challenges – can make them more accomplished than their male colleagues,” says the 37-year old engineer with Maxis.
“The engineering profession came to me as a challenge. Civil engineering is not a lady's favourite field but it is mine. I like the challenges that come with the job as well as the human element of the trade,” says Nalini who has been an engineer for over 18 years.
Her advice to budding engineers, especially women: “Take every downturn as a challenge. For me, the biggest obstacle I face is trying to get my point through and convincing colleagues and associates.
“People feel that women use their emotions in decision-making, but I think women draw on the passion they feel for the job when making decisions.”
What are the qualifications?
Anyone wanting to work as an engineer has to be registered as a Graduate Engineer with the Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM). To register with BEM, you must possess an engineering degree from an institution accredited or recognised by the board. You must also have a pass in either Part I and II of the Engineering Council Examination of United Kingdom or Part I and II of the Institution of Engineers Malaysia or BEM Graduate Examination.
What does a civil engineer do?
I carry out site inspections on structures, check claims and designs submitted by the consultants and ensure the process and designs are continuously optimised.
Basically, under civil engineering you can branch into various areas – roads, structures, bridges, high rise structures, irrigation, etc. Although when you study civil engineering, you will cover all these areas, you can choose to specialise in one particular field later.
This is a good field to be in. The learning and the technology advancement do not stop. You are the dream-fulfillers for architects. You make the vision of town planners materialise.
Describe a typical day at work.
At Maxis, the day-to-day work revolves around meetings, mainly project management meetings, and site surveys.
What kind of personality suits this career?
You must be hardworking. You will discover that the knowledge you gain at university is not always applicable and is often just the basics. There is a lot to learn once you start working. You have to be naturally good in science and have an analytical and practical mind. Engineers must be systematic, innovative, ethical and environment-conscious.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of this job is that working with men has built my self-confidence and I now face challenges boldly. The job pays well and updates me on technological developments.
And the worst?
There is nothing really bad about it except you can’t afford to be too dressy as you can’t climb buildings with skirts! People may think you are tomboyish but it doesn’t matter.
What is the salary range?
A graduate with second class upper has a starting salary of RM1,800 to RM2,100. You can earn between RM3,000 and RM4,000 in three years, depending on your contributions. You can become a professional engineer after five years and, after another five, open a consulting business.
To be a good engineer, spend the first five years of your career learning about the job. Do not focus on the salary but on what training the job can give you.
What are the job prospects?
Civil engineers are still in demand as there will always be new projects and on-going ones in any country. It all depends whether you want to be there to learn.
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