Case study

Engineering graduate trainee — Alasdair Gerrard

Excellent planning and thorough research of potential graduate schemes was key to Alasdair securing an engineering traineeship with Rolls Royce after graduation

What course did you study?

I studied a MEng Aeronautics and Astronautics at the University of Southampton. I graduated in the summer of 2019 before starting on the Rolls-Royce graduate scheme. My current job title is engineering graduate trainee (working with in the thermal management design team), soon to be changing to performance engineer as I leave the graduate scheme.

How did you get your job?

Between my third and fourth year I compiled a spreadsheet (in typical engineer fashion) of the engineering companies I was interested in, with application opening and closing dates. I prepared a standard CV which I then modified to suit each individual application. I made sure to research thoroughly and apply as soon as the applications opened to boost my chances. Once I got invited to an assessment centre, I made sure to thoroughly prepare by fine-tuning my knowledge of the company, preparing for the technical and behavioural interviews and getting a good night's rest.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the technical challenge of the work alongside the company culture. We are all solving difficult technical challenges on a large scale and people are genuinely willing to spend half an hour to help others where they can.

What are the challenges?

The biggest challenge is to not feel demotivated if you get stuck with a problem. This could be the first time you're solving real world problems which don't have a set solution. The best thing you can do if you're stuck is to lean on your network - they will have a wealth of expertise to dip into. They won't necessarily give you the solution but they will likely empower you with the thought process to solve your challenge. Whatever you do, don't pretend to understand something to save face. No one minds if you admit that you require additional support, but people will mind if it comes up to deadline day and all of a sudden you don't deliver because you didn't understand something early on.

How relevant was your degree?

My degree gave me the fundamentals of engineering and a good appreciation for the tools and topics that might come up in industry. A lot of the technical work I am doing currently is very focused on the fundamental maths and physics that underpinned a lot of my degree. Furthermore, it gave me experiences and opportunities that enhanced my employability.

How has your role developed and what are you career ambitions?

Having rotated through different roles within the company (design/aerothermal, performance, repair manufacturing and thermal management) I've been able to understand the company a lot better while still getting a good appreciation for the functions I've worked in. I've now converged on a preliminary career plan which starts in future programmes performance engineering and becomes more specialised in a technical sector such as aerodynamics/aerothermal engineering. I'd then go on to become a technical team lead and follow a specialist route.

What's your advice for someone wanting to become a design engineer?

Spend a good amount of time on reviewing and fine-tuning your application. During the recruiting process a lot of people are sifted out due to poor quality applications, like sending out a generic CV and cover letter.

Get experience in the sector. This is clearly easier said than done, but try and get some engineering experience through internships as this will set you apart and will add value to your application.

Make sure the job is right for you. Speak to graduates and interns at the company and understand what they do; this will definitely come across in an interview.

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