Why did you choose to go to Birmingham City University and what attracted you to study their Automotive Engineering Degree?
I already wanted to pursue Automotive Engineering as a degree because it had always been my dream to work in the industry.
“Placements show employers a level of competency, giving them confidence in your abilities before they hire you.”
When looking at the course information online I found that they were offering a course which was industry relevant, accredited by professional bodies, interesting, challenging and with industry ties. I wanted to ensure what I was doing was relevant to the industry to give me the best possible chance of obtaining a job at a major Automotive OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer), and it was for these reasons I decided to choose Birmingham City University.
A big draw for me was the impressive and modern facilities right in the heart of the city. Birmingham was a city I was excited to live in and for the campus to be right in the city centre, with lots of accommodation close by was a big bonus.
What key skills did you learn on this course that you are still able to apply in your work place today?
The biggest thing with any engineering degree is that it gives you a foundation for the core skills of engineering. The course at BCU not only gave specialised skills in areas such as ‘Engine and Drivetrain Systems’ and ‘Body Engineering’, but also critical mathematics/analysis skills. The skill of learning and applying new technical knowledge to problem solving is one I definitely take away from University.
Being CAD (Computer-aided design) literate in more than one package is also a skill which stills stands me in very good stead in the workplace. BCU offers access to both ProEngineer and CATIA V5, two packages which are used throughout the engineering industry.
The business based modules probably prepared me better for the world of industry than many other engineering modules, and being able to understand business processes was critical to my success at Bentley Motors and onwards to Aston Martin Lagonda.
You undertook a placement with Bentley, how did this come about?
“There will always be a large amount of graduates with a good degree applying for the same job as you, what sets people apart from the rest is the quality of their experience and the demonstration of their passion”
I realised early in my second year at University that the way to stand out in a very competitive job market is to show as much experience as possible. I applied to as many engineering firms as possible, not just automotive, in the hope I could develop my skills to attract future employers. This involved me searching graduate job websites, going directly to company’s websites and using some vacancies advertised through my University. I was fortunate enough to get a few interviews lined up at an array of companies. Following an assessment centre at Bentley, I was offered a 15 month industrial placement in Body Engineering.
What were your typical duties during this placement?
My main objective at Bentley was to deliver the manual boot system for the then next generation Continental GT Flying Spur. For my period in the company, this meant taking control of the system toward the final stages of the component design phase through to the final pre-production build phase. My roles varied from component design, to testing in the UK and abroad, working closely with suppliers, managing documentation and managing cross-functional teams. From this I explored other aspects of the department and became involved with duties outside of the normal ‘engineer’ scope of work (such as charity fundraising projects & cost-down opportunities).
It was very gratifying for Bentley to take a chance on me and allow me such responsibility so early in my career, and so to deliver on this was highly rewarding.
Which skills have you developed overtime?
Millenium Point Building, Birmingham City University
Whilst University is excellent for providing a good solid academic basis for you to build a career upon, it is in industry where you build your most useful skills. My time at Bentley taught me invaluable skills to prepare me for life after university, because I was already working in the same role I would be post-university. I learned a lot about real world engineering problems, and the compromises you have to make in industry. I also developed a lot of ‘soft-skills’ through various training courses provided by the company.
What do you do now and how did you get there?
I am currently a Product Development Graduate in Body Engineering at Aston Martin. I applied to a few other OEM’s, and succeeded in getting my favoured choice of Aston Martin by following the usual graduate scheme process; applying through their website followed by a telephone interview and finally an assessment centre.
“It’s so rewarding to look around your place of work and see some of the finest and most desirable sports cars in the world.”
The core of this role is working within the body engineering department, developing exterior systems at a component level to achieve a working system for each vehicle project. I started at the company within the exterior trim department, looking at the sealing and brightware system for the latest Vanquish Volante during its launch phase.
However, as part of the graduate programme here at Aston Martin I have spent my first full year at the company rotating around various departments within the business to strengthen my overall understanding of an automotive engineering company; and to also broaden my skillset to make me a more rounded design engineer. I have been in two different quality roles, and am currently in the design studio looking at the future products for Aston Martin.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
The obvious answer would be the cars of course! It’s so rewarding to look around your place of work and see some of the finest and most desirable sports cars in the world. To experience the cars, and have an active role in the development of the next generation of vehicles is something I am very lucky to find myself doing.
The role at Aston Martin is varied, challenging and although it’s a cliché, every day really is a different day. There’s always something new and exciting happening within the company, and it’s a very dynamic and friendly environment to come to work in.
All of this is coupled with an excellent graduate scheme which is supportive of your development, and also puts you in real responsibility. I have had the opportunity to experience areas of engineering I never normally would, as well as the more creative aspect of automotive design in the studio all of which makes me love coming to work every day.
Looking back, how valuable was your degree and placement in finding a job?
At its very core, very nearly every engineer in a position similar or higher than myself has a degree so in that respect my degree was fundamental in finding a job at this level. In terms of my own degree from BCU, it was highly valuable to have a first class degree from a reputable university. The course content gave me sufficient technical examples to demonstrate competency for my placement, which then in turn helped to demonstrate further competency for my permanent role.
“At its very core, very nearly every engineer in a position similar or higher than myself has a degree…my degree was fundamental in finding a job at this level.”
In terms of my placement, I believe that it is an essential part of obtaining a job at a high-calibre company. There will always be a large amount of graduates with a good degree applying for the same job as you, what sets people apart from the rest is the quality of their experience and the demonstration of their passion. Having completed a work placement not only grabs the interest of other employers, but you may well find that the company from your placement will be looking to re-hire you.
For students wishing to work in the same field as you what advice would you give them?
The biggest thing employers look for in students is a passion for the industry. Most graduates may not have masses of experience, so showing you are dedicated to the automotive industry is vital. If you are interested in working in the field, chances are you already are showing this passion, it can be things as simple as going to the occasional car show right through to volunteering for a local race team.
The other big thing is as already discussed, to try your upmost to get a work placement. Very nearly every single graduate here, and at other companies, has had some sort of work placement; be it summer placement, internships or part-time jobs. It really does show employers a level of competency, giving them confidence in your abilities before they hire you.
And the final thing is, if you’re thinking about working in the automotive industry, do it! If you’re passionate about cars, then working in the industry will not disappoint. There’s so many times I’ve had experiences at work where I can’t believe I get paid to do it, the perks are great and the best thing is the industry is really booming at the moment so there’s loads of opportunities out there for ambitious students.
Michael Carter is a Product Development Graduate in Body Engineering at Aston Martin.
NCUB have already taken part in several dissemination events with HE bodies across the UK in order to share initial findings and receive feedback and contributions from those that have valuable experience in placement provision. This ongoing project continues to find evidence about the existing system of placements and what could be done to improve the impact of placements in future.
For more information about our Quality Placements initiative, click here.
With thanks to Aston Martin for supporting this Q&A and our members Birmingham City University for helping facilitate this.