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'Real life' Differences B/w Mechanical Engineering Qualifications

  1. May 20, 2005 #1
    I'm wondering if people can give their views on what the practical differences are, and emphasis given to the type of Mechanical Engineering qualifications obtained once 'out in the real world' of the Mechanical Engineering job market, both in general, and specifically in South Africa. (Are there m/any South Africans here?)

    There are always some industries and professions where this stuff matters more than in others - due perhaps to the number of job vacancies/saturation and the nature of the work - and I'm wondering where Mechanical Engineering falls in that spectrum.

    What is the difference for instance between someone doing their studies at a college, for a 1 year diploma course, at a technikon, for a 3 year National Diploma, and at a university for a 4 year course? And what is the difference as far as employers and general industry recognition/respect of a Btech (Bachelor of Technology degree) from a technikon and a Bsc from a university? Basically can one be known as, and work as, 'An Engineer' with a National Diploma, or could they only ever be a technician with this?

    Also, if one is looking for part-time work while studying, what is the best field where one can earn some ok money and still get some Mechanical Engineering related experience? Or does one have to have all the paper-qualifications first, and have to do bar-tending until then, lol.

    I'd be grateful for any feedback and interested in your opinions.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 20, 2005 #2


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    I'm not aware of the system in South Africa, but what you've described seems typical of most places. One thing you can be pretty sure of is that the more qualified you are, the better chance you have of getting a better job at the end of it. While this idea can break down when you start going down the 'serious' academic route (Ph.D, EngD etc) this does tend to hold true as far as getting a university degree. Obviously it depends on what you class as being a 'better' job, but I'm sure you get the idea.

    Here, National Diplomas and other engineering qualifications obtained at college (and here, I emphasise that colleges are not the same as universities) alone will only enable you to work as an engineering technician, not as a 'proper' engineer. I have put 'proper' in inverted commas due to the lack of legal protection of the term 'engineer' in this country, and I am hesitant to use the term 'professional' because that has a classification of its own. As for becoming a professional engineer, there is always more than one route to success, but most people go about this by studying for a degree for 3 or 4 years at a university, (depending on country, course content, and personal ability).

    As for getting work whilst studying, definitely definitely definitely go for it! If you find a good job, you'll be given enough responsibility to get involved in some really interesting projects, and allowing you to learn more than you ever could at university. You'll probably find that the pay is much better than working behind a bar, and the experience you can add to your CV will be a fantastic foot in the door for getting a job after you graduate.

    Good luck!
  4. May 21, 2005 #3
    Thanks for the reply!

    Re. getting a Mech. Eng related job whilst studying though, in practical terms, how would that work? Could you give examples of the kind of job one CAN do/apply for in this field without - as would inevitably be the case with a student - practical experience, or the theoretical knowledge? Are there any jobs that have enough bearing on Mech. Eng to be useful (on the CV and in one's own knowledge) and yet at the same time be available to people at this level?
  5. May 21, 2005 #4


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    Since you asked for an example, I'll use me!

    I've almost finished my Mech Eng degree. Last summer, I worked as an assistant engineer for a forging company. My main task there was to design a machine capable of expanding forged rings. Other jobs included day-to-day management for maintenance tasks on site plant, and overseeing the restoration of a hydralic blanking press. Whilst gaining all this experience, I was getting paid twice what I would have behind a bar, and it was a lot of fun too. I got given ridiculous amounts of responsibility, and while being thrown in at the deep end was pretty hairy, it taught me a lot of stuff which I would never learn at university. Without this experience, I wouldn't have even got to the interview stage for the permanent job (at a different company) I've since accepted.
  6. May 21, 2005 #5


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    I highly recommend an internship in college, like what brewnog did. It gives a good taste (and more importantly, experience to put on your resume) of what you could be doing in a real job.

    I'm a mechanical engineer who designs HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems. If there is much construction going on where you live, then chances are there is a good market for such work.

    Mechanical engineering and electrical engineering (warren...?) are probably the broadest of the engineering fields. Before I took my current job, I applied for jobs selling machine tools (engineering sales is a biggie), managing building facilities (also a biggie), building satellites (not big, but really cool), and working in manufacturing plants (also fairly big).
  7. May 21, 2005 #6
    Thanks guys! And congrats, you've both done well.

    And how did you go about finding these positions, just write directly to the companies (and if so, are there publications, with a list of various engineering companies in countries) or through colleges?

    Since reading your posts, I did a search on 'yahoo' for 'engineering in south africa' and 'engineering internships south africa' hoping to get some kind of links to companies sites who I could then write to, but nothing like that came up. Any tips on more specific search terms I could be using?
  8. May 21, 2005 #7


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    Depending on how far through your course you are, you might find it easier to get an internship with a smaller company than on a 'proper' internship programme. For my internship, I knew where I wanted to be located, so I just got out the Yellow Pages (phone directory kinda thing) and started writing letters to the companies which sounded interesting!

    Ask yourself what engineering companies are in South Africa, I find it hard to believe that Googling for "engineering South Africa" returned no useful results!
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