How to be an application engineer
Application engineers are integral in helping manufacturers adapt their existing technologies into products that are usable and relevant for local markets. In the automotive sector, these professionals typically work for foreign suppliers that create and sell products to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), such as Japanese automakers.
Due to the large number of automotive suppliers based in China, there is always a constant demand for skilled, bilingual application engineers. So for professionals seeking a job that is both client-facing and technically stimulating, these openings present a great entry point into the automotive sector.
What does an application engineer do?
Application engineers act as the bridge between their clients and the engineer’s R&D centres typically based overseas. These professionals do not create new products, but rather modify existing technologies to the unique specifications of their customers. Examples of modifications could include adjusting the size of a fan to fit within a client’s car engine or redesigning a chassis to match other manufacturer components.
You will be dealing directly with your clients to understand the specific technical specifications of their demands. Strong technical knowledge in your specialised product sector will be essential and because of the large amount of time you will spend liaising with your clients, strong communication skills are also a must.
While numerous opportunities are available in China for junior application engineers, senior positions are usually limited because of the high level of specialisation required, little movement amongst senior postings and a narrower selection of companies.
What skills and experience are required?
Many openings for application engineers are for junior positions, so most employers prefer applicants with 2-3 years of professional work experience. To effectively modify your company’s technologies, engineers should also demonstrate a solid working knowledge of CAD software such as CATIA V5 or NX. A large part of your job will be to interface between local clients and R&D teams based overseas so business-level for both Japanese and English ability will be necessary to communicate between these two groups.
Application engineers also typically possess an undergraduate or advanced degree in an engineering discipline. Depending on a manufacturer’s product range, employers will seek numerous engineering backgrounds, for example chassis makers will recruit mechanical engineering graduates, manufacturers making windshield wiper engines will hire electrical engineers, while firms producing plastic components will seek workers with chemical engineering degrees.
What are the career and salary prospects?
Joining as an application engineer can open up numerous career paths for you throughout a company. Most application engineers advance into project engineering, then project management positions after 2-3 years of successful experience. If you’re interested in exploring other areas of the business, promotion opportunities into design engineering, sales engineering or account management are also possible.
Junior application engineers generally earn between RMB150-250k but this can vary considerably depending on your seniority and the complexity and demand for your product. While numerous opportunities are available in China for junior application engineers, senior positions are usually limited because of the high level of specialisation required, little movement amongst senior postings and a narrower selection of companies. As a result, it is important to choose the area that interests you early as it will be more challenging to transition between sectors as you gain more. Read our Tips on successful career transition.
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