Engineering is all about designing and creating a great variety of systems, products and environments, from microchips to bridges!
Engineers are creatively involved in just about everything we need or use including:
- food we eat: agricultural, process and chemical engineering
- medical help we receive and medical engineering
- transport, civil, automotive, mechanical, aerospace and marine engineering
- gas, electricity and telecommunications energy, nuclear, communications and civil engineering
- computers, MP3 and Blu-ray players, electronics and computer engineering
- entertainment, sound, lighting and broadcast engineering
- materials/substances for industry, chemical and mineral engineering
The list is endless! Some branches of engineering, such as medical or biomedical engineering are to do with improving health and saving lives; think of heart pacemakers, replacement joints and recent developments in tissue engineering. Others like civil and agricultural engineering can involve a lot of outdoor work, often on a large scale. Concerns about climate change and its effects has led to renewable energy becoming an important area.
The Island needs more skilled and qualified people, and is trying to encourage more young people including women to enter engineering. A continued skills shortage in engineering has been predicted, and technicians especially are in high demand. In order to encourage more people to consider a career in engineering, there are a number of initiatives. For example, the ACE project co-ordinate by the engineering sector skills group which aims to change perceptions of engineering, to raise awareness of the local engineering companies in the hope that people will see engineering as a viable long term career.
Would I like it?
take an interest in understanding how things work?
enjoy solving problems?
like to work practically?
like to work in a team?
like a job where things are always changing and developing?
have an interested in maths, science, design and technology?
If your answer is ‘yes’, then a career in engineering may suit you.
What’s involved in engineering?
The range is vast. Areas of work, include:
- research, development and design to produce anything from a DVD player to an aircraft or to introduce a completely new technology
- servicing and repair of domestic, commercial and industrial equipment and machinery; measuring and testing which is crucial to the success of any engineering project; and the actual production and operation processes.
In most of these areas, you are more likely to be using a computer than a spanner, and will need good communication skills! You may also need normal colour vision for certain areas of engineering.
Levels of work in engineering
Operators may work on an assembly line, putting components together with hand tools, or in machine operating, quality assurance or packing. Many of the tasks are fairly simple and repetitive. Sometimes an operator has just one very complicated task, which takes practice to learn.
Qualifications are not usually needed.
Training is carried out within the company. It may last from a few days to a few weeks. Some employers encourage their operators to train for several different jobs, which can increase an employee’s flexibility and make the work more interesting. Assessment of these workbased skills can lead to a relevant NVQ at level 1 or 2. Training may be through an Apprenticeship route in engineering leading to NVQ level 2. Young people should contact the local careers service for more information.
Craftspeople have high levels of skills, but may work with a limited range of machines. A skilled worker might, for example, follow technical drawings to set up a computer to operate a lathe.
Qualifications - GCSEs in subjects like maths, science and design and technology may be expected. If you take engineering at GCSE level, you may also need maths and science. Employers vary in their requirements. Some employers use their own aptitude tests to select school or college leavers.
Training: Although a few firms may still offer their own training programmes. Apprenticeships have become the main training route into both craft and technician level work in all branches of engineering. Apprentices are employed with a company, with training to at least NVQ level 3. During the programme, time is spent off the job at college. The careers service can provide further information for young people.
You can achieve registered technician, incorporated or chartered engineer status by completing an ap-propriate course, a period work based training and having your competence assessed by a professional body. It is advisable to achieve one of these statuses for career progression opportunities and it will increase your earning potential.
Technicians do a wide variety of supervisory and technical jobs. They may help with design and devel-opment work in producing prototypes, in testing, quality control, maintenance, production control, construction and costing.
Qualifications and training: Training is now mostly offered through the Apprenticeship route, as explained above. For a minimum of four GCSEs at grades A* to C (or equivalent qualifications), to include maths, science (preferably double award, or science and an additional science) and English. An Apprenticeship at technician level includes training to NVQ level 3. It is also possible to carry on with part time study to achieve an HNC, foundation degree or NVQ level 4.
People with sufficient skills and experience gained in the workplace may be granted Engineering Technician status after a period of on the job training and an appraisal by their chosen professional engineering institution. There is a high demand for those with Engineering Technician status and a recent survey found their average salary was £33.000.
Incorporated engineers are often team leaders, supervising technicians and craftspeople. They use their knowledge and training to maintain and manage day to day operations, whether in design, development, production or operation.
Incorporated engineers can follow either:
- a three year, full time (four year sandwich) accredited engineering or technology degree
- an accredited HNC/D course or a foundation degree, plus a further period of learning, to bridge the educational gap to degree level.
To become registered as an incorporated engineer (Eng), your competence has to be assessed at a professional review, following a period of on the job training, often called initial professional development.
Entry requirements; Minimum entry requirements for the engineering degrees are usually three A Levels. Applicants normally need an A Level in maths, Physics or another related scientific/technological subject is often also required or preferred and supporting GCSEs. A BTEC National qualification, a12 unit A level in applied science or engineering, or an Advanced Diploma (level 3) in engineering may be acceptable alternatives. People without relevant entry qualifications may be able to take a foundation year to prepare for an engineering degree. See higher education (HE) directories and databases. With one relevant A Level pass, or the equivalent, you can take an HNC/D course. There are no national entry requirements for foundation degree course, but you are likely to need either level 3 qualifications or relevant work experience.
Whatever the level of course, always check entry requirements, carefully with individual institutions, as they do vary. It is particularly important to check the maths requirement for degree courses; for example applicants with a BTEC National qualification may also need an A Level in maths.
Chartered engineers have the most creative and innovative jobs. They work at the highest level of research and development planning, designing and managing major engineering projects. The problems to be worked out are, however practical ones, which are tackled through a mixture of theory, practical know how and experience. Chartered engineers need good communication skills.
Entrants with good results at GCSE and A Level, or equivalent qualifications, can become chartered engineers by completing an accredited MEng degree course in engineering or technology (normally four years, full time). Or entrants can take an accredited BEng degree, followed by an accredited masters degree or further learning. To achieve chartered status, individuals must complete a period of initial professional development followed by a professional review when their competencies are assessed.
You can study for a general engineering degree, or specialize in subjects such as aeronautical, agricultural, automotive, chemical, civil, electrical, electronic or mechanical engineering. Alternatively, you can specialize at masters level.
Later in a job, you will specialize still further. In aeronautical engineering, for example, you could be working on the design of just one small part of an aircraft. This is not to say that career prospects are rigid and fixed. The training given to engineers is broad based and you can move between different branches of engineering.
Entry requirements are basically the same as for incorporated engineers, but a higher points score at A Level or equivalent is required for entry to the MEng degree courses. As stated before check entry requirements carefully.
Sponsorship: Some companies offer sponsorship to students on engineering degree courses. See Everything You Wanted to know about Sponsorship, Placements and Graduate Opportunities, listed below.
Many employers offer ‘sandwich’ placements, usually taken between the second and third years of study, and lasting a year, which may provide a basic salary.
Engineering doctorate (EngD): those wishing to continue to postgraduate level may consider undertaking an EngD, an alternative to a PhD. Students on an engineering doctorate are called research engineers, and spend three quarters of their time working on a project (or projects) with a company, and one quarter being taught.
Alternative entry routes available in the UK
Engineering Council (UK) exams: provide routes to professional recognition for non-graduates.
Entry at professional level for those who do not hold the academic qualifications listed earlier may also be achieved by demonstrating knowledge and understanding of engineering principles through writing a technical report, or by following an assessed work based learning programme, or an academic programme which is acceptable to the professional institution to which they are applying.
A Higher Apprenticeship in engineering technology is in operation, combining HE (for example a foundation degree, HNC/D or a degree) with learning in the workplace. The Apprenticeship can lead to engineering technician or incorporated engineer status. For more information, contact SEMTA (see end of leaflet).
Some taster courses
Headstart are summer school courses at universities throughout the UK. They are for year 12 students who are interested in careers in science and engineering. Insight are girls only programmes supported by the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET. For details on all the Headstart programmes, view: www.headstartcourses.org.uk
The Smallpeice Trust also offers residential taster courses on various aspects of engineering. For details, see: www.smallpeicetrust.org.uk
Prospects and pay
It is possible to work your way up from craft level by part time study, but most chartered engineers qualify through full time HE. There are opportunities in the Armed Forces and the public and private sector. Incorporated and chartered engineers will find themselves more involved in project management and leading teams of engineers and technicians as their careers progress. At this stage, management and interpersonal skills become more important. Many engineers move into general management. Teaching in further and higher education is also possible. Many engineers spend at least some of their career working overseas.
The average starting salary for engineering graduates is over £22,000. An experienced chartered engineer can earn £55,000+.
Adults: Course entry requirements may be relaxed for students with appropriate experience. An Access course can provide an alternative entry route into HE. Your local JobCentre Plus will have details of government funded training programmes for craft and technician level work.