How To Get Into Engineering

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With demand continuing to rise from employers looking for high-level science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals, there has never been a better time to consider a career in engineering. In today’s job market, demand far outstrips supply, there are attractive career prospects in the field and competitive salaries on offer – all important factors for would-be engineers. Whether you want a career in civil, mechanical, automotive, electrical, transportation, chemical or design engineering (to name a few), where do you start? Read on to find out more about what qualifications you need.

What A-levels do I need?

If you want to study a degree in engineering you’ll usually need at least three A-levels, typically including maths or physics. Some universities also require chemistry and further maths (think Oxford and Cambridge).

If you’re considering an engineering higher or graduate level apprenticeship, employers will expect you to have three A-levels, typically in maths and science-related subjects. This will stand you in good stead when applying for those much sought-after positions.

Student placements are also a good idea and can help your route into the industry – the more engineering-related experience you can demonstrate on your CV, the better.

University or apprenticeship?

Depending on what type of learner you are, there are two main routes into a career in engineering: go to university to study for an engineering degree or apply for a higher or degree level apprenticeship with an engineering employer after leaving sixth form. There are pros and cons to both.

If you have a very clear idea of the type of career you want, apprenticeships are an excellent option. With apprenticeships you are learning and earning on the job. From day one you will be trained by professionals, constantly challenged and, more importantly for some, gainfully employed.

If you’re under 25, the government and your employer fund the training, meaning you won’t accumulate huge debts. If you enroll on a degree level apprenticeship you’ll also gain a qualification with a respected university or college at the end of it. And just because you enroll in an apprenticeship doesn’t mean you can’t consider a university degree at a later date.

With university tuition fees now costing £9,000 per year (and rising) plus living expenses, it certainly pays to do your research when deciding on the right engineering degree for you. But with 238,900 18-year-olds accepted at university in 2016 and 465,500 UK residents placed in higher education overall (UCAS), university is still the most popular option when it comes to further education.

If you’re still undecided about your future and want to dedicate three years of your life to learning everything there is to know about your chosen area of engineering through education, study, research, seminars, dissertations, debates, lectures and workshops, university is an attractive option. Some educational commentators argue that you will be in a much stronger position when looking for a job if you have a degree. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that you will leave university with an average debt of around £50,000.

Who are most popular engineering employers in the UK?

The most popular graduate employers in the UK appear in The Guardian UK 300, a comprehensive annual survey of student opinion on graduate careers. The list is made up of engineering, design and manufacturing employers, with engineering companies dominating the top ten.

2017’s list saw Rolls-Royce take the number one spot as the most popular employer, followed by Airbus, Jaguar Land Rover, Aston Martin, BAE Systems, BMW Group, AMG, Dyson, Transport for London and Siemens. Tech companies also feature heavily, perhaps reflecting the exponential rise in tech opportunities, with Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and IBM high up on the list.

How much will I get paid?

As with most professions, salaries vary hugely depending on experience, professional development and training, job title, location and your specialist area of engineering. But career prospects are attractive and you can quickly move up the pay scale if you’re willing to work hard and prove your worth – today more than ever there is a shortage of STEM professionals, so potential employers are always on the look out for stand-out candidates. Many engineers choose to become professionally registered, which can have a positive impact on future earning potential as well.

Experienced chartered engineers earn in the region of £60,000, more if you take into account bonuses and overtime. Senior engineers and those in the top 10% of earners can bring home in excess of £100,000 per annum.

Graduate engineers fresh out of university can expect to earn around £18,000 working for a small regional employer. This can rise to around £40,000 if they are fortunate enough to be employed by a global company, such as BP.

The typical starting salary for employees enrolled on an engineering higher apprenticeship is between £12,000 and £15,000. Those on an engineering degree apprenticeship can benefit from salaries of between £18,000 and £20,000. Many employees also offer annual pay reviews and rises if candidates are excelling in their work and study, a great incentive for those who want to realise their best earning potential early on in their engineering careers.