How to become an engineer
Engineering is a broad field with exciting and varied career opportunities as a result. You could be working anywhere from aerospace to construction, using the latest technology to design products, testing your scientific knowledge in the healthcare and food industries or working on innovative railway projects. There are many career opportunities around the world as a graduate of engineering.
Should I become an engineer?
Engineering is a practical and technical role where you can be solving problems and exploring how things work every day. Excellent maths and science skills are essential, while project management and strategic thinking are key soft skills you will need for more senior roles. Some roles may also need you to be creative.
Benefits of an engineering career include:
- Employability – Engineers are in high demand – it is estimated 265,000 graduates will be needed annually until 2024 (Engineering UK, 2017) – so graduates can enjoy excellent employment prospects.
- Earning potential – The average graduate salary is £24,000 and experienced engineers can earn £50,000 to £80,000 a year (National Careers Service).
- International opportunities – Many top multinational companies hire for roles all across the globe. Airbus, Ford, Heinz and BP are top graduate employers worldwide.
Different types of engineering
There are four main types of engineer: chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical.
Chemical engineering uses scientific principles to create new products from raw materials. You could be involved in the design and manufacturing stage of product development or testing new materials. As a chemical engineer, you could work in industries such as food production, mineral extraction and processing, mining, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals.
Civil engineering deals with the design, testing, construction and maintenance of the environment. Civil engineers can work across environmental, geotechnical, control, structural and transportation projects. This can involve projects for roads, bridges and canals, renewable energy, drilling and even responding to natural disasters.
Electrical engineers research, design and test new technology and electrical systems in products and buildings. Work can cover a range of industries and areas, including building and services, transport, manufacturing and production, robotics, telecommunications, energy and digital technology.
This is a hands-on role working across all stages of product development, from research and design to installation and commissioning. Most industries rely on mechanical systems with opportunities across a range of areas from aerospace and manufacturing to construction and railway.
Other types of engineering
There are many other engineering specialisms; often these are a combination of the four main engineering disciplines. Specialisms include:
- Aeronautical engineering
- Aerospace engineering
- Agricultural engineering
- Applied engineering
- Biological engineering
- Biomedical engineering
- Electronic Engineering
- Industrial engineering
- Nano engineering
- Nuclear engineering
- Software engineering
- Satellite engineering
- Systems engineering
- Textile engineering
Steps to become an engineer
There are three main steps to becoming an engineer.
1. A Levels or equivalent
3. Postgraduate degree
If you completed a BEng (rather than an MEng) then you can go on and study a master’s degree in a related field. This is required if you are considering applying for Chartered Status and aiming for more senior positions, however is not essential for all engineering careers.
2. Undergraduate degree
You can choose a bachelor of engineering degree BEng (3 years) or a master of engineering degree MEng (four years). You will usually choose your specialism when you apply for your degree, although general engineering is also available if you are unsure of your specific career ambitions.Both the BEng and MEng degree routes teach similar modules during year one and two, providing the foundation knowledge you need to be an engineer. In year three you will specialise. The master’s is an additional year to further deepen your knowledge.
Qualifications needed for engineering
Find out what A Levels and GCSEs you need to study to become an engineer.
You do not need specific GCSEs for a career in engineering but a strong academic background will support your university applications. Ideally, you will need at least five GCSEs, including English, Maths and Science.
You need at least three A Levels, including physics and maths to study engineering in the UK. The grades you need depend on the university and course you apply for. The top courses will ask for As and A*s.
If you have not studied A Levels you will need to study an engineering foundation before you can progress to a university degree. You should aim to achieve a 70% pass or higher.
How long does it take to become an engineer?
It takes four to six years to become an engineer. You need to study:
- Three-year Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) or four-year Master of Engineering (MEng)
- 1 year Master of Science (MSc) in related field – only required if you didn’t do 4 year MEng and want Chartered Engineer (CEng) status
- 1 year in industry – many degrees include a one-year industry placement so you can put your learning into practice.
What are the different routes into engineering?
Apprenticeships and vocational qualifications offer an alternative route into engineering for domestic students. Apprenticeships provide on-the-job training and preparation for industry qualifications while you are employed by a company. Vocational courses are more practical than a university degree and prepare you for a particular role.
Career progression opportunities for engineers
Career opportunities for engineers depend on your specialism and the structure of the company you work for.
A broad range of industries require engineers so you will have many options available to you after you graduate. Engineers usually start at a technical level and have the opportunity to move up to more strategic, managerial roles with experience.
Become professionally registered
Joining a professional body will support your career progression and help you achieve higher paid positions. You can aim towards being professionally registered while you are working.
There are different engineering qualifications in the UK to certify your skill level and experience. Chartered Engineer is the highest qualification, and registering can lead to top positions such as engineering director, chief engineer and programme director. The quickest way to reach Chartered Engineer status is by completing a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in engineering.