What is engineering?
Engineers are behind many of the amazing objects and structures that we use today, and they come in all shapes and sizes.
There are the electrical engineers who developed your super light mobile and the software engineers who designed the apps on it, civil engineers who design the railways, buildings and bridges you use every day, and environmental engineers who create structures to protect the environment.
Engineers use their scientific and mathematical skills and amazing problem-solving skills to come up with practical ways to make our buildings, technology and machines faster, stronger and safer.
What engineering jobs can I do?
Almost every gadget or built object you see around you will have had the once over from an engineer, so there are a massive number of engineering careers to choose from.
- Mechanical engineers: Design and build all kind of machines, from your dishwasher to a formula one car engine. Mechanical engineers can also specialise in manufacturing – developing the machines that build our products, or building systems to generate and store energy including solar power and wind. Aeronautic and aerospace engineers are high fliers specialising in planes, missiles and spacecraft.
- Chemical engineers: Create products from raw chemical materials and have been behind some of our biggest discoveries from nuclear science to paper, plastics, drugs, and even new kinds of food.
- Software engineers: Design computer programs and applications for consumers like you, as well as companies, governments, and medical and scientific research.
- Biomedical engineering: As a biomedical engineer you could find yourself developing the latest robotic limb technology or new tools for surgeons.
- Environmental engineers: Use engineering solutions to protect the environment; for example, by designing a structure to protect the coast from erosion or protect an eco-system from external threats.
- Electronic engineers: Look at circuitry and ways to make our gadgets smaller and more efficient. Without electrical and electronic engineering, computers would still be as big as houses and the phone you are using wouldn’t exist.
- Civil engineers: These engineers are needed for big construction projects like bridges, hospitals, skyscrapers and roads. There are lots of civil engineering jobs within this area including structural engineers, who work closely with architects to choose the right materials to make sure your building stays standing, or environmental engineers who deal with the smelly business of treating our waste.
Check out this guide to the different types of engineers for more details and other types of engineers.
Is a career in engineering for me?
If you've ever been tempted to pull something apart to see how it works, or if you enjoy making things, from paper planes, clothes and fabrics, to circuit boards, rockets and apps, an engineering career could be for you.
Engineers like thinking through problems logically from start to finish. In fact, an engineer is really just a professional problem solver with plenty of creativity. They are always looking for ways to improve stuff and dreaming up new inventions, so it can be a great career choice whether you enjoy arts or science subjects.
You'll also need to be calm under pressure, enjoy taking on responsibility and working as part of a big team.
How can I start an engineering career?
The big subjects you need for engineering jobs are maths, physics, computing and sciences, particularly if you want to study it at uni - which is advisable for most jobs. NVQ engineering is another, more hands-on option. You should also aim for at least a grade 4 in English at GCSE.
Don't be duped into thinking that engineering's all about science and numbers. Creative subjects like art and design can be useful too, so don’t drop them if you enjoy them.
Many engineers will need a degree in engineering or a technology related subject like computer science. Degrees are usually a four-year combined course taking you up to master's level (called an MEng or master's of engineering). If you see a course advertised as a BEng (bachelor's of engineering), you may need to do an extra qualification at the end to pursue an engineering career.
To specialise in a particular area you may also need to study for a PhD.
Lots of big manufacturing companies, including car and appliance manufacturers, also offer intermediate/advanced apprenticeships for school leavers to train as technicians or study towards a BTEC in engineering. Check out this video for a quick run-down of engineering apprenticeships:
You can also work in the engineering industry without a degree in areas like finance, marketing and HR.
To get a feel for working with machines, the best thing you can do is practise. Try taking an old gadget apart, like a clock, and putting it back together (make sure no one minds you taking it apart first!). Help with DIY tasks at home too. It's so valuable to get stuck in instead of just reading about it.
Once you feel confident with your practical skills you could take on a hackathon or a Young Engineers challenge. Competitions include building cars, making model aircraft or creating a brand new product invention of your own.
Looking for more information about engineering careers? Take a lot at our student jobs board and see what jobs and work experience opportunities are available in engineering today.
What engineering qualifications are available?
After completing a degree, apprenticeship or vocational qualification in engineering, you could go on to gain professional registration as Engineering or ICT Technician (EngTech or ICTTech), Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng). Like doctors and lawyers, professionally registered engineers are well respected. The letters after your name demonstrate academic ability, expertise, competence developed by work place experience and commitment to your chosen career.
Did you know these engineering facts?
186,000 engineering roles will be needed in the UK by 2024.
Space engineers hope to get humans to Mars by 2020.
In the future, marine engineers will building structures that float on our oceans and generate energy from waves. Mechatronics engineers will design and build robots that help us in all aspects of our lives.