Research commissioned by the Engineering and Technology Board (ETB) suggests that five in every six adults agree with the statement that ‘engineering is essential for all human development’. However, despite this, most people know very little about the industry and what engineers actually do. Madhvi Pankhania investigates.
Not enough of us realise the part engineers play in our day-to-day lives, and how vital they are to the growth of the national economy. They create and put ideas into practice; from electrical and electronic engineers who design and develop new technologies such as mobile phones, computers and iPods, to chemical engineers who create shampoo, washing powder and medicines. Society needs civil engineers just as much, as they create the gigantic fresh water and transport systems we all use every day. The industry is part of future cutting-edge technical and scientific developments, and with increasing emphasis on renewable energy, alternative power sources and environmentally friendly products, as well as the onset of the 2012 Olympic Games, this is a thriving sector to work in, and one which holds an exciting range of opportunities.
The industry is broad (there are about 25 different areas of specialisation), employing roughly 17 million people, within a range of disciplines, and a variety of positions for graduates. Roles include those based in research and development, design, production, construction, maintenance, planning, evaluation, and management.
TRAINING AND SKILLS
A degree in a relevant subject, gap year employment, and graduate apprenticeships provide a great foundation. Management and research roles sometimes require Incorporated or Chartered status, particularly in fields such as electrical engineering. However, some employers look further than the standard 2:1 degree as Gina Citroni, commercial director at Amplicon, points out: ‘I look for well-rounded recruits who have a healthy balance between academic achievement, life experience, and time spent working within their chosen sector. Working in this industry is a continual learning curve and with the changes in the market, it is useful and productive to learn on the job.’
Training is provided on-the-job to equip employees with technical and managerial, project management and planning skills, and to prepare them for advancement to senior positions. These are all transferable skills, coveted by other sectors, so provide a foundation to swap sectors at a later stage in your career.
In this period of rapid social and technological change, positions are continually being redefined and creative thinking has become essential. This is especially true in telecommunications, one of the fastest changing sectors in the UK, which requires workers to adapt, take initiative, and embrace new challenges head on. Globalisation has become ever more prominent and employers increasingly value excellent communication skills, and the ability for their employees to work closely with professionals in other fields, and from across the globe.
Opportunities are vast and the benefit of working in such a large sector is that employment is available in both small and medium enterprises, who provide varied and challenging work; and in larger firms, who have a structure to promote workers to senior positions. Competition between businesses, and the consequential need for higher productivity, opens more doors for engineers who are required to upgrade existing product designs. However, for engineers to stay ahead in their specialised fields, they may need to pursue their education further, and monitor relevant up-to-date information. Many products in use today will no longer be needed in ten years time – just a small indication of how essential it is for engineers to progress with the times, and search for alternative, more efficient products.
Along with a challenging career path and the opportunity for core skills and intellectual development, engineering is also the third highest earning industry with lucrative salaries starting at around £22,500. Specifically, some technological fields have very high rates of pay (the British aerospace industry has a turnover of £18 billion) and also provide the most interesting work. Another favourable aspect, more so in management roles, is the satisfaction of seeing projects from the design stage, right through to completion. The UK depends on its engineers to sustain its international competitiveness, and to drive its prosperity; the government says that a "strong supply of scientists, engineers and technologists" will be essential to give "UK businesses and public services the drive and capability to innovate". A job which directly helps to maintain our national standard of living comes with significant prestige, and the chance to work with highly respected professionals.
However, there is a gaping shortage in the number of students applying for jobs. As Gina Citroni comments, ‘the inexorable push towards the more glamorous options of marketing, design and media means we are now left without the bright, innovative and logical thinkers that the UK needs to hold onto its position as a world leader in business’. The total number of registered engineers has fallen by 21,500 — or by eight per cent — in the last decade, while over the last three years those studying engineering in Further Education has fallen by a quarter. These figures do not provide such a glowing view for the future, and raise questions about how to promote the engineering and technology professions. The work engineers contribute to health, education and transport projects, fulfilling the needs of society, needs to be highlighted to encourage the industry to fill employment gaps, and to reach the brightest and best potential candidates.
The Engineering and Technology Board: www.etechb.co.uk
ENGINEERING IN NUMBERS
ENGINEERING PROFESSIONALS IN THE UK
ALL IN EMPLOYMENT: 381,000
CIVIL ENGINEERS: 69,000
MECHANICAL ENGINEERS: 45,000
ELECTRICAL/ELECTRONIC ENGINEERS: 35,000