Industry experience and relevant qualifications are a must for any aspiring engineer. Discover what else you'll need to be successful
Studying maths and physics is essential, while budding chemical engineers should pursue chemistry too. Further maths and design technology are also useful choices.
The grades that you'll need to get into university vary, but the best institutions seek top marks. The University of Oxford, for example, requires students of its four-year undergraduate Masters in Engineering Science to obtain three A* grades in physics, maths or further maths.
After you've received your grades, find out what to do on A-level results day.
A degree in an engineering or technology-related subject is usually necessary to work in this sector, though a few engineers have qualifications in disciplines such as maths, physics or computer science. Students of non-engineering subjects may be required to complete a conversion course or professional qualification before working in the field.
For some roles, a qualification in any engineering discipline may be acceptable. For others, such as those in chemical, electrical or mechanical engineering, employers will usually require a specific degree.
The Guardian University Guide 2019: the subject tables identifies five key engineering specialisms and the top universities in each area:
- Chemical - The University of Cambridge, The University of Nottingham and the University of Bradford
- Civil - Imperial College London, the University of Leeds and the University of Bristol
- Electronic and electrical - The University of Nottingham, the University of Southampton and the University of Surrey
- Materials and mineral - The University of Oxford, Loughborough University and the University of Exeter
- Mechanical - Imperial College London, the University of Bath and the University of Leeds.
Most undergraduates study one of the above specialisms. However, pursuing a general engineering degree is preferable for some; students can often specialise in the third year, and some organisations actively seek employees with a more rounded knowledge.
Your choice of engineering discipline influences the graduate jobs that you're eligible for. For more information, see what can I do with my degree?
Postgraduate engineering courses
While postgraduate study isn't essential for entry onto many engineering or manufacturing careers, Masters degrees, PhD study and professional qualifications are highly sought-after in fields such as product design and research and development.
Indeed, some larger companies run bursary schemes to encourage students - and potential future employees - to study a Masters degree. BAE Systems' Aerospace MSc Bursary Scheme, for example, pays tuition fees of up to £9,500.
However, those looking to become a Chartered Engineer (CEng) should have a Master of Engineering (MEng) degree or Engineering Doctorate (EngD), accredited by a professional engineering institution.
To see what's available, search postgraduate engineering courses.
Joining a professional body isn't usually necessary to gain your first graduate job. However, doing so provides you with access to networking opportunities, training events, discussion forums and the latest industry news. All of these things help graduates to enter, develop and specialise in their profession. What's more, becoming a member of a chartered body is obligatory if you want to be assessed for registration as a Chartered Engineer (CEng) or an Incorporated Engineer (IEng).
Professional qualifications can usually be completed while in employment. Professional bodies that provide recognised training include the:
- Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) - Offering a range of courses in areas such as personal development and leadership, process safety and sustainability, training from IChemE is peer reviewed to ensure best practice is reflected.
- Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) - A registered professional body with the Engineering Council UK, membership provides access to several professional development courses.
- Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) - This organisation offers IET Advantage, a membership option that helps recent graduates to become CEng or IEng registered.
- Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) - The only professional body that covers all aspects of food technology in the UK, IFST offers an accreditation scheme to become a Chartered Scientist (CSci).
- Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) - Offers membership as well as access to a range of training courses in management and technical subjects.
Apprenticeships in engineering allow those who aren't as academically inclined to put their practical skills to use in a technical environment. They involve completing a national diploma in engineering or an engineering-related subject, while receiving paid on-the-job training at one of many participating firms. If you'd like to study at a higher level, you can now do so on an engineering degree apprenticeship.
Huge organisations such as Sky, Ford and Skanska offer apprenticeships in engineering. Some companies - especially smaller businesses - prefer entrants to take this route, as they can ensure that everything their apprentices learn will directly benefit their organisation. The workload depends on the specific employer, but you could be doing anything from operating machines in factories to installing telecoms systems.
To apply, you'll usually need good GCSEs in maths, IT and science, and be aged 16 or over. Find out more about engineering apprenticeships.
Work placements and internships
Employers favour those who've complemented the theoretical knowledge that they've gained during their degree with relevant work experience. Many companies offer permanent jobs to graduates who've performed well on their internship and placement schemes.
Some degrees in engineering and technology include a placement year. Alternatively, some larger organisations, such as Siemens and BAE Systems, offer paid internships, with the latter also offering a 12-month industrial placement.
To find opportunities, search for work experience in engineering and manufacturing.
Numerous large employers, including BAE Systems, Jaguar Land Rover, BP and Nestlé offer graduate schemes in engineering and manufacturing. There will be formal application processes usually requiring you to submit your CV and cover letter followed by assessment centres and various stages of interview.
Many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also have opportunities and for these it's worth making speculative applications to local companies in your area.
Engineering jobs are advertised in all of the usual places, in specialist press such as New Scientist and The Engineer. Professional bodies, of which there are 35 for engineering, also advertise vacancies.