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How to Kickstart a Career in Engineering

27 Mar 10:00 by Jamie Silman

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With an ever-growing shortage of Engineers in the UK, demand for the next generation of workers is forecast to continue to grow, making it the perfect time for any budding engineers to kickstart a career in engineering.

So if you’re considering a path in the sector, how can you kickstart your career in engineering?

 

Decide On A Career Path

The first step is to decide which career path you’d like to focus on.

While all engineering roles require strong skills in mathematics, science, and technology; different roles require knowledge of different topics.

For example, a mechanical engineer will need to understand technical drawings and machining processes, while a chemical engineer will need to understand how different chemicals react.

Deciding on a path early will help with choosing which topics to study in further education.

Let’s take a look at the different types of engineers

Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineers design and build physical components for things like aeroplane engines, cars, machinery, and even household items. To become a mechanical engineer, you’ll generally be expected to have some good grades in design and technology subjects, alongside mathematics and science.

Electrical Engineers

Electrical engineers plan and develop electrical systems for a number of projects, from small household electronics to large scale infrastructure projects or buildings. Their education will need to include physics, along with mathematics and the broader sciences. 

Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers work on industrial processes that transform raw materials into usable products and materials. Chemical engineers obviously need a particularly strong focus on chemistry throughout their education.

Civil Engineers

Civil engineers work on infrastructure and construction projects. As a broader subject, this may simply require general engineering experience, but certain career paths will need some good grades in geology.

Software Engineers

Software engineers create the applications and programs that are the brains behind every computer-based system the world uses. There’ll be less of an importance for hard sciences if you’re planning on a career as a software engineer, with more of the focus going on mathematics, statistics,  IT and computer science.

Environmental Engineers

Environmental engineers use a wide variety of sciences and engineering to solve problems and create solutions that help to improve the life of living animals and organisms, and to help improve the environment. Environmental engineering is normally a subset of other engineering studies, but will require good grades in subjects like biology and chemistry.

 

Once you’ve chosen which type of engineering career you’d like to pursue, you’ll also need to start to think about the sector in which you’d like to work.

The choice of sectors is less formal than choosing your field of study, but it’s still an important consideration when you’re thinking about your future as an engineer.

There’s a large number of sectors including (but not limited to): Aerospace and Defence, Automotive, FMCG, Energy, Oil and Gas; and Manufacturing.

 

Engineering Salary

When choosing a career, it’s important not to get too hung up on choosing a career based on the salary. 

In the first few years of an engineering career, it’s much more important to find a firm that will invest in your development, rather than one that will pay you a bit more money.

It’d be naive to think that salary won’t ever be a factor in choosing a career - no one wants to end up in an industry with no long-term prospects - but you should try and choose a path that you find interesting and rewarding, rather than simply choosing a particular field of study because it’s one of the highest-paid engineering jobs!

 

Complete Your Education

After choosing which area of engineering you’d like to have a career in, now it’s time for the hard work to begin!

There are three main routes engineers typically take to start their career in engineering: a university degree, an apprenticeship, or through the armed forces.

University

Depending on the industry or position you plan on entering you may require a degree.

A typical BEng degree will take 3 or 4 years, depending on whether or not you complete a placement year during your degree; with the masters program then taking an additional year.

Degrees are typically most important for graduate positions and, as mentioned, in certain fields that require a formal education to progress. However, many companies will now accept candidates with apprenticeships or armed forces experience, as these give engineers hands-on experience alongside the theoretical side of learning.

Apprenticeship

Apprenticeships have grown in popularity over recent years, as they have great benefits for both students and businesses.

Apprentices get paid a small amount, currently £3.90 per hour, as they learn on the job at an engineering firm, alongside regular lessons at a college.

This means that students can learn on the job, without building up a large amount of student debt, and companies get an eager engineer as an extra pair of hands on their projects.

Armed Forces

A career in engineering through the armed forces is very similar to an apprenticeship program that runs alongside the forces basic training.

The experience you gain in the forces will be very hands-on, leaving you in a great position when your service comes to an end; at which point you can develop your skills further with a university degree or, more likely,  transfer to a civilian role that values all of the skills you’ll have picked up during your time in the forces.

With the skills shortage the engineering industry is currently facing, there are plenty of armed forces transfer schemes that are designed to help veterans transfer to civilian roles that can make the best use of their skillset.

 

Get Experience

No matter your choice of education, one of the most important aspects of developing your career as an engineer is to gain experience.

If you’ve chosen to enter engineering via university degree, then this will mean making the most of the summer holidays and placement years by finding internships or graduate positions that can give you relevant experience.

After finishing university, there are graduate schemes and junior positions that can help to develop your experience further. They may be relatively low paying, but they can be a fantastic way of getting a broad range of experience early on in your career.

If you’ve opted for an apprenticeship or armed forces training program, then working experience is still essential for developing your career, but it will be more of a part of your education. 

It’s also important to remember that just because you have an apprenticeship at a company, doesn’t mean they have to hire you for a full-time position at the end of your education!

 

Perfect Your CV

As an engineering recruitment agency, we see hundreds, if not thousands, of CVs every single month.

A well-written CV can often be the difference between two candidates who have almost identical experience, so it’s important to make sure your CV is up to scratch and is showcasing your skills and experience properly.

Aside from avoiding all of the common CV mistakes people regularly make (like not checking for spelling mistakes and listing the wrong contact details), the perfect engineering cv should highlight the relevant experience you have for the role, whilst also demonstrating you have the right soft-skills for the job.

As time-consuming as it might seem, it’s also important to make sure you tailor your CV to each job application to highlight your relevant skills, whilst also keeping your CV up to date as your skills develop.

 

Keep Learning

If you’ve gotten this far, then it’s likely you’ve started your career on the right foot - but don’t stop there!

Getting a job is just the first step of your career in engineering, and as technology and processes change, you need to adapt and learn to keep your skillset remaining relevant.

Whether it’s attending training courses and industry trade events or getting further experience by transferring to different departments within your company, it’s important to develop your skills further and to keep up to date with your sector as it grows.

 

If you’re thinking about kickstarting a career in engineering, but aren’t sure where to start or which path to take, we put together a list of what we think are some of the best engineering jobs for the future.