How to become an engineer — a step-by-step guide

A career in engineering can be rewarding and well paid. If you enjoy creative problem solving, it could be the right job for you.

So how do you become an engineer in the UK? Read on for our quick-start guide.

What do engineers do?

Engineers apply mathematical and scientific principles to solve problems and create things. They design, build and test systems and structures, like wind turbines, cars, and computer programs.

There are many different types of engineer, from aerospace engineers to electrical engineers to software engineers.

The route to becoming a professional engineer usually involves a combination of academic study and industry experience, but the exact path depends on what kind of engineer you want to be.

What types of engineers are there?

There are dozens of types of engineers, and the jobs they do vary quite a lot. Most types of engineering fit into four categories: civil engineering, electronic engineering, mechanical engineering and chemical engineering.

Within these categories there are further sub-disciplines. For example, within the mechanical engineering field you could be an aerospace engineer or specialise in biomechanics, while within electronic engineering you could be a software engineer or a telecommunications engineer.

What is the best engineering field to go into?

The best engineering field to go into really depends on your own skills and interests, so research the options carefully.

Many universities offer a general engineering degree course as well as more specific courses like aerospace engineering and biomedical engineering.

If you’re not sure what type of engineer you want to be, a general engineering course may be a good idea, as you’ll get the chance to study a range of engineering disciplines and decide which one suits you best.

What qualifications do you need to be an engineer?

The education needed to become an engineer includes both academic study and on-the-job training.

Engineering degrees

A common route to becoming an engineer in the UK is to take A-levels in maths and science subjects and then to do an engineering degree at university.

There are many kinds of engineering courses available at university. You can study for a three year Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) or a four year Master of Engineering (MEng). Find a list of engineering courses on the UCAS website.

Engineering apprenticeships

However, it is possible to become an engineer without a degree, usually by doing an engineering apprenticeship. Apprenticeships involve a combination of work and study. You’ll usually complete a national diploma in an engineering subject while doing on-the-job training at a firm.

Some apprenticeships require applicants to have A-levels, while others only require GCSEs.

Organisations that offer engineering apprenticeships include BAE Systems, Toyota, BT and the Royal Navy. You can find more information and search for a suitable apprenticeship on the government’s website.

How long does it take to become an engineer?

An engineering degree will tend to take three or four years. Once you’ve completed your degree, you can apply for a graduate engineering job or a place on an engineering graduate scheme.

Graduate schemes are entry-level engineering jobs that usually last two years. They’re often offered by large companies, and they provide you with support and training as you begin your career. Once you’ve completed the graduate scheme, you’ll usually get the chance to apply for a permanent job with the company.

If you take the engineering apprenticeship route, your apprenticeship will probably last somewhere between two and four years. Once your apprenticeship is complete, the firm may offer you continued employment, or you can apply for engineering jobs elsewhere.

Further engineering qualifications

Once you’re working as an engineer, you may decide to do further professional qualifications such as those offered by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) or the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

To progress even further, you may decide to become a Chartered Engineer (CEng), as this can improve your earning potential and career prospects. The application process involves submitting evidence of your “competence and commitment” as an engineer. You can find out more on the Engineering Council website.

How can you gain engineering experience?

Whether you’re hoping to be accepted onto an engineering degree programme or you’re looking for your first graduate job, having some engineering experience under your belt will be key to your success.

Many firms offer engineering placements and summer internships that will help you gain experience. To find a placement, check company websites, go to the careers fairs offered by your college, and search online.

Some engineering degrees will also include a year in industry, which means you’ll take a year out from university to gain real-life engineering experience in a professional working environment.

How are you pursuing your dream of becoming an engineer? Tell us in the comments.

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