Despite being more important to global operations than ever before, the engineering sector is currently finding recruitment extremely challenging

A recent study by The Engineer found that almost half of employers were struggling to identify suitable candidates - an issue primarily caused, experts claim, by the education system's failure to give young people enough guidance on how to get into the sector.

With this in mind, here's how you can become an engineer…

A-levels

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 two A* grades in physics, maths or further maths, plus one additional A grade.

Engineering degrees

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 2017: the subject tables identifies five key engineering specialisms: chemical; civil; electronic and electrical; materials and mineral; and mechanical. The top universities for each of these strands are:

  • Chemical - The University of Cambridge, Imperial College London and the University of Birmingham;
  • Civil - Imperial College London, the University of Southampton and The University of Sheffield;
  • Electronic and electrical - The University of Southampton, The University of Manchester and the University of Surrey;
  • Materials and mineral - The University of Oxford, Loughborough University and Imperial College London;
  • Mechanical - Imperial College London, Lancaster University and Loughborough University.

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 into many engineering or manufacturing careers, Masters degrees, PhDs 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. For advice on what to study, see top 4 types of postgraduate engineering course.

For more information on entry requirements in the engineering and manufacturing sector, see job profiles.

To find postgraduate engineering and manufacturing courses in the UK, search courses and research.

Professional qualifications

Joining a professional body isn't usually necessary to gain your first graduate job; however, it provides 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:

  • 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 Chemical Engineers (IChemE) - Provides numerous training opportunities that are focused on a range of specialist topics.
  • 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.
  • Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) - Membership or gives access to a range of training courses in management and technical subjects.

Engineering apprenticeships

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.

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 Not Going to Uni claims that typical tasks range 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. View these tips on applying for an apprenticeship to set yourself apart from your competitors.

For more information on engineering and manufacturing technologies apprenticeships, see GOV.UK.

To find apprenticeships in the engineering and manufacturing sector, search for 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. Indeed, 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 12-month industrial placements.

To find work placements and internships in the engineering and manufacturing sector, search for work experience.

Applying for engineering jobs

Graduate schemes in engineering and manufacturing are offered by numerous large employers, including BAE Systems, Jaguar Land Rover, BP and Nestlé.

Many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also have opportunities. According to Engineering UK 2016, mid-sized manufacturing firms will hold the key to future growth in manufacturing, as a greater number of products are made in the UK. It's therefore worth making speculative applications to local companies in your area.

Engineering jobs are advertised in all of the usual places, plus in specialist press such as New Scientist and The Engineer. Professional bodies, of which there are 35 for engineering, also advertise vacancies.

You should also bear in mind that engineering and manufacturing companies also have roles in career areas such as: accountancy, banking and finance; recruitment and HR; business, consulting and management; and marketing, advertising and PR.

To find jobs and graduate schemes in the sector, search graduate jobs in engineering and manufacturing.