As well as a passion for their discipline, aspiring engineers also need relevant qualifications and industry experience. Discover how to break into the field
If you want to become an engineer studying maths and physics at A-level is often essential, while budding chemical engineers should pursue chemistry. Further maths and design technology are also useful choices.
The grades you'll need to get into university and onto an engineering degree vary, but the best institutions seek top marks. For example, the University of Cambridge requires three A* grades to study engineering at undergraduate level, while the University of Oxford asks students achieve three A* grades in physics, maths or further maths to study its four-year MEng in Engineering Science.
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 usually require a specific degree.
The Guardian University League Tables 2020 identifies six key engineering specialisms and the top universities in each area:
- Chemical - The University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, University of Nottingham
- Civil - Imperial College London, University of Leeds and the University of the West of Scotland
- Electronic and electrical - University of Nottingham, University of Surrey and the University of Loughborough
- General - University of Oxford, University of Loughborough and the University of Exeter
- Materials and mineral - The University of Oxford, Loughborough University and the University of Exeter
- Mechanical - Imperial College London, the University of Bristol and Coventry 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 careers, Masters degrees and PhD study can deepen your knowledge and help you to build sector specific skills and forge industry connections. They are also highly sought-after in areas such as product design and research and development.
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, if you're aiming to become a Chartered Engineer (CEng) you will need a Masters 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:
- Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) - From introductory to advanced levels the CIBSE provides membership and and range of training courses to aspiring building service engineers.
- 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.
- Institution of Engineering Designers (IED) - The UK's only professional body representing those working in the field of engineering and technological product design.
- 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.
- Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) - Providing professional accreditation and training courses for structural engineers, IStructE offers both student and graduate membership.
Apprenticeships in engineering give the more practical minded a chance to put their 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 do so on an engineering degree apprenticeship.
Major organisations such as Gatwick Airport, KPMG, Morrisons, Network Rail and the Royal Air Force offer apprenticeships in engineering, from intermediate to degree level. 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 gained during their studies with relevant work experience. Many companies offer permanent jobs to graduates who've performed well on their internship or placement schemes.
While some degrees in engineering and technology include a placement, or sandwich year, not all do so. Therefore, you may need to seek your own opportunities.
Large organisations offer paid engineering internships and industrial placements and usually advertise these widely. Smaller organisations may not have the budget to do this but that doesn’t mean that they don’t provide opportunities. This is where speculative applications come in useful.
Here's an example of what’s on offer:
- Airbus - Provides internships of a minimum of three months in a range of engineering disciplines.
- BAE Systems - On this 12-week summer internship programme you have the option to gain an insight into aerospace, electrical and electronic, mechanical, production, software and systems engineering.
- EDF Energy - You'll need a predicted 2:1 undergraduate degree in a science, engineering, math, IT or business-related subject to gain a place on EDF Energy's 12-month Nuclear Science and Engineering industrial placement. The scheme pays a salary of £16,500.
- GSK - The year-long engineering industrial placement requires you to have a predicted 2:1 undergraduate grade in either automation/controls, chemical, electrical or mechanical engineering.
- HSBC - For a minimum of ten weeks HSBC offers a data science and engineering summer internship.
- Rolls Royce - With a choice to take part in either a ten-week summer internship or 12-month industrial placement (with a salary of £17,850 pro rata) you'll need a predicted 2:1 at undergraduate level in engineering, maths, physical science or computer science.
- Tesco - With a salary of £20,000 pro rata you'll need a predicted 2:2 to gain a place on the technology software engineering internship.
- Toyota - Runs an 11-month engineering industrial placement. You'll receive a salary of £17,000 plus overtime.
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 a CV and cover letter followed by an assessment centre and various stages of interview.
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.
Find out more
- Discover 5 exciting careers in engineering.
- Take a look at 7 tips for getting into civil engineering.
- Learn more about opportunities for women in engineering.