The engineering sector accounts for roughly a fifth of the UK’s gross added value (£280bn). Surprisingly, this success story, instead of being supported to expand from strength-to-strength, is currently stifled by a serious skills shortage.
A new report by Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) confirms that the engineering sector has made up a lot of ground recently and has recovered fully from to its 2007 level (or where it was at before the financial crisis). Good news indeed; a great recovery and a time you’d think for solid growth but sadly (according to another report by Technopolis) even though engineering research in the UK is the world leader in productivity and second in terms of technical excellence we are still lagging behind countries like China and India. The engineering sector is a huge success story given that the annual investment from businesses into engineering research and development amounts to around £9.5bn per year, with up to £3.1bn from the Government. The return on investment is utterly startling.
Clearly, Service-leavers may already possess qualifications in engineering. Aircraft technicians that have looked after helicopters, for example, will be used to spending time maintaining hydraulics, engines, gearboxes and fuel systems which may well have vested them with qualifications such as NVQ Level 3 which can provide a suitable starting point for a career in engineering outside of the Forces.
Britain currently produces around 25,000 engineering graduates every year. Research by the Royal Academy of Engineering suggests Britain will need more than a million new engineers and technicians by 2020. In short, this will require more than twice the amount of engineering graduates and apprentices – or finding people with skills from other sources, such as Service-leavers. In fact this problem of tomorrow is already biting with 40% of the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) 400 employers indicated that they have trouble recruiting engineering graduates.
Engineering on Civvy Street
According to a 2015 report by Engineering UK: ‘The State Of Engineering’, most engineering enterprises (97.1%) are either small or micro and, overall, 86.9% of engineering enterprises have fewer than 10 employees. However, while companies with at least 250 employees represented 0.4% of all engineering enterprises, they employ over two fifths (42.4%) of those working in engineering enterprises.
Whilst there is no restriction on your right to call yourself an engineer, you’ll find that people won’t be queuing up for your services or to employ you unless you are properly registered. Indeed, if you wish to practice specifically as a chartered engineer for example or as an incorporated engineer (amongst other distinct job titles) you are legally required to have met certain standards of competency.
The Engineering Council is the UK regulatory body for the engineering profession. They hold the national registers of 222,000 engineering technicians (EngTech), incorporated engineers (IEng), chartered engineers (CEng) and information and communications technology technicians (ICTTech).
In addition, the Engineering Council sets and maintains the internationally recognised standards of professional competence and ethics that govern the award and retention of these titles. Registration acts as a quality accreditation both in the UK and overseas.
Another well known registration body is the IET. The IET is one of the world’s largest engineering institutions with over 163,000 members in 127 countries. They provide Service leavers’ discount for membership and professional registration.
Engineers and technicians leaving the Services can benefit from significantly discounted rates for IET membership and professional registration. Membership of the IET gives you the opportunity to maintain the high standards you have already achieved in the Armed Forces and gain recognition for your skills and knowledge through professional registration.
Armed Forces IET membership:
This is a diverse role that lends itself to a variety of industries including manufacturing, power and construction amongst many others and similarly at a number of process stages ranging from research and development through to design, manufacturing and installation. (This means that employment opportunities are relatively plentiful.)
The key skills are likely to be designing and implementing cost-effective equipment modifications to help improve safety, reliability and efficiency as well as monitoring and commissioning plant and systems.
Entry requirements are likely to be a degree qualification in a relevant subject such as mechanical engineering, engineering science, aeronautical engineering, agricultural engineering, computer-aided engineering, manufacturing engineering or nuclear engineering. (Employers also value soft skills such as those involved with man-management and commercial awareness.)
A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not essential but it can be useful. It is also helpful if your first degree or Masters is accredited by a relevant professional body, such as the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), as it can help you to achieve the status of chartered engineer at a later date. It is possible to enter the career as a trainee with a HND or foundation degree in relevant subjects.
A mechanical engineer can expect to earn between £19,491 and £44,604 with an average salary of £29,979 per annum.
Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE)
Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)
Electrical engineers design, build and maintain electrical control systems, machinery and equipment in a variety of industries including transport, power, renewables, manufacturing and construction. (The role is likely to include carrying out feasibility studies for new technical developments.)
Entry requirements usually include a foundation degree, HNC, HND or degree in electrical or electronic engineering or a related subject, such as building services engineering.
Day-to-day activities might include: drawing up project plans and circuit diagrams, using computer-assisted engineering and design software, coordinating the work of technicians, testing installations and systems as well as analysing test data and making sure that existing equipment, installations and projects meet safety requirements.
Projects often require collaboration with other professionals, such as civil engineers, architects, engineering technicians and IT staff.
An electrical engineer can expect to earn between £19,379 – £49,664 per annum with an average earnings of £30,667.
Civil engineers tend to specialise in planning, design and management of larger (often public) construction projects. Activities vary from work on structures like bridges and tall buildings to transport links and sports stadia. (A civil engineer tends to develop a specialism.) It’s a strategic role that includes planning, researching and developing new ideas, and making management systems more efficient.
Even in a specialist role you are likely to draw on a broad range of skills including planning requirements with the client and colleagues, analysing survey, testing and mapping data using computer modelling software and creating blueprints using computer aided design (CAD).
Civil engineers are also responsible for judging feasibility of projects by looking at costs, time and labour requirements as well as risk and environmental impact. These details are often important as they prepare bids for tenders, and reporting to clients, public agencies and planning organisations. Once on a project the civil engineer will take a lead role in managing, directing and monitoring progress during each stage of a project, making sure that sites meet legal guidelines, and health and safety requirements. Often the civil engineer needs to work on projects alongside other professionals, such as architects, surveyors and building contractors.
Entry requirements are a degree qualification such as Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) or Master’s (MEng) degree in civil engineering. (These qualifications are important if you want to work towards incorporated or chartered engineer status later on.) You could study other engineering-related subjects, but it may take you longer to fully qualify.
If you already have work experience in engineering, for example as an advanced apprentice or technician, you could qualify as a civil engineer by studying part-time for an HNC/HND or foundation degree, leading on to a degree in civil engineering.
A civil engineer can expect to earn £20,064 – £44,419 per annum with average earnings of £28,794 per annum.
Institution of Civil Engineers