The world of engineering and how to get into it

If you want to send a new plane into the sky, build the next major skyscraper, or make a revolutionary microchip, here’s where to begin...

Engineers are at the cutting edge in emerging fields, crafting the very small and exploring the very big. How about decoding a spider’s web to develop a super-strong structure on which to grow human tissues? Or using the symmetries of fir cones to design next season’s outdoor gear?

From information technology and medicine, to health and the arts, engineers are creating the technologies, fine-tuning the hardware, crunching the numbers, and making things happen.

But engineers are also doing the jobs they’ve done for centuries – improving communications, enhancing everyday lives, and reimagining our cities. Mega projects such as HS2 provide exciting opportunities for engineers from across the disciplines.

“UK industry will need more than 100,000 science and engineering professionals every year by 2020,” says Barry Brooks, former president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. “Areas such as cyber security, energy, manufacturing, and transport are crying out for engineers.

“If we are to meet this demand, we need people with the right skills and we need more of them.”

Aeronautics and astronautics 

The job: Fancy testing model planes in a real airport or collecting asteroid samples? Engineers are needed to develop lighter airframes, cheaper satellites, bigger airports, faster rockets, and sharper defence systems, as well as advising on all the economic, legal, and environmental issues associated with aircraft operations and performance. It’s a high-flying job, but with safety at its core.

The companies: Aston Martin, BAE Systems, Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company Limited, and Rolls-Royce.

The choice can be dizzying. This guide will get you started by matching your passions and profile to an engineering specialism.


The job: Artificial joints, MRI scanners, pacemakers, and artificial skin – just a few of the many recent inventions by bioengineers. Those with a flair for software development can work in an eclectic range of roles in research labs, aerospace companies, financial universities, and medical equipment manufacturers. This is a fast-evolving new sphere with growing demand for specialists across Europe.

The companies: AngioDynamics UK, 3M Health Care, LifeCell EMEA, GlaxoSmithKline.

Civil engineering 

The job: The Institution of Civil Engineers likes to remind its members that the 'civil' part of the job is all about people. As well as building bridges, cities, motorways, and hotels, civil engineers are developing the latest systems for supplying energy and clean water to our homes, and for processing and recycling household and industrial waste. Iconic structures such as the Olympic Park, Panama Canal, and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai are the handiwork of civil engineers.

The companies: Atkins, Arup, Balfour Beatty, BuroHappold, BAM Construct UK.

Earth science and environmental engineering 

The job: Sustainability is far more than a buzzword for engineers and earth scientists are leading the way in changing our attitude to natural resources and natural hazards, and working with nature to secure the future. Geoscientists provide the hard data for weather forecasters and energy providers.

The companies: Atomic Weapons Establishment, e2v, Michell Instruments, QinetiQ.

Electrical engineering 

The job: Nothing works without power. Electrical engineers are the key workers when it comes to the generation, supply, distribution, application, and control of electricity. They are also vital to manufacturing and leading developments in green energy use, through hybrid and electric cars, ships, and aircraft.

The companies: Humber, Kirkby Lindsey, Power Supply Projects, Vic Coupland.

Electronic engineering 

The job: The 'invisible' software apps and user-friendly hardware we take for granted are the bread and butter of electronic engineers. Skilled electronic engineers can find work in an ever-widening range of sectors from software development to gaming to avionics, to defence to mobile communications. Nanotechnology firms are recruiting staff to engineer the next generation of optical equipment, chemical processing systems, and measuring devices.

The companies: BAE Systems, Cambridge Nanotherm, EDF Energy, Edinburgh Instruments, National Grid, Network Rail.

Mechanical engineering 

The job: 'Mech eng' has been around since the start of the industrial revolution, but today’s practitioners are in the frontline of robotics, power generation, fluid mechanics, tribology, construction, and manufacturing. The future of automotive – from driverless cars to on-board automated safety systems – is in the hands of mechanical engineers.

The companies: BMW, General Electric, Google, Siemens, Sony.

Oil and petroleum engineering 

The job: Few job sectors come with travel as a dead cert, but oil is rarely found without at least a small helicopter flight. Whether linking up the piping systems on a North Sea rig or developing processes to extract insect repellent from oil, engineers are needed. Prices and demand shift all the time, but upstream and downstream opportunities continue to crop up.

The companies: BP, Cairn Energy, ExxonMobil, ScottishPower, Shell.

As you can see, there’s plenty of overlap in engineering. Electronics doesn’t exist without electricity. Nanoengineers are needed to design the latest robots. Rocket scientists collaborate with civil engineers to build launch pads. At master’s level and above, UK universities allow students to focus through specialist courses.


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