Engineering industry profile for graduates, career path and salaries

Engineering Industry Profile for Graduates


Estimated graduate starting salary: £22,000 - £28,000+
Typical salary after training: £25,000 - £50,000+
Graduate Engineering Jobs

Engineers are responsible for creating and maintaining the built environment around us. The training and specialisation involved in engineering may lead graduates into various fields such as electronics, defence, construction, science, research and IT. From the pipes and tunnels beneath us; to the buildings in which we live and work; and the aircraft and satellites that encircle the globe - all this and much more is the work of engineers and technologists.

Today's graduate engineers have to perform a variety of different tasks in their jobs, including drawing up complex designs, making presentations to a board of directors and operating on the shop floor. There are 222,000 people registered with the Engineering Council, working in the main areas such as mechanical, civil, electrical, electronic, chemical and manufacturing. As a whole, engineering enterprises employ 5.4 million people in the UK alone. Around 13% of all graduate roles are within the engineering sector, with an average starting salary of £27,500, making it an attractive career choice for graduates. The area in which engineering graduates study will largely dictate the roles that they will go in to as each sector within the industry has specific skills required for the roles. Thus, specific engineering skills are generally not transferable from one discipline to another.

Engineering covers an enormous variety of roles and services, with organisations being responsible for most of the products and amenities people use every day, both at home and work. Consequently, engineers are in great demand with an average of 182,00 vacancies needing to be filled each year including 56,000 jobs at level 3 and 107,000 at level 4+ (HND/C, foundation degree, undergraduate or postgraduate and equivalent). This means that engineers enjoy one of the lowest rates of unemployment of any of the major career sectors. It is fairly likely that if you are a graduate with skills that are scarce then you can command a higher salary because your talent comes at a premium.

Graduates entering into the engineering sector can expect growth in a number of sectors including: Aerospace, with an estimated global demand for 27,000 new passenger planes and 40,000 commercial helicopters. Chemicals, with over 110,000 people in companies that deal with household products, medicine, advance materials, fuels and so on. Shale gas, with an estimation of 74,000 jobs being created by 2030. And finally, Space, with an average growth rate of 7.5% in this sector. Other areas to look out for include: finding sustainable ways to grow food, advances in medical technology, renewable energy and research and development into use of automation and robotics.

Career path

The sort of work and industry a graduate will be involved in will depend on the discipline required by the employer. This can range from designing jet engines through to ensuring manufacturing processes are working properly. For many, their job offers the opportunity to explore their creativity. So many engineers are in demand because employers recognise that their technical skills and inspiration are good for business, the national economy and global trade.

Two of the popular areas of engineering at graduate level are the aerospace and automotive sector.

Graduates enter the aerospace sector either by joining a company postgraduate scheme or by direct application to companies during their degree course in aeronautical engineering or mechanical engineering, or possibly manufacturing engineering if a role is sought in production. New graduates are frequently given responsibility very early, often with frequent opportunities to travel in support of exports and joint ventures.

Most graduate engineers entering the sector find the life rewarding, particularly seeing ideas progress from a design on paper to a product in service. However, success in the industry requires determination, particularly when projects exceed budget because of technical problems.

The automotive engineering sector covers the design, manufacture, distribution, marketing and sales of motor vehicles. Despite current market pressures it's an important engineering sector for the UK, contributing strongly to the gross national product. The sector comprises a variety of different types of company from large blue-chip multinationals to independent component manufacturing companies. The UK also has a thriving group of smaller companies with specialist expertise in areas such as motorsports engineering.

Most larger companies have accredited graduate schemes where for the first year at least you'll most likely work in different areas of the business - both engineering and non-engineering. As well as design and manufacturing positions, it's important to realise that your engineering degree is a good basis for many other career opportunities in the industry, including commercial and business roles.

There is a lot of pressure linked to production roles as you have to make rapid decisions and solve problems quickly to keep things in motion, but there's lots of variety and great job satisfaction. If you work for a multinational company there may also be opportunities to travel and work abroad.

In any engineering sector the most sought after and valuable positions are generally accredited to chartered status, although the type of qualification depends on the engineering positions, i.e. Electrical - IEE, Mechanical - IMechE, Civil - ICE. These qualifications give a recognisable and transferable skill set within each discipline. Engineering graduates face at least four years of further training to achieve professional qualification as a chartered engineer (CEng) depending on the degree studied. There are also routes to becoming an incorporated engineer (IEng). Both qualifications require structured training (Initial Professional Development) which leads to professional review before qualification. The benefits to you as a graduate include a professional recognition and a higher salary.

UK engineering standards are high and recognised throughout the world. They show that engineers have achieved a benchmark level of competence and deserve respect for their judgments and ability.

As an engineer your long term employment prospects are excellent. Unemployment among professional engineers is very low and research suggests that demand is set to rise because of advances in technology, and changes to industry and consumer demands.

You may be aware that the days engineers only went into manufacturing have long gone. More than half of today's graduate engineers will go into other fields, such as finance, commerce and the media. In fact, engineers appear in almost every area of the modern world, whether it is in the Formula One motor racing industry, or in medical world working for a pharmaceutical company.

Qualifications and skills needed

One major advantage of forging a career in the engineering sector is that there are jobs to suit all personalities and at many different levels of expertise. Some are highly technical, others managerial, yet more require persuasive skills and writing ability. The jobs range much wider than simply those for engineering professionals, and the opportunities for career development are numerous.

Engineering employers tend to look for similar competences and want evidence that you have used them. That's why the first step in your application process should be getting to know you. Make a list of key personal/managerial competences sought after by most employers and then brainstorm some times when you've demonstrated them. This will demonstrate to employers that you have the evidence they need to take your application further.

Effective communication is crucial for engineering businesses to operate productively. With an increase in the documentation and work instructions used by engineers in the workplace, clear and systematic communication is a prerequisite. It can be shown through a concise and well-written application. Recruiters also look for an open, easy manner with clear, precise vocabulary at the interview.

Interpersonal skills are essential if you are to work successfully with customers to identify their needs, provide solutions and to work effectively with colleagues. You'll need the ability to work in a team, support others and share knowledge. Ensure you know yourself - personality, ability, motivation and skills - and identify experiences that demonstrate you can work with others.

Enthusiasm, drive and motivation can't be taught, but they are vital for success. Graduates in first roles experience steep learning curves - assimilating a lot of information, coping with responsibilities and working with new people.

As with many organisations, satisfying customers is one of the key objectives. Developing products and services of the future and maintaining technology has a large part to play in this. Consequently, graduates need to demonstrate throughout the assessment process that they understand the value of profitable customers, that they can listen and understand customer needs and therefore deliver outstanding customer service.

Because of the technical nature of the work involved in engineering position, they nearly always require a relevant degree. However the discipline will also depend on the requirements of the employer. Certain engineering positions have lower graduate numbers, e.g. civil engineering, and as a result employers may accept lower academic qualifications. However, when the number of graduate applicants are high, e.g. in automotive engineering, recruiters can afford to be selective and may look for those who have done a sandwich year spent on industrial placement on site at a sponsoring company. Most employers will also expect candidates to have strong GCSE and A-level passes (or equivalent) in maths, sciences or technology. Applicants must be creative and innovative, communicate well and operate effectively within multi-functional teams and must be ready to take decisions when appropriate. Business skills and a foreign language can also be an advantage.

Sources for further information

Institution of Civil Engineers
Institution of Mechanical Engineers
Institution of Structural Engineers
Institution of Electrical Engineers
Engineering Council
Institute of Marine Engineers
Royal Academy of Engineering
Society of Manufacturing Engineering
Institution of Engineering Designers
Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining