Updated 23 May 2020
Engineers work in many different environments and alleviating poverty through technology and infrastructural developments. These are just some of the key issues that scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians (STEM) are working together to solve, right now.
A major attraction of an engineering career is that it offers something for everyone.
There are a huge variety of jobs and employers to choose between to suit your interests, range of skills and personal circumstances.
You can choose between many engineering sectors and consider taking a job in areas such as design, development, research, production, quality assurance, maintenance and projects.
Here are some of the key options:
These industries are affected by the current financial situation but still need graduates in civil and structural engineering; there are not enough graduates in these disciplines to meet their needs.
Consultancies such as Arup and Atkins, Jacobs Engineering Group and WSP are international organisations with offices and projects all over the globe.
WSP seeks engineers who "build trust, support each other, share knowledge and have a passion for constant improvement", while Atkins wants "talented individuals who want to make a difference and will be involved in projects from day one".
Like many others, Arup recruits many different engineers including civil, structural, mechanical, electrical and environmental engineers.
You could be working on geo-technical engineering and checking out foundations, designing building services or drainage, calculating stresses and strains on a structure and many other activities.
Trainees usually begin their career in design and progress from there to managing projects, liaising with clients and architects and supervising contractors to ensure the work is completed to plan.
Engineering consultancies range from these large firms to quite small organisations. Some can be found on the website of the Association of Consultancy and Engineering. Others can be investigated through the websites of the professional engineering institutions.
At major construction companies like John Laing, Costain, Amco and Taylor Wimpey, a leading house builder, the emphasis is more on management than design, though some are engaged in "design and build" projects where they complete the design work themselves.
You could soon be working on the preparation for a bid, organising the logistics of a project or setting out and eventually managing a construction site.
John Laing seek recruits with "a good degree, plenty of drive and initiative and the ability to work in teams". On the one hand, the government is committed to building new "eco towns" but on the other, finance for mortgages is not as readily available as it was. The availability of opportunities in 2009 will depend on how the situation develops.
Opportunities also arise to work for local authorities who have huge infrastructures to manage in their roads and buildings.
The Highways Agency, an executive agency of the DFT (Department for Transport), is responsible for all the motorways and trunk roads in the UK and employs engineers to manage projects, improve safety and take responsibility for the maintenance and development of their network. They want engineers with "a vision and passion to drive change in modernising the country’s roads".
Network Rail is responsible for track, signals, bridges, tunnels, level crossings and much else. They recruit civil, electrical and mechanical engineers who are "self-starters ready to play their part in landmark projects". Their engineers specialise in track, signalling, electrification and telecommunications.
Oil, gas and water companies also have a continuing need for civil, environmental and structural engineers to design, install and maintain their pipelines, rigs and the structures and foundations of other installations. Thames Water, for example, is building a London Ring Main and the Tideway Tunnel, an enclosed reservoir.
All the major water and electricity utility companies such as British Energy, E.ON, Thames Water and United Utilities offer career development opportunities for engineers.
The range of engineering disciplines that they need to employ is diverse including electrical, control, environmental, nuclear, chemical and water engineering.
Government is currently leaning strongly in favour of expanding nuclear power and is expected not only to replace nuclear power stations coming to the end of their life but also to expand this source of energy. British Energy, which supplies 20% of our electricity from its nuclear power plants around the UK, seeks engineers who "put safety first, communicate openly and honestly, treat everyone with respect and strive for quality as a professional". The engineers it recruits every year are from the disciplines of electrical, electronic, control and instrumentation, civil, mechanical, chemical and nuclear engineering.
United Utilities, by contrast, is a major player in both the water and conventional electricity industries. Details of all UK water companies can be discovered on the Water UK website. The water and electricity research organisations WRc and ERA Technology both recruit engineers for contract research projects related to their respective industries.
Demand for oil and gas is outstripping supply and providing a huge range of engineering careers. You might be part of an exploration team conducting seismic surveys on land or at sea. You could be drilling wells to develop an oil and gas field.
Some engineers are wire-line loggers, slowly lowering equipment down a well to analyse the structure and oil bearing properties. Others are petroleum engineers calculating the value of a field, how much oil can be recovered and how to do it optimally.
Once oil is found engineers are employed on production rigs, getting the oil and gas out of the ground and separating it from water before sending it down pipelines or liquefying it for transportation.
More jobs arise at refineries and petrochemical plants where the numerous bi-products of oil are manufactured. All of these operations demand efficient and safe electronic control systems.
Finally, some engineers work to research novel methods, monitor effects of pollution on the environment, organise distribution and many other activities.
The leading recruiters are BG, BP, Exxon and Shell, but much of the work is outsourced by oil companies to contractors such as Schlumberger and Baker Hughes who do the detailed design of plant, take on the drilling, and provide electronic systems and many other services to the industry.
Chemical engineers are often attracted to work in the chemical, petrochemical, biotechnology, pharmaceutical, agrochemical and food industries.
They can be running a processing plant and optimising production, considering novel changes, or planning maintenance schedules. Some have responsibility for the environmental effects of effluent and gas emitted into the atmosphere.
While those employed by manufacturers including oil companies, GSK, Akzo Nobel, Procter & Gamble and Unilever have responsibility for the overall design of a processing plant, the detailed design and construction is usually organised by contractors such as AMEC and Fluor.
AMEC seeks around 60 engineers a year who "overachieve, have exceptional talent and thrive on hard work".
The telecommunications industry is increasing its global reach. The companies are investing heavily in their networks providing an ever-increasing range of services.
Engineers are required to develop, install and maintain the networks, so there is a broad range of jobs. Vodafone recruit graduates directly into specific jobs, so you must know what you want. They include Technical Business Management, Service Operations, Telecommunications Systems and Information Technology.
You might be a project manager setting processes in place to develop new services for customers or a product analyst, owning a piece of technology and building a clearer understanding of its potential. They also employ technical product specialists who deliver solutions for each product.
At BT they recruit into technology design and consultancy, software and platform engineering, IT operations and network engineering and management. Network engineers work on network design, mobile communications, data services, internet, network signalling and protocols.
Equipment suppliers such as Nokia, Nortel, Phillips and Siemens also offer career opportunities. There you could be working on cables, integrated circuits, semi conductors, mobile phones and lots more. The phone now provides maps, music, photography, information, games and many other services. Developing and maintaining these services is the challenge for engineers. The work is often achieved in project teams where electronic specialists work closely with software engineers.
Siemens, for example, have a technology consultancy, Roke Manor Research and also recruit into their broadcasting and communications division for research, development, design, manufacturing operations and maintenance. There is plenty more information about this industry on the website of the regulator [www.ofcom.org.uk OFCOM].
Now more than ever, engineers are involved in designing and planning our roads so that we can get to our destination as safely and as quickly as possible.
Increasingly, transport engineers use "modelling" in the design process to forecast the types of trips people are likely to make and how frequently they make them in addition to considering human factors such as analysing the existing setup and anticipating how people are likely to react to road layout.
They are knowledgeable about the best materials needed to design safe and efficient roads and pavements. Transport engineers work as part of a large team on new and existing projects, providing solutions to a variety of perplexing giant puzzles for both private and public sector organisations.
This area, sometimes called bio-medical engineering, is about the application of engineering principles to the medical field.
This area of engineering combines design and problem-solving skills with biological sciences to find solutions to a variety of medical problems, such as improving the efficiency and effectiveness of a range of artificial limbs, the diagnostic equipment that is used in hospitals e.g. MRI scans and the latest drugs.
Medical engineering is a relatively new discipline but one that is constantly expanding to include new areas of research and recent medical advances. Medical engineers may work in hospitals or research and development companies.
Medical engineering roles are varied and are likely to involve working with health professionals and a range of suppliers from pharmaceutical companies to the manufacturers of scalpels.
Systems engineers focus on how complex engineering projects should be designed and managed.
Issues such as logistics (where things are and how they get to where they should be), the co-ordination of different teams and automatic control of machinery become harder when we deal with large and complex projects, for instance, the design and running of the international space station.
Systems engineering deals with work processes and tools to handle this.
Systems engineers would be involved from the start of a project to prototype, testing and right through to launch. They would work with a range of people including users, designers, programmers, project managers and specialist technicians to deliver a solution. They find solutions to very complex problems.
The quality of the land, air and water around us is becoming increasingly important with the onset of climate change.
Engineers are at the forefront of preserving our planet and ensuring that modern technology is kind to the world in which we live.
Being an environmental engineer might mean that you have a special interest in ecosystems and biology, or other branches of engineering like civil engineering (buildings, roads and structures).
People who deal in public health matters may also be environmental engineers, helping to ensure that our world is preserved for humans as well as for plants and animals.
Renewable energy engineers are concerned with the production of energy through natural resources such as the sourcing and use of wind, solar and wave power.
They are involved in developing and maintaining power stations and the machinery used in alternative energy sourcing and production e.g bio-fuel sourced from crops. Energy engineers construct equipment designed by engineering designers, and conduct testing and make modifications prior to installation and running. This involves extensive use of computer technology.
They may work for industry, university or government research departments. They may hold senior positions, head up a team of energy engineers or have a key post in the team. Ultimately these engineers are focussed on finding efficient, clean and innovative ways to supply energy to millions of households for years to come. Renewable energy is extremely important to the future of our planet and that is something that we’d all like to rely on.
An aeronautical engineer applies scientific and technological principles to research, design, maintain, test, develop and manufacture high-performance civil and military aircraft, missiles, weapons systems, satellites and space vehicles.
Aeronautical engineering offers a wide range of roles and the possibility of an international location. Most engineers specialise in a particular area, such as research, design, testing, manufacture or maintenance. The aerospace industry is a well established major employment sector in the UK, with many rewarding roles available.
These roles are challenging but exciting. Working for a company such as Rolls Royce or BAE Systems may involve varied shifts and being away from home for periods of time.
Textile engineering is the application of scientific and engineering principles to the design and control of all aspects of fibre, textile, and clothing processes, products, and machinery. These include natural and man-made materials, interaction of materials with machines, safety and health, energy conservation, and waste and pollution control.
Most textile engineers work on product research and development, either improving current textile-based products or creating new products. They may also be involved with finding uses for new fibres, yarns, fabrics, or textile finishes in this country (new organic materials, sports clothing etc..) and overseas where developments in textile technology can allow humans to survive some of the most difficult climates on earth.
To become an engineer you need to consider whether you enjoy science and mathematics subjects, because many engineering and technology roles are based on complex scientific and mathematical principles. Depending on what kind of job you would like, you will probably need qualifications in these subjects, such as a degree in Maths, Science or Engineering. Qualifications in ICT and design and technology (D&T) are also extremely useful.
It may also be helpful to know that there are three nationally (and internationally) recognised professional levels that you can work towards: Engineering Technician (Eng Tech), Incorporated Engineer (IEng) and Chartered Engineer (CEng). Each of these levels can be achieved by various routes of study – going to university to study an engineering course is just one of the many options available to you.
There is a lot of demand for engineering graduates at the moment - almost certainly more than in any other sector. In 2007 the number of vacancies for civil engineering graduates rose 40% and for mechanical engineering 35%. This has also been reflected in the increase in starting salaries for civil engineering (up by 9.5% in 2007).
There is not a lot of variation between salaries in different engineering disciplines. Chemical engineering held the highest average salary in 2007 with £27,000 and electrical/electronic engineering came lowest at £22,500. A review of starting salaries by type of employer shows that engineering companies offer excellent remuneration to the graduates they take on.
It is often the case in engineering occupations that bonuses or other increments based on, for example, experience and postgraduate qualifications may be offered as well. This can give you the flexibility to earn more.
The Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) shows that those working in engineering occupations have the potential to earn very good salaries throughout their career, whilst combining a relatively high level of work satisfaction and work-life balance.