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Four key areas of engineering – jobs and qualifications


Engineers are needed for lots of roles in many different industries. Take a look at four key engineering disciplines and the jobs and careers you could opt for.

Mechanical engineering

Mechanical engineering is basically about designing anything with movable components. Mechanical engineers develop, design, modify and maintain components and equipment. These components or machines are used in industries including manufacturing and construction, power, the healthcare sector and transport.

They use CAD and CAM (computer aided design and modelling) software to produce technical plans and they may also present these designs to managers. They often support and lead teams in producing equipment and they survey equipment for maintenance purposes.

To become a mechanical engineer you will need a foundation degree, HNC, HND or a degree in engineering, which you could progress to via the academic, full time vocational or apprenticeship route. There are specialist degrees that you could choose, including mechanical engineering and mechatronics, which combines mechanical, electronic and other engineering disciplines like robotics. Have a look at the Semta website for more information.

Chemical engineering

Chemical engineering combines the physical science of chemistry with engineering. Chemical engineers use this combination to discover the processes and develop the equipment that allows chemical reactions to work efficiently.

Chemical engineers work across a huge variety of industries, including manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, construction, food processing, biotechnology, nanotechnology, environmental management and many more.

If taking the academic route into chemical engineering, A-levels in maths, physics and chemistry are the obvious choices but you could also follow the apprenticeship route. As with mechanical engineering, there are specialist degrees such as biochemical or process engineering.

One renowned chemical engineer was Victor Mills who is described as a ‘legend in his lifetime’. He gave the world Pampers disposable nappies and stopped the oil from separating in peanut butter, amongst other important scientific breakthroughs!

Electrical engineering

Electrical engineering is the discipline which deals with electrical and electronic components and equipment. Included in this category are the sub-fields of electronics and micro-electronics, power and telecommunications.

Working in power, renewable energy, transport and building services, electrical engineers design, develop and test electronic equipment, from circuits to complex power systems. As such, electrical engineers, like mechanical engineers, make use of specialist modelling software like CAD and CAM for drafting circuit board layouts and to produce blueprints for devices.

Maths, science and IT are important skills for a career in electrical engineering and so would be obvious choices for A-level subjects if choosing the academic pathway. You would also need to have colour-normal vision (i.e. not colour blind). There is also an electro-technical apprenticeship framework, which is an advanced apprenticeship from which you could progress on to a degree programme at university.

Civil engineering

Civil engineering derives its name from the word civilisation which means the combination of people living within an environment.

In short, civil engineers shape our world and make it possible to live the way we do now. Our entire infrastructure relies on civil engineers who design and build roads, rail networks and the stations that we use to access them as well as tunnels, bridges and the buildings structures that we all live, learn and work in.

One famous civil engineer who you are most likely to have heard of is Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He dreamt up and designed the famous Great Western Railway. But have you heard of Nora Stanton? She was born in Basingstoke and she was the first female to graduate from Cornell University in New York with a degree in civil engineering, in 1905. She was also the first female member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

There are far too many possible engineering specialisms to cover in one article, but all careers in engineering have maths and science at their foundation and you can begin your career in civil engineering via the vocational, apprenticeship or academic route.  Also worth investigating are some of the university scholarships available for females in these under-represented areas of study.

The future is bright for anyone wanting to be an engineer, with all areas of engineering expected to see a growth in job opportunities and the estimated mean earnings range from starting salaries of £17 – 22k up to £40k and beyond depending on experience and professional qualifications. Have a look at our engineering page for lots more information. Find out what qualifications you need to become an engineer and compare salaries and expected job opportunities using our careerometer. 

About Lynette Daly

Lynette is the publishing editor of Moving On magazine. Moving On is devoted to helping young people make good choices for their future – education, qualifications and careers. Moving On really wants to motivate you! Our articles cover a range of topics to inspire and give ideas. Our magazines are delivered free to all schools, colleges and sixth forms in England and is also available online.

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