What does an engineer do? Types of engineers & the whats, covered

June 11, 2021

What does an engineer do?

Engineering is the use of scientific principles to real-world solve problems. Engineers design, build and maintain structures, machines and more. It is a highly skilled sector that requires years of training and on the job experience. In this guide, we will look at the types of engineering roles available,  what do engineers do, and how you can get started in this sector.

What is engineering?

Engineering is a term that covers a range of work activities. Engineers use science, technology and maths to solve problems in the world around us. Engineers are typically well paid for their work as they have skills that are in high demand. It is a fast-paced sector that is always moving forward as new technology and techniques emerge. Engineering is well-suited to those that are interested in lifelong learning.

Working on everything from large scale structures to cell membranes, engineers use their skills to find solutions to common problems. Engineers help create new materials, save energy, work more efficiently and deal with modern challenges such as climate change. They also 

What types of engineers are there?

There are six main branches of engineering and hundreds of niche sectors within this. The six main types of engineers are:

At university, you could choose to study general engineering and gain a broad view of the sector as a whole. Or you could choose a narrow field of study and specialise in a specific sector.

According to UCAS, there are 13 types of engineering degrees available in the UK. It is possible to study a single honour, joint honour or multiple subjects. An engineering degree will typically take 3-4 years, depending on your choice of subject and level of study. An accelerated course combines a BA and MA to enable you to achieve chartered status faster.

By choosing a more broad speciality, you will open up more career opportunities. Specialising earlier on can increase your earning potential when you graduate, although it may limit your career options. 

It is often possible to move between engineering branches as many of the core principles are the same. There is a potential to cross over from physics, maths or other science subjects.

Other engineering sectors to consider include:

What is the most popular engineering sector?

The most popular engineering qualification in the UK is mechanical engineering. This is a broad speciality that allows graduates to work in several sectors. Every year, around 50,000 students graduate from mechanical engineering roles.

Mechanical engineering is a broad speciality that can lead to many different graduate roles. Mechanical engineers help to design, test and build small components up to large structures. They might be tasked with designing a mail sorting system or a single component for a car engine. Mechanical engineering requires an abundance of curiosity and a desire to improve everything around them.

How long does it take to become an engineer?

There are a few different paths to engineering. The most common choice is to study an engineering subject at university and gain your BA or MA. To study engineering at university, you will typically need 2-3 A-Levels with maths, a science subject and a design subject. 

The entry requirements will vary depending on your choice of university, but all engineering courses are academically challenging and this will be reflected in the requirements.

After studying an engineering subject, you can then go on to apply for graduate engineering roles in the sector of your choice. You could also study for an engineering MA after securing a BA in a subject such as physics or maths.

It is also possible to take a vocational route into engineering. Many large employers offer engineering apprenticeships that will allow you to study while you work. Once your training is complete, your apprenticeship provider may offer a full-time role to allow you to continue developing.

What skills do you need to become an engineer?

Engineering requires a range of skills. While the discipline is founded in problem-solving through scientific principles, it is also a highly creative career. Engineers need to be natural problem solvers, curious about the world around them and able to apply scientific principles to any situation.

Engineers will need to have a strong aptitude for maths, physics and chemistry. They should also demonstrate skills in design and the use of design software. Engineers also need to be skilled communicators and able to work with non-engineering individuals. An aptitude for sales and business acumen can also help you to stand out in an interview.

Engineers should also be dedicated to lifelong learning. The engineering sector is always moving forward, so it’s important to be curious about new developments and interested in keeping your skills and experience up to date.

Which engineering sector pays the most?

Certain sectors and engineering disciplines offer higher earning potential than others. The highest-earning engineers are often found in the oil and gas sector, where large companies can offer top wages. This is followed by chemical engineers who may work in several sectors, including pharmaceuticals.

Average starting salaries for an engineer will vary between £20,000 to £28,000. Mid-level engineers with a few years of experience may earn around £35,000. Top earnings in the engineering field can earn more than £60,000. As a chartered engineer, you could see your earnings rise above £80,000.

How can I boost your income as an engineer?

Engineers can apply for chartered status and this would help to boost their earnings by up to 30%. Chartered status shows that you have a certain level of skill and experience. The application process requires you to gain two professional references and undergo a professional review of your work. 

You will need to have an MEng or BA and MA in engineering to achieve chartered status. Once achieved, you will be added to the national register and will be able to add your post-nominal letters to your business cards, email signature and stationery. This will enable you to apply for roles that require chartered status.

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