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Engineering | The Careers Service Engineering – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector

The Engineering sector is enormous and incredibly diverse. Engineering offers a breadth of opportunity that is unparalleled by other sectors. The UK is host to some of the top global engineering firms, with all areas of the industry being represented. The engineering sector contributes 26% of the UK GDP – in 2015, £486 billion – more than retail, wholesale, financial and insurance sectors combined, and it employs 5.7 million people (latest 2017 data). The engineering sector is expected to grow to £608 billion by 2022, creating about 2 million new jobs. Engineering and skilled engineers make a significant contribution to UK productivity, and is helping to address global challenges including climate change, ageing populations, and the supply of food, water and low carbon energy.

Engineering roles are changing and engineers can expect to be members of multidisciplinary teams working to integrate their work more effectively. Future trends in engineering are likely to include growth in areas dealing with energy infrastructure, building materials, IT and nanotechnology, transport and sanitation.

The engineering sector contains a wide variety of companies and organisations. In the commercial field these range from multinational corporations, such as Google, IBM, Shell, BP, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar Land Rover, Arup, Atkins, Siemens, BAE Systems and Babcock International – which have offices and projects all over the globe, to SME engineering firms of 250 employees or less where 58% of engineers work. A rise in opportunities in the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) – particularly for energy and natural resource companies – has made graduate applicants with relevant languages and/or a willingness to travel particularly sought after.

In the public sector, opportunities range from the Civil Service, for example the Defence Engineering and Science Group to the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in the Ministry of Defence. The majority of engineering employers recruit for a variety of engineering roles (the focus of this article) as well as many other roles in:

  • Administration and management
  • Human Resources (Personnel/Recruitment)
  • Sales and marketing
  • IT and computing roles
  • Project management
  • Logistics
  • Finance
Types of job

Engineering is a vast sector, and the range of jobs available is huge. Further details on each subsector are below.

Starting salaries for graduate trainee engineers compare favourably with salaries for other graduate jobs and average at £27,000 for newly graduated trainees. Only medicine and dentistry were higher (Source: Engineering UK).

The highest starting salaries are typically found in multi-national corporations, particularly in the oil industry. Ongoing earnings are comparable to those in other professions and, according to the Engineering Council, engineers enjoy better remuneration than accountants and solicitors and are well represented on company boards.

Civil engineering & construction

A high proportion of civil engineers are employed by engineering consultancies such as Atkins and Arup, which work on global projects delivering highways, bridges, railways, buildings and other structures. Trainees usually begin their career in design, and progress to managing projects, liaising with clients and architects and supervising contractors.

Graduate opportunities also exist within construction and property development companies and civil engineering contractors, utility and transport infrastructure companies, and government agencies and departments. More information is available from sites such as the Institution of Civil Engineers .

See the Prospects website for information on specific roles in civil engineering:

Biomedical engineering

A biomedical engineer (sometimes referred to under the broader title of ‘clinical engineer’) works with other healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, therapists and technicians. Biomedical engineers may be called upon in a wide range of capacities: to design instruments, devices and software, to bring together knowledge from many technical sources to develop new procedures, or to conduct research needed to solve clinical problems.

In this field there is continual change and creation of new areas due to rapid advancement in technology. However, some of the well-established areas within the field are: bioinstrumentation, biomaterials, biomechanics, cellular, tissue and genetic engineering, clinical engineering, medical imaging, orthopaedic surgery, rehabilitation engineering, and systems physiology. Biomedical engineers are employed in universities, industry, hospitals, and research facilities of educational and medical institutions. For advice on roles in university research please consult our information on  Academic careers.

The Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) is the professional body for medical engineers in the UK.  Although they have been heavily involved in supporting professional training, the new ‘Modernising Scientific Careers’ initiative by the Department of Health is bringing with it some changes to career routes for clinical engineers.

See the Prospects website for biomedical engineering pages for more specific information on careers in biomedical engineering.

Energy & engineering

Engineers are involved in almost every aspect of the oil and gas industry – from exploration (reservoir engineer, field engineer) through production (petroleum engineer, well engineer) to refining (process engineer, manufacturing engineer, chemical engineer), as well as research and development (R&D) roles for chemical engineers engaged in developing new technologies.

Energy Future provide training videos on the Energy Industry. The decline in UK oil and gas production and the current focus on climate change are placing increasing importance on reducing carbon emissions and finding new energy sources. Jobs for new graduates in renewables are hard to come by in traditional oil companies, but there are roles in utilities companies (e.g. British Gas and SSE) and in smaller, more specialist organisations for engineers, particularly in control and systems engineering, electronics and mechanical engineering.

See our separate information on the Energy sector as well as Prospects’ webpages on Energy for more detailed information specifically around each of these roles.

Electronics & engineering

The electronics industry can be broadly divided into two types of organisations: component manufacturers, who make integrated circuits and semi-conductors (e.g. Intel) and original equipment manufacturers, who produce whole products such as televisions and mobile phones (e.g. Samsung, Huawei, Apple, IBM, Sony Hewlett-Packard).

There are also design consultancies and in-house divisions within major manufacturers. The telecommunications industry is booming, and also provides plenty of career options for engineers. Engineering roles include R&D, installation and maintenance.
See the Prospects’ website’s electronics engineering pages (and the related jobs tab) for further information on these typical job titles:

Chemical engineering

Chemical engineers work in any field that involves the development of industrial processes: food and drink, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, agrochemicals, petrochemicals, energy and extraction industries. Large employers include BASF, DOW and DuPont. Roles include: process engineers, who design, install and commission manufacturing plants, environmental engineers, who work to minimise and manage the environmental problems, and roles in research and development (R&D).  More information is available from the Institute of Chemical Engineers website.

See the Prospects website’s chemical engineering pages (and the related jobs tab) for further information on these typical job titles:

Aerospace & defence engineering

The UK aerospace industry is the largest in Europe. The aerospace sector consists of a small number of major global players (BAE Systems, Airbus, Rolls-Royce alsoBoeing, Lockhead-Martin, UTC), some large suppliers (GKN, Cobham, Messier-Dowty), some large engineering service providers (Babcock International) and numerous small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who typically provide a specialist product or service.

The industry serves the needs of both civil and military aviation. Engineers may be involved in structures and systems, flight physics and testing, processes, manufacturing, operations and planning, or in research into novel materials and technologies. The Ministry of Defence runs the Defence Science and Engineering Group, in which engineers are employed on projects devising equipment to face new threats as they emerge.

Opportunities also exist for engineers in the Armed Forces to develop and maintain equipment and to liaise with suppliers of new technology. Regiments with a particular focus on engineering are the Royal Engineers, Royal Signals and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

More information is available from the website of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

See the Prospects website (and the related jobs tab) for further information on:

Automotive engineering

The UK hosts more car manufacturing companies than anywhere else in the world – from global giants, such as Honda, Nissan and Toyota, to prestige and motor sports brands, such as Bentley, Williams and Lotus. Jaguar, Land Rover and Range Rover brands are entirely manufactured in the UK and 80% of the cars are exported. As a consequence there are outstanding opportunities for engineers to work in manufacturing and production engineering, as well as in design and development roles. If you are interested in this sector, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ website has the latest news and an industry directory.

See the Prospects website (and the related jobs tab) for further information on:

Entry points

The majority of employers will look for a 2:1 or 2:2 in your first degree, although there are some exceptions.  Do not be deterred by opportunities that ask for specific engineering disciplines at degree level (for example a degree in mechanical engineering) – most will be happy to accept an application from an Oxford engineering science graduate, as long as you can showcase the relevance of your course by detailing relevant papers and/or a relevant fourth-year project.

Some engineering organisations may accept graduates from other technical disciplines, such as physics, materials science, chemistry or earth sciences, but this will depend on the relevance of your degree subject to the particular role you are applying for.

For most engineering roles a higher degree is not needed. However, if you wish to specialise in a specific area of engineering (such as biomedical) or move into a related technical area, such as environmental science, then a Masters course is advantageous.

Once you are employed, the next step for most will be to work towards a professional qualification as a chartered engineer (CEng) or an incorporated engineer (IEng) – a flowchart showing the later career development paths is available from the Engineering Council and a similar one aimed at those who haven’t yet entered the profession is available from the Tomorrow’s Engineers website.

Skills & experience

Skills needed

Regardless of the area of engineering you are interested in, the general skills required are similar. Those skills associated with commercial knowledge and client handling may vary, depending on whether the organisation is a consultancy and/or commercially focused.

The skills most commonly sought by employers include:

  • Sound technical knowledge and the ability to apply it
  • Good communication skills and team-working ability
  • Keen analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Commercial awareness
  • Planning, precision and organisational skills
  • Ability to build relationships with customers and/or teams
  • Organisational skills, such as time and resource planning
  • Motivation and enthusiasm

For some roles experience of using modelling software can be desirable.

Getting experience

For jobs in engineering prior work experience is useful. Not only will it help in skills development, but it will also heighten your commercial/industrial awareness. Industrial employers are keen to employ people who understand the business. In addition, work experience provides opportunities to demonstrate leadership, team-working and problem solving skills which can be used to provide competency responses in CV, cover letter and interview. Some companies do most of their recruiting by offering permanent positions to interns.

The engineering science course at Oxford is distinct among other engineering degree courses in not having a built-in period of six or twelve months in industry, and so you may find internship or placement schemes that are longer than our vacations. Many of the larger firms do offer internships that will fit into a summer holiday, as seen on CareerConnect, vacancy websites and in the brochures for our Science, Engineering and Technology Fair and Internship Fair.

Opportunities for internships begin to be advertised around the same time as graduate jobs. Refer to publications such as Targetjobs Engineering for advertisements from large companies, and contact alumni on the Oxford Careers Network on CareerConnect or LinkedIn to talk further about what their experience has been like.

If you are looking for work experience in a niche area of engineering or within a specific geographical location, it will often be necessary to make speculative applications and network (using the alumni mentors on the Oxford Careers Network on CareerConnect, LinkedIn or through personal recommendations) to find relevant contacts to approach. Many professional bodies have membership directories, which can be a useful way of identifying firms that might be willing to offer you experience.

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

Getting a job

Advertised vacancies

The engineering industry does not restrict its recruitment activity to Michaelmas Term, and many organisations recruit throughout the year and are flexible about starting dates, including a number of smaller firms, often based in and around Oxford.

Graduate vacancies are advertised regularly on CareerConnect where you will be able to search all jobs, both current and archived (for your information) and set up relevant emails.

Also use the sector vacancies in the ‘Resources’ list below, and set up email alerts for these too.

Using recruitment agencies

  • Firms often use an agency for a role that might prove hard to recruit, more commonly with more experienced hire roles.
  • The agencies earn their fee from the employer once they have found a candidate who is awarded the job.
  • You can use LinkedIn to find the relevant engineering expert in an agency.
  • Some agencies speculatively put forward jobseekers on their books for roles advertised without the use of an agency. If other candidates could have applied without using an agency, the agency fee will usually prove a disadvantage to your application.
  • Most specialist agencies do not do this, but reading up on them is always a good idea.
  • They can give the advantage of fantastic industry knowledge, and are incentivised to help you improve your CV and application materials.
  • It’s fine to sign up with more than one agency (although more than 3 can prove hard to manage!)
  • Keep your agency informed when you get a job or are no longer looking.

Equality & positive action

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

Our resources
External resources

Engineering websites

Women in Engineering

This information was last updated on 25 September 2017.
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