Engineering is a very broad sector, covering everything from building and transport to cosmetics. Engineers work in a range of environments including offices, laboratories, outdoors, in the air and underground. There are nine industries in this sector: basic metals manufacture; metal products; mechanical equipment; electronics; automotive; aerospace; other transport; marine; and bioscience.
The engineering sector is huge and has experienced a period of major restructuring over the last two decades. There have been significant job losses across the UK, with the North East experiencing the most significant job losses. This trend is, however, expected to continue over the longer-term, but there will still be a need to replace those leaving or retiring from the sector. Consequently, there is a predicted need to recruit around 300,000 people to the sector to 2014.
- Overall, the estimated total employment in engineering is approximately 1.4 million, which is 20% lower than 5 years ago.
- Whilst total employment is expected to fall over the next few years, new workers will be needed to replace the ageing workforce.
- The majority of engineering establishments in Britain are small, employing fewer than 50 people.
- Unemployment among professional engineers and scientists is among the lowest of any sector in the country.
- 90% of the workforce is full-time. Part-time employment and self-employment are both extremely rare.
- Women make up 19% of the engineering workforce, making up only 17% of all engineering management roles and 7% of professional roles.
- There has been an increase in the percentage of women entering engineering-related degrees in UK universities.
- 7% of the automotive engineering workforce is from minority ethnic groups, 4% in electronics and 2% in aerospace.
- The largest age group is 45-64 years. This means that although the total number of jobs is falling, many new workers will need to enter the sector to replace those who retire.
Education and training
There are lots of opportunities within engineering to progress, with experience and work-based training as well as through more traditional qualifications. Apprenticeships are seen by many to be the best possible preparation for achieving trained operator/semi-skilled status within the sector. They may also provide progression to an Advanced Apprenticeship or higher-level work. Other courses include: Edexcel (BTEC) National Certificates in engineering; and City & Guilds awards in engineering.
There are also a range of NVQ courses in this field which allow you to gain work-based qualifications to different levels. For example: Performing Engineering Operations (Levels 1 and 2), Engineering Maintenance and Installation (Level 2) Mechanical Manufacturing Engineering (Levels 2 and 3) and Process Engineering Maintenance (Levels 2 and 3).
Another route into engineering is through Higher Education, by studying towards a degree (usually in engineering, maths or physics). The number of further education learners in engineering, technology and manufacturing has risen over recent years. Once in employment, engineers may work towards registration with the Engineering Council UK (ECUK). This allows them to use titles such as ‘Engineering Technician’, ‘Chartered Engineer’ or ‘Incorporated Engineer.’ With the current skills shortages in this sector, there is pressure to provide training and development for the workforce.
Pay scales will vary depending on the amount of experience, the level of responsibility and location of the job, so pay scales given are estimates. Engineering is the third highest earning career (behind lawyers and doctors).
- Newly graduated trainee engineers starting salaries are from £18,500 upwards.
- The average earnings for Chartered Engineers, Incorporated Engineers and Engineering Technicians are £53,067, £40,533 and £33,767 respectively.
- Senior design engineers, mechanical engineers and production managers can earn on average £50,000 per year.
- Non-graduates who work in the engineering sectors will generally earn less.
Total employment is set to decline in this sector as a whole between 2010 and 2016 by 0.8% each year, as companies seek to cut costs further and outsource some work abroad. However, in all occupations apart from unskilled work, this will be offset by the need to replace people who retire. There is a forecast need for nearly 30,000 people per year to 2016. Demand will be highest in the metals, mechanical equipment and automotive industries. The demand for staff with higher level skills is expected to continue.
Nanotechnology promises to have a huge impact on engineering. It involves activities at the level of atoms and molecules. New discoveries in this field may revolutionise understanding of the basis of power generation and influence many industries, including medicine. Research in this field is bringing together different groups of engineers: materials scientists, mechanical and electronic engineers and medical researchers are now forming teams with biologists, physicists and chemists. This is likely to improve communication and collaboration within the sector.
Energy is currently a major issue in engineering and is set to grow in importance due to rising prices, fears over potential disruption to supplies, and failure to meet carbon emissions targets. Engineering challenges in this field include the reduction of emissions from fossil fuels, the development of alternative sources of energy and the management of the transition from one source of energy to another. It is hoped that research into nuclear fusion will result in unlimited, environmentally-friendly energy.
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