The engineering sector, and I would include in that tech, construction and jobs in a wide range of organisations that use engineering, offers great opportunities for young people following full time education paths and mature learners looking to build on their existing experience to switch into the sector.
That sentence is as true today as I write this in a pandemic lock-down in London as it would have been when I took a good look at engineering skills across the UK for the Talent 2050 research report last year but a good deal has changed.
Some engineering skills have seen a rapid rise in prominence: online retail has accelerated in the pandemic, driving the need for web technology and great logistics to ship goods. An awareness of the improved air quality in lockdown has prompted more talk of a shift to all-electric vehicles by the end of the decade; that shift will demand new battery technologies plus better, smarter electricity distribution. On the downside, oil and gas have seen a fall in demand and civil aviation is predicted to take years to recover from the fall in travel. The good news is that many engineering skills are transferable between sub-sectors and the Talent 2050 research project last year highlighted just how important other non-engineering skills are in actual roles that make career switching a real possibility.
A range of pathways and not all tech based
Routes into engineering include courses in further education colleges, apprenticeships and university degrees. Many engineers go for professional registration, with designations that include Engineering Technician (EngTech), Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng) which broadly ascend in terms of the level of qualifications required and earnings. There is also a Chartered IT Professional (CITP) designation which is broadly equivalent to CEng.
A look through current vacancies gives an idea of the types of work and routes into it that are available and a couple of examples are included (see box) of routes that do not require existing maths or science qualifications although most apprenticeships will now demand the equivalent of maths GCSE.
Apprenticeships offer a route to qualifications and work, ranging in length from two up to four years with the shorter time leading to level two or three qualifications as a technician and the longer apprenticeships leading to a foundation or bachelor degree. Salaries for the posts currently on offer range from £18,000 to £22,000 and include employers in engineering and construction such as Atkins and BAM Nuttall, as you might expect, but also include Goldman Sachs (four year degree with Queen Mary University London) and the Bank of England in financial services, Kingston Hospital (3 year clinical engineering) in healthcare and Nestle in food manufacturing. Amazon and Facebook are advertising for software engineering and the BBC is advertising for a mechanical engineering apprenticeship. There are also new courses for shortage subjects; a two year foundation degree in Flood and Coastal Engineering has been developed by the Environment Agency and Brunel University and is fully sponsored for 20 places.
This is just a small selection that serves to show the variety of engineering roles and companies employing engineering skills. Those salaries are paid with all education costs, including university fees, covered by the employer.
Talent 2050: Skills and education for the future of engineering
If you haven’t already studied science and engineering to a high level what other essential skills could you bring to the sector?
To find out, we talked to groups across the UK. Our Talent 2050 sponsors (Barclays, Pearson, NATS and London South Bank University) both funded and facilitated the work which has been undertaken through the education and employers’ leadership charity, the National Centre for Universities and Business.
The skills identified – see picture 1 – fell into three broad categories – see picture 2- which we mapped as the “pillars” of a future career: people skills, creative thinking and enterprise, alongside core technical knowledge. It was also noted that ethics will become increasingly relevant as technology changes and artificial intelligence creates opportunities to exploit the existing knowledge base across all occupations. With these broader skills standing out as essential, the possibility of life-long learning to fill in the technical skills becomes a real possibility and is starting to happen.
We have found some good examples of this. The Open University is an obvious one where there are no specific qualification requirements to take an undergraduate programme. The Sky Academy trains and recruits into the company’s IT workforce and has challenged the stereotypes to find talent. Universities are also starting to offer courses in engineering subjects that are open to those without existing science and engineering qualifications and to offer access courses to provide paths into degree-level education for those who missed out on academic goals through the school system.
Talent 2050 has identified that the profession could look very different in the future and the change has already started. It will need to accelerate if the UK is to be at the leading edge of the next industrial and social revolution and may look very different to the system of education and professional registration developed in the last century. That opens up some tremendous career opportunities.
The Talent 2050 report is available from the National Centre for Universities and Business.
We have found some good examples where switching into engineering has worked. The Open University is an obvious one where there are no specific qualification requirements to take an undergraduate programme. There are also examples outside university degrees; the Sky Academy trains and recruits into the company’s IT workforce and has challenged the stereotypes to find talent, and particularly a diverse group.
Sky Software Academy
Sky’s website says: “It really doesn’t matter what you’ve studied. Genuinely.” They do look for an interest in technology and motivation to join their team, rather than specific qualifications and Conrad Langworthy, Head of the Software Engineering Academy at Sky told a Telegraph Leaders of Change Conference that Sky was able to recruit a 50:50 gender balance into IT roles as a result of the courses offered to women and the approach taken, very different to the 9:1 male:female ratio we report for computer science in schools.
The “Get into Tech” courses, which are free, had 600 women apply for places in the first year since launch for a course that is intended to bridge the gap between enthusiasm and broader experience into essential coding skills. It is a clear working example of inter-sectoral recruitment where broader skills are prioritised and training given to a severely under-represented to group to provide the STEM skills.
The Open University has been open to all regardless of prior educational attainment and can quote many examples of graduates who have not followed a traditional route to qualifications through the school system.
Ray Barber left school with no qualifications and took a job as a technician for a local college in Bradford. He embarked on an OU degree and became a science lecturer at the college, travelled the world with work and was the lead in setting up the inaugural Star Centre in Bradford, to encourage children to consider STEM and engineering careers
Faye Banks did take academic qualification but not at schools. Faye grew up in care and left school at 16 with no qualifications and started working in low skilled manual jobs. She has gone on to win numerous awards including UK Young Woman Engineer of the year in 2004, and a National Higher Educational Gold Award in 2005. In 2015 she became the IET’s Youngest Fellow was named in the Telegraph’s Top 50 UK Female Engineers 2016. She has gone on to become Director of Energy at Costain.
As a final example, the University of Essex is now offering a Masters Degree in AI, specifically the MSc Artificial Intelligence and its Applications, where there is a requirement for at least a second class honours degree but it can be in any subject rather than requiring a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subject in advance, opening up the possibility of switching into to this important area for individuals who bring different life skills and experience.