Welcome to the machine
Engineers are vital for the future. How vital? Well, according to the Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance (Semta), we’re going to need two million more of them by the time today’s primary school students are ready to start work. What will they be doing? Imagining, designing, building and maintaining objects from skateboards to space stations…
Types of Apprenticeship
Engineering Apprentices work in a huge number of roles. Current Apprenticeships include Engineering Manufacture, Building Services, Railway Infrastructure Engineering, Plumbing and Heating, and Electromechanical Engineering.
About the Engineering Sector
Pretty much anything humanity makes requires an engineer at various stages. They will have been involved in developing the device you’re reading this on, as well as the machinery that built that device, the power that keeps that machine going, the cars that people working at the power station drove to work, the houses they live in…and so it goes on. Without engineers, the world would be dark and still.
What Can I Do?
There are a number of engineering disciplines in a wide range of sectors, so the role you take on will vary depending on which of them you choose. If you go into engineering manufacture you could work in aerospace, automotive, marine maintenance or mechanical engineering, for example. Your job could be building or installing engines on planes; welding submarines; repairing lifts; or maintaining electrical systems.
Alternatively you could work in engineering construction helping to put the built environment together, sometimes assisting those with advanced skills in their jobs, sometimes focusing on your own parts of a project, which might be fitting pipes, erecting steel structures or assisting welding teams. Or you might be working overseas or even offshore, building oil platforms and keeping them operational.
While big jobs and heavy industry is a part of it, the domestic sector – that’s us, at home – has just as much need for engineers. You might be trained to fit and repair boilers, install central heating systems, fix fridges or coax air conditioning systems back to life. Whatever path you take you’ll learn a host of technical skills and start building the experience that will lead you to more senior roles over time.
Again, the exact skillset you’ll develop will vary depending on the engineering sector that appeals to you. As you can imagine, some machines are pretty complex and it’s possible to spend your entire career specialising in just one part of them: aeroplane engines, for example. You might learn to use highly advanced equipment on a vehicle production line, or use computers as part of a design team.
There are also broad skills that all engineers will share. IT skills and a good head for figures are two of them, along with a mind that likes to solve problems, which is really what engineering is: building solutions to problems. If you work in some construction professions you might need to have good physical fitness; in other areas (like electronics) that might not be as important as having an eye for detail and nimble fingers.
You won’t need lots of technical knowledge at the start though, as you’ll become an engineer over time and with training. The important thing is to research the different career opportunities, see what appeals to you and start thinking about what sectors you might be best suited for.
At the start of your career you could work in roles such as:
engineering construction activities support
aero engine fitter
As you get more experience and work on different projects you’ll start gaining the skills you’ll need for more senior roles, working towards senior engineer, leadership and management positions.
There’s lots of information out there about the work engineers do and how you can get involved. To start digging into your Apprenticeship options head to careermap.co.uk or the National Careers Service. For information on engineering sectors, visit:
Routes into engineering include:
Vocational qualifications / A Levels
National Diplomas and Certificates
Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Diplomas (HNDs)
Foundation Degrees (England and Wales only)
Earn and Learn
A degree is a great way to become an engineer if you work well within the theory-based, academic environment of a university. On the other hand, if you would rather learn by doing the job, an Apprenticeship could be best for you. You’ll earn a salary and split your time between on-the-job training with an employer and college study, which you might do in person a few days a week or online, depending on your Apprenticeship programme.
Levels of Apprenticeship
Engineering Apprenticeships are offered at three levels:
Level Two – equivalent to GCSEs / Standard Grades
Level Three – equivalent to A Levels / Highers
Level Four – equivalent to Foundation Degree / Advanced Highers
A level two Apprenticeship takes two years to complete, then you can continue for another year to achieve level three. Level four is designed for those aiming for senior technical positions or management careers.
Life as an Engineering Apprentice
With so many different career options out there, it’s tricky to say exactly what your daily life will be like on your Apprenticeship. After all, you could be doing anything from operating a computer in an office to learning to operate a heavy machine in a factory or on a building site. Or you could be visiting some cold people in their house to sort out their heating.
What you definitely will be doing is working alongside skilled engineers as you learn your trade. You might be in different places every day, or in the same location all the time, but wherever you are you’ll need to be a good team worker, be ready to pay attention and follow instructions exactly (you don’t want to mess around with things like electricity, car-building robots, nuclear submarines and so on), and be prepared for noisy, dirty or demanding work.
As you’ll also be studying at the same time you’ll quickly have to get used to managing your time and making room for your college work alongside your engineering work. You’ll also need to be responsible for your budget, getting to and from work on time and of course maintaining a social life: you’re working with machines, not becoming one yourself.
The rewards are that you actually get to create, build and repair things and see a definite result at the end of each day, and you’ll be learning a skilled trade for life along with getting paid. You’ll improve your engineering knowledge but also your communication and IT skills, and all the while you’ll know that you’re helping people get on with their lives, or perhaps helping make them better.
Perhaps even more exciting is what the future might hold: driverless cars. Robots with artificial intelligence. Clean energy solutions. Smartphones in our eyes (well, maybe). They’ll all need an engineer to make them a reality. Maybe that engineer will be you.
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Find Apprenticeships and jobs in engineering near you at Careermap