Engineering could work for you

John Bristow

Engineering manufacturing can offer some very diverge opportunities and

you can earn while you learn.

Engineering and the engineer. What do these terms mean to you ? Dirty, heavy work only for the boys and certainly not a profession -like say accounting., veterinary or legal professions. WRONG. Those with higher qualifications and experience such as registered Incorporated and Chartered Engineers have letters after their name and really are in a profession.

Engineering manufacturing can offer some very diverse opportunities. Some areas of activity can be heavy and dirty - for instance fabrication and welding - but in contrast other activities, such as electronics, can be incredibly clean: cleaner than you could ever imagine. In this sector some engineers work in 'clean room' conditions which can only be entered through airlocks that control the working environment. In such places the floor can be so clean you really could eat your food off it! Your work

might well involve using a microscope and working with instruments or components barely visible to the naked eve. Should you drop one of these on the floor the chances are it would be scrapped due to contamination.

Engineering embraces so many different disciplines such as mechanical, electrical, chemical and electronic to name but a few. There are also sectors within engineering such as aerospace, marine and automotive (car design and manufacture).

Food for thought

A lot of engineers are not actually involved in making engineering products at all. The production of crisps, the flavourings used and packaging in airtight bags as well as the consistent weights and volumes demanded, all rely on processing

equipment designed and manufactured

by engineers. Even clothes need engineers to make cutting, sewing and weaving machines.

Another type of engineering is maintenance. These days this can be highly sophisticated and involve specialist skills such as diagnostics. Probably no overalls for this worker, rather a lap top computer and a keen ability to identify and rectify faults in a short space of time. Not a hammer or spanner in sight. A mass production line that stops producing costs 000s every minute - so those who can deliver a

quick solution can demand seriously good salaries. Think about it!

Making plans

Whatever plans are made after year 11, the option of leaving school for a job without 'continued learning' is no longer seen as an acceptable option,

and rightly so. Therefore one might think the only route open is continuing full time education. Indeed some schools encourage this line of thought, suggesting that higher qualifications after GCSEs are essential to get on in life with a good challenging career. Make no mistake about it, good qualifications are important but so is working experience. The two go together and should complement each other. Employers look for experience, the application of qualifications in a workplace, increasingly referred to as competence.

If you gain high grade GCSEs (A & B's) at sixteen or younger you should seriously consider pursuing AS and A levels in subjects including maths and a science, (such as physics) with a view to reading an engineering degree.

If you enjoy studying a modern foreign language- this is worth pursuing as a lot of UK engineering firms operate abroad. Potential ability to work with locals in mainland Europe or further afield could be an asset and tip the balance for two similarly qualified candidates at an interview.

It is a fact that most of us learn best and quickest 'by doing', often via a practical approach but with supporting theoretical knowledge. At sixteen you will need to make a decision. Academic full time education or a vocational pathway involving employment as a modern apprentice, ideally at the Advanced level. Do not assume that the modern apprentice route is only appropriate to those with lower grade exam passes. The Foundation Modern Apprenticeship is only, one of two levels of the Modern Apprenticeship Scheme.

The Advanced level requires at least GCSE C grades typically in four or more subjects including English, maths and a science such as physics. It is not a soft option. Continued education on a part-time basis to Higher National Certificate for example, is an integral part of the programme. For the Advanced Modern Apprenticeship certification students will need to have passed these exams, not just attended a course of study.


Earn while you learn

In most cases though students will not have to pay course fees as employers fund these. The apprenticeship is with an employer to an agreed structured programme. One of the advantages is that you earn while you learn. Students receive a wage and make a contribution to a business of their employer, working in different sections or departments over a period of three to four years. Valuable experience is gained working with other employees at differing levels and will generate evidence for NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) in Engineering level 3 (at least).

Those who do well in their apprenticeship can pursue a degree. Some might even attract sponsorship from an employer which would eliminate the need for a student loan. Imagine an engineering degree with three or four years work experience. The latter really is a tremendous asset compared to a graduate with no work experience.

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For further information and advice on engineering careers contact ECIS on Freephone 0800 282167 or e-mail:


Ditching the dirt on engineering

lan McMath

Most people come to engineering via relatives, so if you find yourself in the company of young people and in a position to promote the profession, or you would simply like some ammunition to help dispel the myth that all engineering is dirty and heavy, then this article might help.

According to ECIS, the Engineering Careers Information Service, 1.8 million people work in engineering in Britain. It is interesting work and there are plenty of jobs

around. You don't need to be brilliant, but you do have to be practical and

interested in how things work.

However, says ECIS 'some young people have an outdated image of engineering, believing that it is all heavy, dirty and dark.' Quite rightly ECIS states that most forms of engineering are anything but, and say new technologies have had a massive

impact on engineering and a lot of the manual, repetitive jobs have been replaced by automated processes. And these processes have to be designed, built, installed and then maintained to a very high standard. This means that as well as a continuing need for craft skills there is also an increasing need for young people to train as technicians, incorporated and chartered engineers, most of whom will never wear overalls during the course of their work. Neither will they use spanners and get covered in oil,

grime and dirt.

Today, many engineers wear smart clothes at work, are a part of a project

team and would be lost without their laptop computers.

John Bristow, EMTA National Careers Manager recently published some thoughts on the extraordinary diversity and alternative routes to becoming an engineer. An edited

version of his text appears on this page.