Careers guidance in engineering

Robert Lees

Finding out about careers in engineering has never been easier. A whole range of publications is readily accessible describing in detail the routes now available for young people to move through the engineering ranks to the top of the profession, irrespective of starting point.

Engineering is not only about spanners, sprockets and springs -it's also about cars, trains, TVs. camcorders, CDs - and all the things that we use on a daily basis.

So begins the introduction to the latest issue of 'Working in Engineering', a Connexions publication issued by the Department for Education and Skills. It is a timely reminder that a career in engineering is still regarded in some quarters as second best - that somehow Information Technologv and Social Science subjects offer glamour and career advantages denied to engineers.

The June edition of Engineering Technology drew attention to this negative image and discussed methods of raising the standards of training within the industry. This is essential in view of a recent publication 'Comparing Standards Academic and Vocational, 16-1 9-year olds', a comparative study of Britain and other countries published by the think-tank Politeia. Its conclusions, which include technical and vocational standards, suggest that a misguided academic approach to practical training has resulted in the quantity and quality of personnel being trained falling far short of demand by industry.

To claim that this is disappointing would be an understatement. Over the past ten years or so considerable effort has gone into developing the educational facilities within the engineering industry to ensure that the right young people are attracted to its ranks and that, once there, they are properly trained and motivated. If training standards remain below expectations it behoves the industry itself to address the problem both inside and outside the educational system. The new partnership between IIE and EMTA is a significant step in the right direction.

However in recruitment and training matters we must always begin at the beginning and this is what 'Working in Engineering' attempts to do.


Containing profiles of nineteen people, mostly in their twenties and thirties, and working in many areas of engineering, it is colourful with plenty of quality photographs and a snappy style intended to grab the attention of the reader. Importantly it is aimed at a young readership

Designed to show engineering as an attractive career option it records discussions with its subjects ranging from how and why they chose engineering, what jobs they are doing, what their expectations might be and what qualifications they are aiming for or already have. This is supported by an exciting array of photographs and references to organisations able to provide further information.


In interviewing subjects for the latest issue the writers have been struck by three things. Firstly the young people, mainly Modern Apprentices, are without exception, keen, intelligent and enthusiastic. Secondly they have been impressed by the willingness of the more experienced people to pass on help and advice to younger readers, and thirdly by the support being given to all of them by their employers.

'Working in Engineering' is only one of a number of careers books published by Connexions. Top of the list in any library, careers centre or senior school is 'Occupations' usually referred to as the careers bible and bearing a remarkable resemblance to the real thing in size and weight. 'Occupations' is a job-orientated publication containing details of approximately 600 jobs and careers of all types, from unskilled to professional work. It is updated annually and 'Occupations 2003' will be available from September 2002. Users can find information either by using the Careers Library Classification System (CLCI) or through the alphabetical index. Engineering comes under CLCI Group R. Manufacturing under Group

S and Construction under Group U.

Background information, job descriptions, skills and interests required, pay and conditions are all detailed, but the items most valued by careers teachers and advisors are the entry requirements and the training sections. These are updated annually, reflecting the constantly changing nature of careers advice 'Occupations' is also available in CD-rom format.

Younger readers

Careers information in a more relaxed style for younger readers is also available on the 'Odyssey' database. Intended for the 13-18 year age group 'Odyssey' is really a junior version of 'Occupations'. Also job based and updated twice a year, each job is described in much the same way and the entry and training requirements are accurate. Only the style is different and of course the database format allows for a satisfactory search facility and the use of links. One major advantage is the ability to ask the database to suggest suitable jobs for specified interests and qualifications. It is available at Careers Centres and at many schools, and consideration is being given to making it available on the internet in the near future.

Each of the above publications describes in detail the routes now available for young people to move through the engineering ranks to tin-top of the profession irrespective of starting point. They also emphasise the increasing numbers of women now entering the profession at every level. Advice is offered to employers seeking to provide quality training for their staff; and to trainees themselves to ensure that any course of study contemplated meets their requirements. This applies at every level of entry.

Finally the publications referred to here represent only a sample of the vast body of information available on the subject. A visit to a local Careers Centre would reveal numerous general and specialist books and on-line information on any and every career opportunity together with hundreds of pamphlets on every subject and job imaginable. With all this at our disposal there really is no excuse for not getting the selection right. All we have to do now is ensure good teaching!

Robert Lees is partner in Camtee Associates, who are writers, researchers and consultants. Correspondence should be sent to PO Box 336 Harrogate HG2 9YU, e-mail: camlee(a)