A career in engineering

It’s no secret that women remain under-represented in the engineering sector. Part of the problem lies at the grass-roots levels with a failure to attract girls into studying science and maths at school and college. Yet the Engineering UK 2009/10 study reports that 85% of the general public would recommend engineering as a career to family and friends and for those in the sector there are good job and pay prospects to be had.

engineering genders


State of the industry:

The UK is the world’s sixth largest manufacturer. Manufacturing generated £150 billion for the UK economy in 2008. It accounted for 55% of all exports, 75% of industrial research and development (£22.5 billion) and employed three million. Threatening the success of the industry is the lack of young entrants.

Qualifications and ways in:

Qualifications in related subjects, including maths and science, continue to open doors in engineering. In 2009, further maths entries continued to rise and exceeded 10,000.

Yet entries to biology, chemistry and physics continue to be low, sometimes not even reaching double percentage figures. Technology is another popular route in and the figures show that more candidates are coming in via this route.

Some subjects are more popular with women than men. At A level in 2009, the balance between entrants to biology is slightly more female-based (57%), whereas physics and computing remain heavily dominated by men.

Most candidates go onto Higher Education (HE) and the figures suggest that applicant numbers are up for most engineering disciplines, with the exception of production and manufacturing engineering, where they continue to fall.

It is no secret, however, that fewer girls than boys continue with science and engineering studies at university and even fewer continue into engineering jobs.

In terms of demand, there has been a short term fall in the overall number of graduate vacancies in the UK.

According to the Association of Graduate Recruiters summer review, the engineering and industrial sector has experienced a fall of 40.5%. However, the medium to long term projections for graduate level roles remain high.

Apprenticeships also continue to be favoured in the sector with level three (advanced/modern) likely to be offered. Again the schemes are heavily male- dominated. And in 2007, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network emphasised that only 2% of engineering apprentices are female.

National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) are available, yet once again it is reported that only a minority of women gain these awards in Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies.

As the industry is so diverse with a broad range of careers and skills, there are many different engineering NVQs. It doesn’t matter what industry or organisation you work in, as long as the job role covers the requirements of the NVQ. Engineering NVQs are available at three levels.

What skills are needed?

Working Future III projections produced by the Institute for Employment Research in collaboration with Cambridge Econometrics predicts changes in employment for the period 2007-2017.

It estimates that, over this period, there will be a net requirement for 587,000 people working in manufacturing. Other predictions suggest that over the next 20 years close to 60% of the workforce will retire, creating a demand for new workers to enter the sector.

It is also predicted that the profile of employees working within manufacturing will change.

More staff will be employed as managers/senior officials as well as in associate professional/technical occupations. Almost 47% of all employees in 2017 will be at associate professional level or higher, compared with just over 32% in 1987.

At the same time, a fall is forecast in the number of people working in skilled trades and elementary occupations, as well as among machine and transport operatives.

Overall there will be a need to recruit new workers at all levels but the proportion of workers at higher levels will increase.

Women in Engineering:

A further problem in attracting women into the sector is that of those who do graduate with a science, engineering or technology (SET) first degree, just 27% actually pursue a SET career compared with 54% of men.

EngineeringUK has suggested that part of the failure to lure women into engineering is the challenges faced by women with families and the difficulty of meeting the demands of a traditional working week whilst bringing up children.

Some engineering companies are breaking the traditions by introducing flexible working. Halcrow, a Swindon-based international building consultancy firm introduced flexi time some 30 years ago.

Workingmums talked to the business last year. Speaking at the time, just 9% of staff were female, a figure that translates into around a third of the UK-based workforce.

The company is proud of its flexible working policies and offers part-time working, job shares, annualised hours and homeworking part of the week.


There are a huge variety of job roles within the engineering industry and its specialist areas. There are designers, planners, scientists, architects, managers and many more.

In the aerospace industry, engineers design and develop machines, aeroplanes and missiles amongst other things. In the science field, biomedical engineers combine their expertise of engineering, medicine and biology to find solutions for medical procedures.

Chemical engineers use their knowledge in a variety of areas, e.g. developing better fertilizers. Industrial engineers work in manufacturing facilities, making sure that organisations produce their products as efficiently, cost effectively and safely as possible.

There are also agricultural and biological engineers, environmental engineers, nuclear engineers, mechanical engineers, mining engineers and many other types.


Engineers’ salaries still compare favourably with pay for other graduate jobs according to the Confederation of British Industry’s Education and Skills Survey 2009, with the median salary of a graduate engineer being £22,500.

It’s also good news for numbers getting jobs. The Destination of Leavers of Higher Education data for 2007/08 shows that 59% of engineering and technology graduates leaving education that year entered full-time paid employment, compared to 55% for all subjects.

Yet a study by XpertHR shows that pay rises for engineers and technicians have fallen to their lowest level for many years from 5.0% in 2008 to 2.1% in 2009.

While a steeper drop in bonuses means that rises in basic pay plus bonus fell during the same time periods from 4.3% to 1.4%.

An engineering director can now typically expect a basic pay package worth £112,347, while a department head earns £58,472 and a professional engineer £29,542.

Some of the biggest pay rises last year went to production and electrical engineers, while those working in engineering consultancy took home the smallest increases.

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