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How To Become An Engineer: University or Apprenticeship?

Written on 11/20/15

No matter what field they specialise in, Engineers continue to be in demand and due to their transferable skills, discover it is easier to find work than many other technical disciplines. This makes Engineering an attractive option for a reliable, long term career.

In order to become an Engineer, there are two main paths open to you:

  • A degree in Engineering (BEng or MEng)
  • An apprenticeship

There are two options available with an Engineering degree - a BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) or an MEng (Master of Engineering). An MEng degree lasts one year longer than a BEng, and combines both the BEng and the MEng, meaning a student graduates with a Master’s degree at the end of the four years.

Whilst you may wish to study Engineering as a sole subject and then specialise at a later date, some universities offer the chance to study a narrower field. For example, you may pick one of the following:

  • Civil Engineering - One of the most varied degree paths available, Civil Engineering covers aspects ranging from working on sustainability, to managing a high revenue construction project, or designing a new shopping centre. A Civil Engineering degree also offers strong foundations in taking steps towards becoming a Chartered Engineer.
  • Structural Engineering - Structural Engineering brings with it the chance to learn about Engineering for safety and monitoring for reliability. There are also facets such as working with steel buildings, and helping to design buildings with greater protection against earthquakes.
  • Railway Engineering - A specialised degree, Railway Engineering offers opportunities to study the aerodynamics of a planned railway, the infrastructure, or signal engineering. Other components include examining the risk management of current or future railway structures, and sustainability.

If you are interested in studying for an Engineering degree and are going through the academic A Levels route, be aware that the majority of these degrees require a qualification in Maths and Physics. As for your other options, think carefully - is there a subject you can apply to your chosen university specialism? For example, if you are considering Computer Engineering, is there an IT course available at your school or college? Make sure to check the requirements of your chosen universities to ensure you have the best possible opportunity of securing a place.

It is also important to bear in mind that you should opt for those subjects that you show an aptitude for, or you may be disappointed come results day. Aside from Maths and Physics, you may want to study a subject such as English, which could also be valuable as the skills learnt in this A Level qualification are transferable to aspects such as writing reports.

Alternatively, if you don’t wish to study A Levels, you may decide to opt for a more vocational route, and begin an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships are an excellent way to enter the engineering field because you learn on the job. Your days will be balanced between working alongside someone experienced in the field to obtain practical skills, and attending a college or other such institution in order to work towards a recognised qualification, e.g. an NVQ. Typically an apprenticeship takes between one and four years to finish, depending on the level studied, and on the sector and level. Apprenticeships also allow you to earn a wage from the working element of your qualification.

There are three levels of apprenticeships:

  • Intermediate level apprenticeship - Working towards a Level 2 NVQ, a relevant content-based qualification, and functional skills. The overall results you achieve are in line with 5 GCSEs at grades A-C.
  • Advanced level apprenticeship - This apprenticeship also works towards functional skills and a relevant qualification; however it aims towards a Level 3 NVQ. This apprenticeship is equivalent to 2 A Levels.
  • Higher apprenticeship - This qualification contains a Level 4 NVQ and higher functional skills, with the chance of working towards a further learning qualification. With regards to this apprenticeship, there is also chance you will work towards a foundation degree.

Unlike a degree or A Levels, generally there are no set requirements to access an apprenticeship; they’re available to anyone who is living in England, over the age of 16, and currently not in full time education. Please note however, there may be entry requirements for certain apprenticeships, depending on each individual employer, but these may not necessarily be based on your academic results.

For example, an employer may look for these assets:

  • Responsibility - You may be required to work around heavy or dangerous machinery, or be in charge of important paperwork. Showing you are able to handle this will hold you in good stead for securing a place.
  • Decisiveness - Your employer will want to know you have researched the area you want to specialise in, and that this is the field you are certain you want to work in. You may also have times where quick answers or actions are needed, so being decisive is a vitally important skill.
  • Using initiative - There may be times when you are required to use your own initiative, or you may be tested on such things. Having a skill like this will be transferable into future employment, so it is essential that you begin to work on developing this skill.

Once you have achieved your qualification, the career paths open to you are wide ranging, and hugely varied. Due to the transferable skills learnt during an Engineering qualification (such as project management and report writing) Engineers can often be found in almost every type of position. Alternatively you may wish to carry on towards another qualification such as becoming a Chartered Engineer, or may carry on at university in order to achieve a PhD in your chosen specialism.