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If you suggest engineering as a career option for many young people, they think about ancient history. Being an engineer may seem a little old-fashioned to them.

However, if you instead mention drones, robotics, and smartphones rather than iron bridges and steam locomotives, the career is brought bang up to date. Computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D printing and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) are replacing slide rules and blueprints.

What Is Engineering?

The word ‘engineer’ combines the Latin words ‘ingeniare’ (to devise) and ‘ingenium’ (cleverness)

Engineers are a diverse bunch, but in general, they are people who design, build or test machines, systems, structures, and materials. In their work, they take theoretical scientific discoveries and use them to create practical applications that improve our quality of life.

Are the Job Prospects Good?

With growing economies in developed and developing countries, there is an increasing demand for qualified engineers around the globe. Especially engineers in a vast range of sectors, from traditional civil engineers in construction industries to highly specialized software engineers.

As a result, career prospects for suitably qualified candidates are strong, and the rewards are generally well above the professional average. Interest in posts in the most significant multinational engineering firms is very high. 

However, trade can initially be learned very successfully in smaller and more specialized companies.

What Qualifications and Experience Are Needed?

A first degree is essential for a successful engineering career, and many candidates for jobs must have a master’s degree. The best courses demand excellent higher-level academic qualifications from school, with top results in physics and mathematics.

A first degree in general engineering is ideal for those who have not settled on a specialization. There are, however, more bespoke engineering courses in universities for the students that already know what they want to do. 

Master’s degrees are invariably more focussed on a particular aspect of the engineering profession, and universities offer a wide variety from intelligent building design to medical imaging technology. A quick Google search returns an enormous number of choices, but sites like Top Universities can be a good starting point.

To keep ahead of the graduate field some practical experience is desirable in addition to academic qualifications for climbing up the engineering career ladder.

Engineering internships and placements are common in most sectors, and these can provide guidance on the specialisms that are of most interest to you as well as the vital experience.

Beyond university learning and practical internships, fledgeling engineers should join a relevant Institution to prepare for professional examinations. In addition to demonstrating a high level of knowledge and understanding of engineering to potential clients and employers, permanent membership provides access to invaluable resources.

Namely, mentoring opportunities, structured training, professional contacts, topical conferences, and a wide range of career opportunities.

What Are the Specialities?

Civil engineering is the basis for everything. From homes and hospitals to roads, railways, and water supplies, civil engineers design and construct the world around us, delivering the things that we all would find it hard to live without but take for granted.

As a profession, civil engineering includes more specialized subdivisions such as structural, architectural, and transportation engineering. The Institute of Civil Engineering provides professional support from school to beyond retirement.

Mechanical engineering is one of the oldest and most generalized of the engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers use the principles of physics, mechanics, mathematics, and materials science to design, build, and maintain mechanical systems.

However, it is not all about cogs, spanners, and fast cars. Mechanical engineers operate in a plethora of modern industries. All ranging from rocket propulsion systems to prosthetic limbs. The Institute of Mechanical Engineering provides career advice and resources.

Engineering Career Ladder

Electrical engineering is concerned with applying the theories of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism to practical problems and opportunities. Traditional involvement with the generation and distribution of carbon-fuelled electricity, the telegraph, telephone landlines, and television broadcasting are all being phased out by modern technologies such as microelectronics, renewable energy, computer engineering, and robotics. The Institution of Engineering and Technology offers further information, as well as a career zone.

Environmental engineering applies scientific principles to the design and maintenance of features that protect the environment and human populations. Specifically from the potentially adverse effects of natural and human-made phenomena such as flooding, climate change, and poor water quality.

Environmental engineers handle energy conservation, the control of airborne pollutants, waste management, sanitation, and public health protection.

If none of these seems entirely attractive, many other engineering specialisms are available. Perhaps materials engineering would be more suitable. Chemical engineers concentrate on the manufacture of chemicals, while mining engineers direct their structural capabilities to the extraction of minerals from the earth. Amongst contemporary university engineering courses, Software Engineering focuses on the design, application, and maintenance of digital software systems. 

Maintenance Engineering

Engineers are often thought of as creative people, using science to design and build useful things climb up the career ladder. However, there is another group of engineers that specialize in maintaining and repairing those valuable things.

Maintenance engineers work across all of the sectors mentioned earlier, applying engineering principles to optimize the use and performance of existing equipment and processes to maximize their efficiency, reliability, and on-going availability. With modern technology, the approach has changed from a ‘fix it when it breaks’ culture to an emphasis on testing, inspection, and preventative maintenance. All that in addition to making equipment more reliable, more profitable, and safer. 

The role of a maintenance engineer can nearly involve anything! From diagnosing faults and fitting new parts to a photocopying machine in an office, to carrying out maintenance on the gearboxes of turbines on a wind farm.

A suitable engineering career ladder is usually necessary to become a professional maintenance engineer. However, in some roles, it is possible to start out as a support technician.


Written By
Erik Hupjé was born in Brunei but spent most of his childhood in The Netherlands. He graduated from the Faculty of Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis and Management at the Delft University of Technology in 1997. For the last 20 years he has worked around the world as an asset management engineer, specialising in maintenance and reliability in the upstream oil and gas industry. He is the founder of R2 Reliability and developed the Road to Reliability™ framework for effective preventive maintenance engineering.

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