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How to get into a career in engineering

  1. Sep 26, 2011 #1
    I'm not sure whether this is the right forum to be posting in but there aren't many engineering forums around it seems and I need some advice.

    First off I'm not a professional engineer but I would like to be one, however I seem to be in a bit of a sticky situation. I live in the United Kingdom and I have a few A-levels, went to university to study chemistry but changed my mind and quit because I wanted to do mechanical engineering. Now I am struggling to get back in, and if I don't get in then I'm not really sure what to do.

    There are apprenticeships floating around but they seem to be aimed for 16 year olds instead of doing A-levels as they reward an NVQ level 3 which is essnetially the equivalent of two A-levels, but I have 4 already.

    I've been looking for a higher level apprenticeship which awards an NVQ level 4 (roughly equivalent to a degree) but I can't find one.

    Can anyone give me any advice or pointers on what to do? I'm 21 and not a student nor am I currently employed and I'm a bit lost.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 26, 2011 #2


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    Do you know you want to do engineering?
    Have you any work experience? This will help you get onto a degree, and will help you decide whether it's for you.

    If you're bright enough to get onto a chemistry degree, you're bright enough to get onto an engineering degree. I'd strongly recommend this over a vocational route, unless you can get an apprenticeship with a company who will guarantee that they'll put you through a degree reasonably soon. I interview loads of young engineers and to be honest (and this may be elitist), I won't bother with any who don't have a degree.

    If you got an NVQ and your CV landed on my desk, I'd probably think "hmm, he hasn't got the sticking power to finish a degree, he's not going to do too well here", where you'll want me to be thinking "hmm, the chemistry degree wasn't right, so he put himself through an engineering degree, fair play, let's give him a go". I know it's probably a bit pompous but that's how you'll be judged.
  4. Sep 26, 2011 #3


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    Another thing you might want to consider is that (perhaps surprisingly!) there are more applicants per place on the top quality "modern apprenticeship" schemes with large engineering companies, than there are applicants per place for first degree courses at Oxbridge. Some of those companies are now actively getting involved with schools (with activities both in and out of the classroom) and starting to select their potential apprentices as young as 14.

    I'm not sure that Brewnog's comments are entirely fair. An apprenticeship type of NVQ isn't going to qualify you as a "theoretical" engineer, but neither do most university engineering courses turn you into a highly skilled practical worker. There isn't much opportunity for cross-over in either direction, but either option can lead to a good career.
  5. Sep 26, 2011 #4
    If you want to "get in" engineering you have to be born with a few years of related experience or your daddy has to work at a company. Otherwise you're playing a modified version of the lottery. Maybe it is different in the U.K. but that is my 2 cents from the USA.
  6. Sep 27, 2011 #5
    To be honest i'd find myself a good engineering apprenticeship, or at least a company that's going to help pay for a degree part time. You've got to look at the return you are going to get now as you'll get hit with the 9 grand tuition fees.

    It is. It's also what's wrong with this country as a whole. Hiring people box tick before being objective, making getting a degree an arms race. I've seen many people with decent degrees who are poor engineers.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2011
  7. Sep 27, 2011 #6
    You may find it easier to get in next year with the new fee structure, if you can afford it as fewer people will apply.

    If you did manage to get work with an engineering company you can get all your course fees for free with the Open University if you earn under £16.5k (above that and it's a sliding scale), provided you sign up for a module that you can count for a BEng right now to miss the 2012 cutoff, as this will keep you on the old fee structure until you finish your degree..so no, there are ways around having to hope for a company that will pay for you to study.

    I know what you mean about practical skills, I have met people training as engineers that I wouldn't want to change a wheel on my car if it was flat.
  8. Sep 27, 2011 #7
    Yes, I've given it a lot of thought and a career in engineering is my goal; I did chemistry because I was pressured into joining university and didn't have a full maths A-level, so didn't think I could get onto an engineering course. I don't have any work experience yet, but if I'm going to be aiming to get into university next year then I will get some over the next year.

    Would you not consider an NVQ level 4 approximately equivalent to a degree then? I heard that it was, and that a level 5 was almost as highly regarded as a PhD.

    The general consensus seems to be that I stick at the university route and get a degree, so are there any universities that you would recommend? I think the obvious one is Imperial but I don't think I have the A-levels they require. I did first year in chemistry at Surrey and really enjoyed it there, and it's fourth in the country for mechanical engineering (after Southampton, Nottingham then Imperial) so I guess it's a pretty good choice.
    If I'm going to university next year then I guess the best solution would be to spend a year trying to get a company to sponsor me through it? Or would a degree from the Open University be regarded highly enough? I'm not sure how much weight it would carry in comparison to one from a university like those I mentioned earlier.

    Thanks a lot for all your replies, they are greatly appreciated!
  9. Sep 27, 2011 #8
    Do it. I did first year chemistry and switched to motorsports. You'll most certainly need to get your maths up, buy a second hand copy of Stroud (google Stroud has saved my degree for the facebook apprecation page) and get practising.

    To an extent it doesn't matter where you do your degree, as long as it's a recognised course by the IMechE. Get a 2:1+ to get to the interview and learn to interview well.

    Easy game.
  10. Sep 27, 2011 #9
    Like you said it depends what university you got in to, and also if you managed to use the OU degree as a way to gain practical experience say in an engineering firm if you could find one to work for.

    I also have no idea if you could get into those universities with a credit transfer at a later date.

    The fee rise has pretty much put paid to any hopes I had of doing a credit transfer, so the OU is turning into rather a long route for me as I expect to have to work for little or no money at the end of my degree to get proven practical experience unless I get very lucky on the job front. Of course there are pluses, mainly the lack of debt.

    Nothing to stop you doing just one module with the OU or elsewhere (A lot of universities have 'associate students' where you can pay to do just one module, Oxford Brookes for example - you pay by module like with the Open University but you actually go in to the university part time) to to see if you like engineering enough to stick with it if you are in any way unsure. If you go down this route make sure you will be able to do a credit transfer to the places you are planning to apply for.

    Certainly an OU degree is more respected than an NVQ though.

    If you get into Nottingham be careful where you get accommodation though, some of the areas with student housing are pretty rough.
  11. Sep 27, 2011 #10
    Engineering Mathematics by K A Stroud and Dexter J Booth? I found the 6th edition (from 2007) for £30 on Amazon, will get that then if you recommend it. I've been looking at the IMechE website and it's quite useful, shows all a list of all accredited courses, offers scholarships etc.

    You mean if I do a few modules from the OU and I ensure I can get a credit transfer I won't have to do that module again at another university, if I change later?
  12. Sep 27, 2011 #11
    No, you won't - but it may be a good idea to check which ones would be most easily transferable to the courses you intend to apply for.

    I had planned to do about the equivalent of a year or two's worth of credits with the OU and then try for a credit transfer for my final two years, but I can't afford £9k+ per year of fees for two years. I may still try and do a final year somewhere, but am actually now thinking I may try and do a masters in Europe instead as the fees there are much cheaper.

    Different universities have different credit transfer rules, different courses, etc. but it's certainly worth looking into.

    Being a mature student with no A-levels, a sick family member and no formal engineering experience meant I sort of had to start with the OU, so I spent quite a lot of time looking at how to get into engineering without starting out at a 'bricks and mortar' university last year.
  13. Sep 27, 2011 #12


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    I know what you mean. In my experience, the way young engineering candidates are judged just isn't fair; but it's the way it seems to be (this is from the places I've worked and interviewed for).

    Academically, I'm sure it is. My point though, was that when my colleagues, and the recruiting managers at my place (British engineering firm recruiting perhaps 50 fresh engineers each year) see the CVs, a degree looks loads better than an NVQ. It isn't fair but I think it's enough of an effect to affect your decision.

    Get a copy of the Times Good University Guide, pick an engineering subject, and take the top twenty universities as your 'shortlist'. Then, choose on other factors (location, niceness of city etc).

    Edit: Chris makes an excellent point. Make sure it's an IMechE accredited degree.

    The only OU grads working in engineering I know are mature, experienced engineers who made it through 'traditional alternative' routes (the armed forces, apprenticeships etc). It can definitely be done, but it's hard work.

    I'd definitely recommend the traditional academic route. The others have merits, but that's where I am.

    No problem. Wherabouts are you?
  14. Sep 27, 2011 #13
    pass dynamics
  15. Sep 28, 2011 #14
    Ok good idea, I'll take a look into it! There's still a chance I could get into university this year (replacing no-shows etc.) but if that doesn't work I'm going to have to get some work experience or something which will benefit me more than just a normal job in the long run.
    Yeah that's why I like Surrey: it's actually very highly rated according to league tables for mech eng, the city is nice, campus is nice (I was there for a year doing chemistry) and it's fairly close to home.
    About thirty miles west of London in Berkshire. Means I'm about in the middle of Nottingham, Southampton, Imperial or Surrey, which offer the top four mech eng courses in the country!
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