Industrial engineering

A lot of people will have heard of the engineering sector, but not necessarily know what it is. There are so many different types of engineering, from aerospace to software, and we’re here to demystify them all.


What is the Engineering sector?

First things first, let’s create a brief overview of the Engineering sector as a whole. The Engineering industry offers a broad choice of career options, as well as training and support throughout. Whether this be working towards becoming a Chartered Engineer (CEng) or Incorporated Engineer (IEng), progression in the sector is highly encouraged and is absolutely key to its continued relevance.

Engineers help create, build and maintain specific structures, whether it be entire cities, transportation, or processes in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and manufacturing industries. As stated, there are numerous different areas of engineering that offer graduates the chance to spread their wings in a hugely broad sector – plus work on anything from design to production.


Job roles in Engineering

So now to the really exciting and interesting bit: the job roles available. There is a huge number of different roles available in the sector, so let’s look at some of the most well-known – but also some of the most intriguing…

    • Ever wanted to work with aircraft, potentially military grade? How about taking charge over the design and construction of planes, weapons systems, satellites and more?

      If any of this appeals, then a career as an aerospace engineer might be for you. You’ll be expected to utilise your knowledge of science and technology to design, build, test and project manage the above.

    • Plastic is made from oil. We know this sounds like magic, but it’s true – and the people behind this transformation are chemical engineers. This job role is focused on changing the chemical and physical state of certain substances in order to turn it into something else.

      An understanding of chemistry is, obviously, beneficial here. Understanding chemical compounds and structures is the main foundation most experts in this field require. There are chemical engineer roles available in the energy sectors, plus pharmaceuticals, food and drink.

    • Probably one of the most well-known engineering jobs – but what is it, exactly? Well, civil engineers deal with the physical and built world; buildings, transport links, power supply infrastructures and more.

      To put it more broadly, civil engineers design and oversee the creation of the above, helping connect people to their homes, towns and cities and ensuring they all work in harmony. This role includes a number of on-site visits for future projects and liaising with clients.

    • A little less hands on than a civil engineer, design engineers are highly involved in the creative side of projects – coming up with the initial concept, design and aiding with the development of whatever has been commissioned.

      This requires very good technical and communication skills, plus the ability to problem solve.

    • There’s almost no end to how electrical engineers’ work can be used. Professionals in this role help create electrical control systems that can be used in buildings, transport, manufacturing, construction and more.

      You’ll be expected to work to detailed briefs from clients, identify their key requirements, design the systems needed and potentially help with maintenance post-installation.

    • Manufacturing processes help the world go round. Whether it be in the food and drink industry or pharmaceuticals, the manufacturing processes that aid in the creation of such goods can be continually optimised  – meaning lots of work for manufacturing engineers.

      Work includes improving the process of how such goods are made, helping design process that made it quicker, easier and more economically viable.

    • Manufacturing, civil and aerospace engineers can’t do their jobs without the right materials – and that’s where these experts come in. Materials engineers help design, create and test new materials, checking their properties and behaviours in different scenarios.

      The creation of such materials, whether it be new plastics or industrial building materials, can help improve processes further down the line for clients and other engineers.

    • If you’re fascinated by the sea, ships and boats, then becoming a naval architect may be the path for you. Similar to an aerospace engineer but for water transportation, this particular strand of engineering focuses on the design and creation of cargo ships, passenger liners, ferries, high-speed boats, submarines and warships – plus yachts and fishing or rescue boats.

    • Although a potentially contentious sector to be involved in (you can learn more about nuclear energy in our Energy sector guide), there are plenty of opportunities for engineers in this subsection of energy creation, too.

      As a nuclear engineer you could specialise in the construction (or safe destruction) of nuclear power plants, health and safety or be a reactor operator, plus more general engineering roles such as becoming a project manager or process engineer.

    • Similar to a project manager, there’s a lot more planning and management involved in this role compared to more hands-on engineering jobs.

      It involves the planning and coordination of various projects, helping see them through from initial inception to final implementation. You’ll need to be well organised and have a firm grasp of engineering best practice, industry regulations and strong technical skills.

    • One of the aforementioned ‘hands-on’ engineering roles, structure engineers do exactly that: design structures. From bridges to buildings, these experts design and build the structures we use everyday, ensuring they are strong, stable and built to last.

      Structural engineers work closely with architects, town or city planners, clients and other engineers to see through the successful completion of a project.



There is lots of training to undertake in order to reach the higher levels of engineering, such as becoming a Chartered Engineer (CEng) or Incorporated Engineer (IEng). But to start at the beginning, most university engineering-focused degrees encourage students to do both maths and physics at A Level. Chemistry and Design Technology are also useful choices.

At degree level, it is best to opt for an engineering or technology subject. There are five key engineering specialisms you can opt to choose from: Chemical, Civil, Electrical, Materials and Mechanical. Of course, there is also the option to study straight Engineering with the chance to specialise in final year.

Other degree subjects such as maths, physics or computer science may also offer a route into the engineering sector, but this may require you to do a conversion course before securing a job.


Skills you need

There are a number of desirable skills for engineers to possess from an employer perspective, but also so they can thrive in the industry. These include:

    • Being an engineer is highly technical – whether it’s constructing a building and drawing on knowledge of physics, or creating a new material and thus drawing on knowledge of chemicals, there are a lot of equations to consider. Having an analytical mind that can work through such complex ideas and overcome problems is key.

    • Similarly being able to properly explain complex ideas, drawings and concepts to others during a project is essential. Engineers work as part of much wider teams and must be able to communicate with teammates clearly about intricate details about projects.

    • This is really important, as the smallest miscommunication or mistake in a calculation could be disastrous. Engineers must have a strong attention to detail or risk missing out or miscalculating something important during the development of a project.

    • There will inevitably be hurdles in the way of any engineering projects, from unforeseen natural obstacles to human problems such as funding or timing issues. Because of this engineers must be adept at problem solving and be able to weigh up various options.

    • Whether this be of people or your own workload, there are huge management opportunities available in the engineering sector. Civil engineers for example will be in charge of managing a number of people on a project; more specific engineers may simply have to manage their own workload or specific responsibility for a project and ensure everything is delivered on time and to schedule for the rest of the team.

    • As explained in the qualifications section of the guide, getting into the engineering sector can be hard without the right background. A science, technology, engineering or mathematics degree will go a long, long way in making it in this sector.

    • This goes hand-in-hand with the problem solving skill required by engineers. Initial design and concept of complex engineering projects do require some creative thinking – and problem solving – skills. Engineers need to find ways to fix existing problems in a unique, exciting and economically viable manner – which definitely requires creativity.

    • Engineers rarely work in isolation and will usually form part of a much wider team, including other engineers, managers and more often than not clients as well. Because of this, and because of the usually complex and costly projects in question, they need to be familiar and good at working in a team.


Work experience

Work experience in the industry is something all students interested in pursuing an Engineering career should consider – however it can be hard to come across. While a number of degree courses will involve a placement or year in industry, securing other forms of experience can be hard – but there are ways…

Internships during the holiday periods are a good option. A number of engineering companies, both big and small (including Rolls Royce, Babcock, BT, Costain, Shell and Siemens, who are all featured on Debut), offer summer internships. Do your research on some top firms to see when applications open; but be quick, these are often competitive!

Small engineering companies may not have official schemes or internships, but may be able to offer shorter work experience stints. Check out your local firms and make some enquiries.

Similarly, both big and small firms may be able to offer insight days or work shadowing. These forms of work experience are great for networking and aren’t too time consuming, so are the perfect way to build up your exposure to the industry.


Industry insights

It is reported that the UK engineering industry is particularly strong in the aerospace, FMCG and pharmaceutical subsections. While the result of Brexit will undoubtedly have an effect on the sector, whether this is positive or negative is yet to be seen; with this in mind is it hard to say what will happen in the industry in the years to come.

What can be said, however, is that in recent years a lack of qualified graduates opting to study Engineering is having an impact – reports of skills gaps and a lack of diversity are affecting the industry; in fact the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) recently reported that 61% of employers in the industry said recruiting staff with the right skills was a barrier to achieving their business objectives over the next three years.

Calls have been made for more businesses to provide work experience opportunities for young people to help them gain the skills they need but also ignite an interest in those who haven’t yet decided on their career path.

For those already invested in pursuing a career in the industry and possess experience, this is positive news as it does mean they are in high demand. In fact, 68% of engineering and technology graduates find themselves in full-time employment only six months after graduating – a whole 10% higher than the average for graduates across all sectors.


Pros and cons

Progression is highly supported by most employers, so once in the industry you will likely receive a lot of supportIt can be a challenge and requires a lot of learning and constant development
The average starting salary for graduates is slightly above average, at £25,000 compared to £22,000There are fewer graduates entering the space, which is good for job prospects but is damaging the industry more broadly
There are multiple exciting projects to get involved in, from building cities to designing planesThe work can be stressful, with many different people - from private clients to the government - and other factors affecting projects from start to finish
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