This is a vast field, with many engineering specialisms, which include:
- Aerospace/Avionics: Aerospace engineers are responsible for designing and building the structure of an aircraft. The avionics engineer focuses on the electronic systems used within it, i.e. the way it communicates with basecamp, monitors fuel systems and reports on altitudes, temperatures and pressures.
- Automation & Robotics: the engineering behind complicated robot machines –creating, maintaining, and fixing them. It’s an amalgamation of several different areas of engineering – electrical, mechanical, software and infrastructure.
- Automotive: the engineering of cars and bikes. This career could involve the research & development side, designing individual parts of cars, overseeing the technical side of automobile manufacturing or testing and maintenance.
- Biotechnology: Using biology to cure diseases that threaten humans, prevent crops from perishing and saving species from debilitating diseases is the role of the biotechnology engineers. Huge pharmaceutical companies present the most opportunities to work, as do healthcare services, environmental depts. and drug companies.
- Chemical: a mixture of science and engineering. Chemical engineers think of new ways to make products from raw materials, working out ways of converting one material into another useful form. They often design, operate or construct machines that use various chemical reactions to solve problems associated with a particular industry. Their impact can be significant.
- Civil, Structural & Building Services: Civil engineering involves the design, construction and maintenance of anything; from roads, canals and airports, to dams, bridges and buildings. Structural engineering is often looked upon as a discipline within civil engineering, but it mainly concerns what are termed as ‘non-building structures’, i.e. structures that are not designed for continuous human occupancy. Building services engineering is concerned with what’s going on inside the building and how it affects people. They also focus on the environmental impact of a building during its construction and future use.
When it comes to civil engineering, there are two clear divisions: consulting and contracting. Consulting civil engineers are responsible for the design of the project, whilst contracting engineers create the structure itself. A consulting engineer will work with the architect to develop detailed designs, investigate the proposed site, produce a risk assessment and any other things associated with the general project management of a construction project. Contracting civil engineers take the plans from the architect and the consulting engineer and assess the feasibility of all aspects of the project. The main focus of a contracting engineer’s role is working out exactly how to do things. It’s comparatively easy to dream up a remarkably designed building, when compared to the realities of actually creating the structure.
- Defence: Defence engineering focuses on the development and production of technology that is used to ensure national security and maintain the stability of governments and nations throughout the world. However, it isn’t the governments themselves that produce these technologies. Gigantic private companies, such as BAE Systems, Thales, Selex ES and Lockheed Martin, receive huge government contracts to produce these vehicles, systems and pieces of military equipment. If you break into this area of engineering, you might be working on the new generation of fighter jets, a naval destroyer or a new batch of tanks. All engineering disciplines are required in this sector.
- Design: specialist engineers who design complex products, machinery, equipment and mechanical systems for all kinds of purposes. Creative thinking, technical knowledge and personal innovation as well as a mastery of Cad software is required. They also use their expert design skills to make alterations to existing devices, gadgets and pieces of equipment in order to improve their functionality. For instance, they may tweak the designs of a specific car engine to make it more energy efficient.
- Electrical & Electronic: Electronics engineers are responsible for all of the gadgets and gizmos we have in our lives, whereas the huge pylons, national grid and the gigantic power stations fall under the electrical engineer’s remit. Electronics engineers are the geniuses behind the iPad, the MacBook Air, the wind-up radio and any other innovative product. They work hand-in-hand with product designers, manufacturers and consumer experts to dream up the next big thing. Coming up with an incredible idea isn’t ridiculously difficult. The issue arises when somebody needs to figure out how to do it. This is the domain of the electronics engineer. As for the ‘electrical’ engineers, this can involve tasks from powering the whole country, to making sure the way electricity is distributed to homes and businesses is as efficient and as safe as possible.
- Energy: Just the small feat of powering virtually everything in the world falls at the feet of the energy engineer. Whether it’s electricity, petrol or any other form of energy, it’s their responsibility to provide it for the vast amount of homes and businesses. As such, energy engineers are required at virtually all points of the energy cycle: at the rig, at the refinery, at the energy pylon, the ‘grid’ and any other location where energy is harnessed. Consequently, don’t expect to be sitting at a desk all day, every day.
Oil and gas engineers might be assisting with the drilling process at the rig, improving the way in which the resources are transferred to the refineries, or how the refineries transform the ‘good stuff’ into useable products such as petrol and ethanol. The electricity engineers might be overseeing all of the processes at a power station, ensuring each turbine is functioning correctly at the offshore wind farm or making sure everything is being conducted in a safe and efficient manner. The big energy companies dominate here. BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil, National Grid, EON and British Gas amongst many others are the main seekers of fresh talent.
- Environmental: Environmental engineers are the technical wizards who are researching, developing, designing and producing solutions to environmental issues; from air pollution and water contamination, to fuel consumption and recycling. Environmental engineering is a broad term and it actually incorporates many different engineering disciplines, including mechanical engineering, civil engineering, chemical engineering, automotive engineering and even aeronautical engineering.
- IT Infrastructure & Hardware: Hardware and infrastructure engineers are integral for maintaining all of the I.T. used within companies and without them organisations wouldn’t be able to operate successfully. These guys look after everything physical relating to I.T., e.g. the computers that everyone uses, the network equipment that runs the internet and the servers that link companies’ computers together.
- IT Software: Software engineering is the process of producing a piece of software that offers functionality from a set of requirements. Essentially, it involves creating and putting a number of building blocks together to create a working application. There are many different programming languages and many different technologies, which are used in software engineering, so having a good grasp of all the major areas is an advantage. New languages and tools are appearing at a rapid rate and it can often be difficult to keep up, but employers will be looking for candidates with a good understanding of current trends in the industry.
- Marine: It’s all about designing, building and manufacturing literally any type of vessel that travels in or on water; from the largest of aircraft carriers, oil tankers and cruise liners, to submarines, yachts and dinghies. So where are the jobs and who employs these people? Given the size of the British fleet, the Royal Navy is understandably a huge employer of marine engineers. Furthermore, leisure boat yards, engineering consultancies, equipment manufacturers, the government and the big players in the gas and oil industry are all regularly on the lookout for great designers and engineers.
- Manufacturing: Manufacturing engineers have a high level of technical expertise and skill, which they use to plan, design, setup, modify, optimise and monitor manufacturing processes. Since the basic principles of manufacturing engineering apply to all industries they can work in numerous sectors including food and drink, oil, plastics and pharmaceuticals. They work to produce high quality goods efficiently using the most cost-effective methods and with the aim of reducing the impact of production on the environment.
- Mechanical: Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest specialist subsectors in the world of engineering. The skills of mechanical engineers are needed in a huge range of industries, such as robotics, aerospace, defence, manufacturing and civil engineering. Mechanical engineers use their creativity, technical skills, practical capabilities and scientific knowledge to design, manufacture and maintain every kind of mechanical device imaginable; from small components, such as precise medical devices (e.g. pacemakers), to large machinery, such as cooling systems in nuclear power plants and jet engines in aeroplanes.
The first stage of mechanical engineering, when it comes to creating a new machine or adapting an existing device, is research and development. Here, mechanical engineers will liaise with their client, understand their problems and requirements and establish the exact functionality of the device which needs to be engineered. They will then collaborate with other engineers, conduct extensive research and apply their scientific knowledge to develop a detailed theoretical specification for the design process.
The mechanical design process involves turning the research and theoretical ideas into technical blueprints. This process is often called ‘drafting’ and tends to involve the use of (CAD) programs.
The next step in the mechanical engineering process involves production, testing, installation and maintenance. Once the design has been refined and completed, physical prototypes need to be produced. Physical and operational testing needs to be conducted to ensure that the device functions at an optimal level in its operating environment. Mechanical engineers will then make expert recommendations on how the design can be modified. Once testing and the final design have been completed, production processes will be agreed upon and put in place.
- Production: Production engineers are responsible for devising exactly how something is going to be made, what machines are going to make it and how it can be made as efficiently and as safely as possible. These products can be anything from newspapers and plastic bottles, to tin cans and iPods.
- Safety & Quality Assurance: Every single product that people buy, from TVs and toasters, to tanks, will have gone through vigorous safety and quality assurance tests. The safety engineer is responsible for making sure that nobody will come to any harm as a result of using the product in question. The quality assurance engineer is responsible for answering the question: “Does it do what it says on the tin?” If not, they assess why and make provisions to ensure that it will do so in the future. In most cases, these engineers are involved in the development process of a particular product; however, in certain situations they will work on a product that has been recalled.