Big Assembly 2019 Q&A

The #TEWeek19 Big Assembly was broadcast live to over 50,000 students on Wednesday 6 November. Our inspiring panel of engineers and a behind-the-scenes team of careers experts answered great questions from students, teachers, apprentices and parents. If you are thinking about becoming an engineer, or would like to advise a student, check out our handy Big Assembly Q&A below.

Download a printable version here to use in your classroom.

Missed the Big Assembly? Sign up to watch on demand here.

How long is the Big Assembly?

The Big Assembly is about 30 minutes long.

How much do engineers get paid?

The good news is engineers are well paid.

Engineering and technology graduates earn 17% more than the average for a graduate in the six months after leaving university.

Average salaries for people working in engineering jobs are between £30,300 and £51,200. It’s even higher for civil engineers (£40,300), mechanical engineers (£42,200) and electrical engineers (£44,400).

Can anyone be an engineer?

Gemma Taylor: I think pretty much anyone can be an engineer if they have the aspiration to do it. Regardless of gender, regardless of background, regardless of what you do in your free time and what you enjoy, if you see a career in one of these videos, if you meet someone today, if you meet someone in your life and you think ‘that’s an amazing job’ – you can do it.

What GCSEs/ A levels do you need? What qualifications do you need at school to become an engineer?

Maths and science subjects, particularly physics, are important for engineering careers. Subjects such as chemistry (for biomedical or chemical engineering), design & technology, computing, electronics and construction & the built environment are also useful. It is sometimes possible for students without maths or science subjects to complete a foundation year at university, leading directly onto an engineering degree. Many colleges and employers seeking apprentices also welcome applications from students who have taken other subjects. Grades 9-4 (A* to C) are usually required in maths, science and English.

Entry requirements vary so please check the following:

Find out more about the different routes into engineering on the Tomorrow’s Engineers website.

Do you have to be good at maths and science?

Nana Odom: I would say no is the answer. Engineering is about being able to problem solve and a commitment to learning. I started off fixing equipment, but my role has evolved to manipulating data and making data-driven decision to help support caring for patients. Roles are going to evolve so being numerate yes, but you do not need to be good at maths.

Tijana Jevtic Vojinovic: I always loved my maths and science – my teachers can probably answer whether I as good at it or not, but it is not about being good at something, it is about your passion, what you love to do and how can you explore those abilities. Problem-solving, using logic, being creative, designing things – do you need maths and science for these? No. Use whatever comes from your heart. Engineering is a great field to be in for all these skills!

Which is the best route to become an engineer? A degree or an apprenticeship?

Bryn Noble: I took the degree route but there are merits to both. I went to university in Plymouth and I did four years there, got my Masters and that has helped me develop on my route to chartership now. But sometimes I feel like I lacked the onsite experience you would get by going through an apprenticeship so there are definitely benefits to each route.

Mat Murgatroyd: There are many routes to becoming a fully qualified engineer. You can start from doing an NVQ level 3 and work your way up to other work-based qualifications, that are equivalent to or above that of a degree. You can still get chartered by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers or any other professional body.

Natalie Cheung: I came into engineering through a degree at university, but I wish someone had told me that I could become an engineer by doing an apprenticeship. If I had found out about that earlier, I probably would have taken that route.

Mat: I knew that I wanted to be an engineer when I finished my A Levels, but I didn’t really feel like I wanted to go to university, so I started to look around. I looked on government websites for apprenticeships and I got a higher degree level apprenticeship at DuPuy Synthes, so it is a way to get that higher education without being in full-time education. It comes with a lot of advantages. It is more practical and hands-on, and you can apply the things you learn the day after you have learnt them – it is a good combination.

What degree do you need to be an engineer?

There are different routes into engineering, and all routes are equally valid and well respected. It all depends on how you like to learn and what the opportunities are. Apprenticeships give you the opportunity to learn on the job and gain relevant qualifications as you go, whilst earning a training wage. Apprenticeships exist at different levels, all the way up to degree level, meaning you could do a university degree as an apprentice. Employers value the skills and experience that apprentices gain, as they view apprentices as ‘work-ready’.

University or further study at college will be the right option for some students, who are keen to spend 3 or more years full time, studying engineering (either ‘general engineering’ or a specific area of engineering, e.g. mechanical, electrical or civil). University degrees sometimes involve spending a year abroad or a year in industry and they are sometimes followed by Master’s degrees.

Exploring all the different routes available will help with your career decision-making. Check out the Tomorrow’s Engineers career booklets for students on the different routes into engineering and the different areas of engineering: Engineering at university, Vocational and apprenticeship routes into engineering and From idea to career: Explore 12 areas of engineering.

When you apply to Universities to study engineering, should you start by applying for a general degree, or can you apply to study a specific field of engineering?

‘General engineering’ is ideal for those who want to see what it’s all about before choosing to specialise in a particular area of engineering; you get a basic introduction to specific branches and develop your science, maths and computing skills whilst solving practical problems.

Many general engineering degrees at university give students the option to specialise after the first or second year, which could be useful for those torn between, say, civil and electrical engineering. It’s an ideal entry route if you intend to specialise but want to delay your decision regarding which branch of engineering to take until later in your studies. With general engineering you build a broad and diverse knowledge base and discover how the different areas of engineering overlap.

It can also be a springboard into other industries outside of engineering as the skills you’ll develop – such as managing projects, solving problems and working in teams – are highly desirable from any employer’s point of view.

Equally, if you have already decided which discipline you wish to specialise in as an engineer, you can choose to go straight into the relevant degree, such as aerospace engineering, chemical engineering or materials engineering. Have a look at the routes different engineers took, here: tomorrowsengineers.org.uk/realjobs

Can you still get a degree through the apprenticeship route?

This is possible, there are now degree apprenticeships available up to Level 6. You may find the Tomorrow’s Engineers career booklet Vocational and apprenticeship routes into engineering helpful.

What out of work/education activities do you think help with building skills and confidence in engineering?

A really great way to develop skills and confidence in engineering is to attend a science and engineering fair and consider entering a project into a national competition with exciting prospects and opportunities for career progression, e.g. The Big Bang Competition: thebigbangfair.co.uk/competition.

Trips to exhibitions, shows and museums, such as the Science Museum, can also help build knowledge.

You could also find out about any after school clubs that may be on offer and explore opportunities for industry taster sessions, projects, summer holiday courses and other events. Use the career finder on the Tomorrow’s Engineers website and read the blogs and profiles of the engineers featured: https://www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk/students/career-finder/

What other skills are important for an engineer?

Nana Odom: You could be working with clinicians, doctors, nurses – right through to the facilities team or porters who move beds, so you must have good communication skills. You also must be able to focus on the task at hand but also consider the wider picture which adds up into the organisation strategy, as well as being able to prioritise.

How many different types of engineering jobs are there?

The great thing about engineering is that there are loads of different types of engineering, so you can follow your passion, whether that’s sport, space or saving the planet.

From aerospace to electronic to marine, 12 different types of engineering are covered in this useful booklet: From idea to career: explore 12 areas of engineering

You can also find inspiration from some of the engineers featured on the ‘Real Jobs’ section of the Tomorrows Engineers website

Whatever you are passionate about, you can guarantee there will be some sort of engineering involved, e.g. special effects in films, video assistant referee technology, renewable energy, gaming, advancements in medicine, and iconic buildings.

Gemma Taylor: There are so many different types of engineering jobs. The way that we sort them all is to group them into sectors so if you are looking at engineering as a future career, make sure you explore lots of different sectors, so for example automotive, manufacturing, biomedical, sports engineering – there are loads of different types even within those sectors, of different engineers doing different roles.

There are so many types of engineering, how do I know which I'd be best at?

Gemma Taylor: The best thing to do is just immerse yourself, do the research, watch the videos, listen to people talking, do the quizzes – just get out there and explore. Don’t choose too early because there is so much exciting stuff out there. When I was starting to be an engineer, and I am a mechanical engineer, digital careers were growing but now they are exploding – so watch, read, listen, learn, speak to people, get out and if you can, get into an industry you are interested in, just to see what it is like for yourself.

There are loads of opportunities out there so choose the one that is right for you. Don’t panic, don’t think I have to choose the first thing that is offered to me or that is available – make sure you do the research and choose the thing that really makes you get up in the morning.

What percentage of the job sector in the UK are engineering jobs?

19% of the UK total workforce are employed in the engineering sector. Check out the https://www.engineeringuk.com/research/about-research/ to learn more! 

Is it hard to find an engineering job?

There is a high demand for engineers and people with engineering skills, both within engineering and across other sectors. In fact, the UK needs roughly double the number of engineers it currently has, to meet the demands of the economy. So, it’s a great time to become an engineer.

Why should I become an engineer?

Here are some more great reasons:

Starting salaries for engineering and technology graduates are almost 20% higher than the average graduate starting salary. Engineering graduates can expect to earn significantly more in their lifetime than most other graduates. Professional engineers earn between 20% and 70% more than the national average salary.

If you have engineering qualifications and experience you are not limited to working within the field of your degree. The ability to solve practical problems by applying mathematical, scientific, design and computing skills, along with the ability to project manage, work in teams and communicate your ideas makes you highly employable in a wide range of careers.

Like other professions, engineering provides many opportunities for career development. As an engineering graduate, you could become eligible for professional registration as an Incorporated Engineer or Chartered Engineer, once you have built up skills and competence in the work place.

Engineers make a difference to the world!

What does a mechanical engineer do?

Mechanical engineering is about designing, developing and improving mechanical components and systems that make our world and lives function; everything from nuclear fusion and artificial hearts to driverless cars. Put simply, mechanical engineering deals with anything that moves, including human beings!

As a mechanical engineer, your day-to-day tasks could include researching and testing new products and innovations and presenting design plans and data to colleagues. Mechanical engineers use their knowledge to come up with practical solutions to problems, which means they are sometimes based in the office and sometimes out in the field. You could be working in healthcare, designing and testing improvements to prosthetic limbs, or in aerospace designing airline cabin interiors. You could be working on the next generation of spacecraft for missions to Mars or designing the heating and cooling ventilation systems for multi-storey hotels. Virtually any machine or process you can think of – from building planes to making crisps – relies on the skills of a mechanical engineer.

If you enjoy thinking up solutions to everyday challenges and you have an aptitude for maths, science and creative subjects, then you are already on your way. To work as a mechanical engineer, you will normally need a foundation degree, HNC/HND or degree in an engineering subject. You can also start off as an engineering technician apprentice with a manufacturing or engineering company and, after completing your training, you could progress to higher education or a higher apprenticeship, such as the Level 4 Advanced Manufacturing Engineering Higher Apprenticeship. Individuals take different routes into mechanical engineering, depending on what best suits them.

Because mechanical engineers design and work with all types of mechanical systems, careers in this field span many sectors, including healthcare, transport, aerospace, motorsport, construction and manufacturing (across all industries). Mechanical engineering, like other types of engineering, offers exciting opportunities to work all over the world.

How could we get into space engineering?

You can go to university to study a relevant degree in engineering – this could be aerospace or aeronautical engineering or a specialist area such as space, mechanical, electrical or materials engineering – and then apply to companies after graduation. Alternatively, you could follow an apprenticeship with an aerospace employer. There are different entry levels available, including Craft, Advanced, Higher and Degree Apprenticeship routes enabling you to complete your qualifications while working.

Aerospace engineers can work for aerospace component and equipment manufacturers, engineering consultancies, the Ministry of Defence, airlines, aircraft certification specialists and accident and investigation branches. They often specialise in a particular field of aerospace engineering and could be involved in designing and building simulators for aircraft testing or pilot training. Aeronautical engineering knowledge is also sought after in the automotive, Formula 1, oil and gas and renewable energy sectors as well as fields outside of engineering, such as finance, due to the high-level analytical skills developed through study. Safety underpins every aspect of aerospace engineering and this understanding can be sought after by sectors including nuclear, rail and medical. Aerospace engineering, like other types of engineering, offers exciting opportunities to work all over the world.

Have a look at some of the ‘Real Jobs’ case studies on the Tomorrow’s Engineers website: Vinita, Hanna, Pamela & Daniel.

You can also find out more about careers in aerospace at: http://www.aerosociety.com.

Will robots take over several current jobs that exist?

There are tasks they are good at and others they really can’t do well at all. Automation will continue to grow, so robots will be doing more jobs but it’s the next generation of engineers (maybe you?) who will have the challenge of improving that technology.

Here are some top tips from the experts on living with robots.

If you were wanting to solve the issues of global warming, climate change and reducing landfill, what field of engineering would you suggest following?

The following types of engineer work on these areas: Civil Engineer, Environmental Engineer, Energy Engineer, Electrical Engineer & Mechanical Engineer.

Have a look at some of the Real Jobs profiles on the Tomorrow’s Engineers website, to hear from different engineers who work on these global issues: Conor, Sally, Sujith, Siu & Jack

Is it difficult for women to get into engineering?

Nana Odom: It is not difficult for women to get into engineering. There are a lot of engineers who are women like me, who started as girls like you. It is about a commitment to life-long learning, it is about passion, it is about enjoying what you do. Do you want to make a difference in people’s lives – that is what engineering is about, so go for it!

What are the challenges to being an engineer?

Natalie Cheung: One thing amazing about engineering is that you work in a multidisciplinary field, so you work with all different sorts of people. Sometimes there can be challenges when it comes to coordinating and making sure you deliver the project together – but that is also one of my favourite things about the engineering industry.

Bryn Noble: It is a challenge to think, problem-solve, to have the opportunity to go in and think logically to tackle these challenging situations which will ultimately improve the quality of life for society. But what is more rewarding than that?

What is the most rewarding part of your job in the engineering sector?

Mat Murgatroyd: As part of my field, we have a direct impact on people’s lives. We produce solutions for their problems. One of the most rewarding things is seeing a product you have developed go out into the field and starting to get reports back on how much of a difference it’s making in people’s lives – that is very rewarding, and it is the most important part of why I do my job.

Nana Odom: I’ll use one scenario. A child who had never engaged with anyone, had cerebral palsy, no speech, he was given a computer and he was able to answer yes and no. For me that is very fulfilling, to see that a child is able to communicate in a different way.