Engineering Work Experience 2021: Placements, Internships & Insight Schemes
A comprehensive guide to breaking into the industry, including engineering internships, reasons to become an engineer, and more.
If you’re looking for a career that makes a difference - one that tackles the defining issues of our generation - you’ve come to the right place. As a professional engineer, you could be part of a team inventing flying cars, designing surgical robots or exploring outer space.
In order to get there, you first need to get some solid workplace experience under your belt: be it an insight day to whet your appetite, a summer internship or a full year in industry.
So without further ado, here’s your go-to guide on everything you need to know to succeed in the engineering industry.
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What is engineering?
In short, engineers use science, maths and a sprinkle of creativity to produce real solutions to real-world problems. From powering our homes to designing our cities, cars and phones, they come up with smart ideas that improve our day-to-day lives.
Whether it’s the bioengineers designing exoskeletons that are helping paralysed people walk again, or the structural engineers making buildings safer in the face of natural disasters, the work they do has a huge impact on the world around us.
Watch this epic video to see these real-life superheroes in action:
Did you know that engineers make up 19% of our total workforce? There are over 600,000 organisations, employing around 800,000 people. These businesses account for a quarter of the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP), generating a tidy £1.23 trillion a year.
And with sectors like medical research, software and aerospace growing rapidly, there’s never been a better time to get stuck into this dynamic industry.
However, you can’t afford to rest on your laurels. According to the Institute of Student Employers, last year there were 38 applications per graduate engineering role. Just another reason to get that all-important engineering work experience on your CV...
Why engineering is a great career
From having some of the highest entry-level salaries to being able to work anywhere in the world, there are plenty of perks for aspiring engineers to look forward to...
You’ll never be out of work
Climate change. Renewable energy. Rising carbon emissions. Plastic pollution. Disease. Human genetics. Technological advancement. Cybersecurity. Space travel.
All of these issues are top of our agenda. All are being tackled by engineers around the world as we speak.
However, the industry is currently struggling to find enough skilled engineers to go round. In fact, it’s estimated that we need around 186,000 new hires a year until 2024. That means at least DOUBLING the number of undergraduate and graduate engineers each year just to keep up with demand.
As such, engineering companies are always looking for talented people to fill their roles at every entry level - which is great news for you.
No two days are the same
It sounds cliché, but this really is true for most engineers. You could be in an office designing parts on CAD one week and carrying out surveys hundreds of metres up a skyscraper the next!
Whether you work for a global company like BP or you stay in your hometown, it’s likely you’ll also have to travel at some point for site visits, meetings with clients and research. You may end up working on projects based elsewhere in the country to where you live, on an offshore oil rig or even a different part of the world. In other words, prepare to be flexible.
Earn a very competitive salary
If you’re looking to make the big bucks, engineering is the place to be. The average salary for all engineers is £47,896, putting them amongst the highest earners in the country - alongside investment bankers, lawyers and retailers.
Interns and placement students also earn fair dollar, with engineering internships offering an average salary of £17,709. That’s based on data collected from RateMyPlacement’s insightful student-written reviews.
As a newly qualified engineer, you can expect to earn significantly more than graduates in other industries. The Graduate Market in 2021 revealed that the median starting salary is £28,000 a year. The nationwide shortage of STEM professionals means businesses are always looking to promote and reward stand-out employees.
“Engineering and technology first degree graduates earned 18% more than the average for a graduate in the six months after leaving university. Only graduates in medicine, dentistry and veterinary science earned higher starting salaries” Engineering UK Report, 2020
Why you need engineering work experience on your CV
Have we got you thinking about your future in engineering?
The sooner you start planning your next steps, the better your chances of securing your first job in the industry. That’s where work experience comes in.
Not only is it a brilliant opportunity to test drive a specific role or sector, it also gives employers a chance to get to know you. Many graduate recruiters like to hire students who perform well during their placement year.
“Over a third of recruiters who took part in the research repeated their warnings from previous years – that graduates who have had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process for their graduate programmes.” High Fliers: The Graduate Market in 2019
One of the best ways to get engineering work experience in 2021 is through a year in industry. These structured programmes typically allow you to rotate through a number of functions - both technical and non-technical - to figure out where your strengths and interests lie.
If your course doesn’t give you the opportunity to do an industrial placement, you should make it your priority to organise your own work experience around your studies whilst you’re still at university.
Let’s take a look at your options...
Placements in Engineering
For: 2nd or 3rd years
Duration: 5-13 months
When to apply: Sep-May
Engineering placements are largely aimed at second year students, who spend their third year of university in full-time employment before returning for a final year of studying. If you don’t want to take a whole year out, some employers offer shorter programmes that only last for a semester.
Securing a year in industry is like scoring a hat trick at the World Cup; it pretty much guarantees you a long and prosperous career in your chosen field. Think of yourself as the Harry Kane of engineering. Students are given real responsibility and trusted to work on live projects - which will give you plenty to talk about in graduate job interviews.
For: All students
Duration: 4-16 weeks
When to apply: Sep-Mar
Competition for placements is fierce, so if you don’t manage to secure one (or you’re just short on time), an internship is another great way of getting industry experience that complements your degree.
Summer internships in engineering take place between academic years and typically last between six and twelve weeks. You may even be able to squeeze in more than one!
An internship will help you get a feel for where you want to work and what life as an engineer is like. Not to mention the fact that you’ll be able to build a network of industry contacts and potentially earn a fast-track place onto the company’s graduate scheme.
“An internship or placement is your chance to learn more and immerse yourself in Dyson. You'll work on live projects and be able to make a genuine difference. You'll be supported by a development framework and in-house experts, while we help you to realise your potential. If you impress us, you could secure a full-time graduate role when you leave university.” Dyson (2021)
Insights for First Years
For: 1st years
Duration: 1-10 days
When to apply: Sep-Mar
More than half of employers now offer first year insight schemes to first year university students. These usually take place during the Easter break and come in various guises, including: open days, short introductory courses or ‘taster’ experiences.
Top employers like BP, Shell and BAE Systems all offer insight days or a ‘Spring Week’ where you get to know the company, shadow current graduates and even help out on small projects.
If you get the chance, try to impress them with your technical knowledge or a particularly astute question - anything that helps you stand out from your peers could get you an invite onto the company’s internship, placement or graduate programme.
“The program has truly given me a better understanding of what a graduate job or work experience at BP might involve. Additionally, some of the problems the engineers had to handle involved topics covered in my course that I had previously struggled to relate to the real world. There were also workshops to improve my interview and public speaking skills.” Work Shadowing at BP (2017)
Engineering careers: where to take your degree
Whatever your passion there’s an engineering role to suit you. You could find yourself working behind-the-scenes in television as a broadcast engineer, designing Facebook's photo filters or even crafting hyper-realistic cake sculptures. Niche.
There are too many different types of engineering to give them all our full attention, so we’ve drawn up this nice shortlist instead:
Becoming a chartered engineer
Once you’ve graduated, you have the option to fast-track your career by training to become a professionally registered Chartered engineer (CEng), Incorporated engineer (IEng), Engineering technician (EngTech) or ICT Technician (ICTTech).
As well as earning you respect amongst your peers, those post-nominal letters show potential employers and clients that you are an expert in your field.
They also do wonders for your future earning potential; industry magazine The Engineer found that registered engineers earn an average salary of £51,930, compared to £43,914 for those not registered.
You can find out more about getting your qualifications on the Engineering Council’s website.
“Registrants consistently tell us that achieving professional registration has increased their credibility, helped them gain promotion or win more business. These responses suggest that professional registration can also boost earnings, again demonstrating that it is an investment in your future.” Alastair Coates, CEO of the Engineering Council (2018)
What is civil engineering?
Civil engineers design, innovate and create the infrastructures that we all depend on; from bridges, roads and railways to iconic skyscrapers, sports stadiums and shopping centres. Beyond that, they are tasked with life-saving projects such as protecting communities from the impact of flooding or providing refugee camps with clean drinking water.
Given their pivotal role in shaping the world we live in, civil engineers need to be commercially aware, excellent team players and have a solid grasp of maths, IT and science.
Read our overview of civil engineering work experience to find out what it’s really like to work in the industry.
What is mechanical engineering?
Mechanical engineers come up with ways to improve the mechanical processes and products that make the world tick. As well as initiating solutions, they are involved in research, analysis, testing, liaising with clients and suppliers, addressing technical issues, hands-on production and general upkeep.
Because they design and work with all kinds of mechanical systems, careers in this field span many sectors, including aerospace, healthcare and power generation.
As a fully-fledged mechanical engineer, you could end up doing anything from building energy-efficient heaters to designing and testing prosthetic limbs. The possibilities are endless!
For help with applying to mechanical engineering placements at employers like Rolls-Royce, Siemens and Network Rail, take a look at our guide to mechanical engineering work experience.
What is chemical engineering?
Chemical engineering is all about transforming raw materials like oil into everyday products we all rely on, such as fuel, electricity, plastics, food and cosmetics. As well as figuring out how to make these products, chemical engineers help to manage the world’s resources, protect the environment and control health and safety procedures.
For this reason, chemical engineers are not confined to any one industry - instead they work for a wide range of employers in different sectors, including pharmaceutical companies, food manufacturers and water treatment services.
For a closer look at chemical engineering placements, career options and more, have a read of our guide to finding chemical engineering work experience.
Whether you want to stay in the industry or direct your skills elsewhere, there are so many options out there. With marvellous skills like complex problem solving, creative thinking and project planning in your arsenal, employers will be practically falling at your feet, begging you to work for them.
As such, it’s not unusual for engineering students to apply themselves to a non-technical role within an engineering organisation, or a different industry altogether.
Top employers in Engineering
So, now that we’ve waxed lyrical about the importance of getting work experience, you’re probably wondering which companies to apply to...
There are heaps and heaps of organisations offering engineering internships, placements and insight schemes, so it can be tricky to narrow them down.
Start by thinking about what’s most important to you. For instance, do you want to work for a household-name like Rolls-Royce? Or would you rather make a bigger impact in a smaller team?
Next, have a browse of The Top 100 Undergraduate Employers. Based on thousands of reviews submitted on RateMyPlacement, this comprehensive list reveals the best employers to work for in terms of student satisfaction. It’s basically the Oscars of work experience.
Here are some of the top employers in engineering for this year:
Engineering Work Experience Reviews
Here at RateMyPlacement, we’re committed to helping young people make well-informed decisions about their careers. That’s why we publish thousands of reviews of placements, internships and insights, all submitted by real students like you.
As for engineering, there are nearly 3,000 reviews spanning a vast range of sectors, including: aerospace, automotive and electrical engineering. Each offers an exclusive glimpse into what it’s really like to do work experience in engineering for a particular company.