By Victoria Brown.
An intuitive mind and a passion for all things automotive will make choosing your future career really quite simple.
When you’re aware that you might not make it to F1, and you know that you want a professional qualification that will equip you to manage at a senior level, automotive engineering offers the variety, excitement and challenges which young engineers crave.
Employment rates for engineers remain very good and the skills are highly transferable. Many engineering graduates enjoy careers in teaching, finance and even find places on non-engineering related graduate schemes too.
But while your skills will be valued across the board, securing graduate roles is still highly competitive.
This guide is designed to help you get to grips with the grades, graft and extra-curricular activities you need to start a career in automotive engineering.
Getting started: What course at what university?
You may already have a university in mind, but if you’re baffled by league tables, locations and modules on offer then use the UCAS course search to condense your search and unearth any specialist courses, such as those with foundation years or study abroad programs.
For a career in automotive engineering, you can study degrees (BEng and MEng) directly in automotive or motorsport engineering, but it is important to note that aerospace and mechanical engineering courses equip you well for a career in automotive engineering too.
Most universities offer aerospace or mechanical engineering degrees, so prospective automotive engineers enjoy plenty of choice when choosing where to study.
Ensure that your chosen university is accredited though – they will make this very clear and courses are often accredited by numerous professional bodies such as the Institute of Mechanical Engineering.
Typically you will need AAA or AAB with an A in maths at A-Level. Universities usually ask for physics too and a third subject, which is usually academic in nature.
Students studying the International Baccalaureate (IB) will need 35 points with maths and physics at higher level.
Building that winning CV
You can be the smartest student in the world, but as far as graduate employers are concerned, academic prowess alone won’t cut it – you need to show working examples of the skills you’ve built around your degree.
Every student understands the importance of part-time and voluntary work, which show your organisational and leadership skills – we don’t need to bore you with that.
But aside from the usual, there are some really exciting projects out there that are perfect for budding engineers.
Formula Student is run by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and yes – it is as exciting as it sounds.
Formula Student is an educational motorsport competition which tends to attract the best of the best from various engineering disciplines. It’s a thrilling past time for students, widely supported by universities and it looks fantastic on your CV.
Universities from all over the world can get involved. The challenge involves designing and building a single seat racing car to compete in both static and dynamic events. Naturally, the purpose of Formula Student is to demonstrate just how exciting a career in engineering can be.
Formula Student isn’t a casual past-time and requires dedication, serious organisation and funding – although some financial support is available. But that’s what makes it gold dust to potential employers.
IMechE student membership
Engineering students can apply for free student affiliate membership. Membership will give you access to career resources, an online career developer, discounts on training courses, access to networking events and will also allow you to use the resources in IMechE's vast virtual library.
Industrial summer placements
The salaries for short engineering placements are usually highly competitive and alongside gaining valuable experience – some students will even be offered jobs – you’ll likely earn considerably more than you would if you spent the summer working behind a bar.
This makes it the smartest way for any engineer to spend their summer. Money and enhanced career prospects – what’s not to like?
Competition is usually quite high, but when you can consider that many of these students could go on to work for the company after graduation, it’s easy to see why companies are discerning about who they welcome into their programs.
Psychometric tests are common in the early application stages and these will typically test your reasoning, verbal and numerical skills.
When you haven’t got any commercial experience beyond your part-time job, situational judgement tests and timed aptitude tests can be tricky. But researching the company and their values can be a good way to prepare for the situational judgement test.
Placements can be a great snapshot into life at some of the UKs biggest and most prestigious companies such as Rolls-Royce and Nissan, so if you have a burning ambition to join them start looking at placements early. Even if you don’t go on to work at the company, it will look great on your CV.
Women in engineering
Women are seriously under-represented in engineering, but luckily there’s plenty going on to try to change this. There are a number of organisations that women engineers can get involved in.
If you aren’t happy with what’s available to promote women in engineering at your university then you can join the Athena SWAN Charter. Athena SWAN challenges the under-representation of women in STEM subjects.
Many UK universities are proud members. Membership needs to be officially endorsed by a vice chancellor or course director at your university.
It is also possible to get involved with the Women in Engineering university societies. If there isn’t already one for your course, then establish your own – and be sure to document your role on your CV.
Day-to-day work of an automotive engineer
Automotive engineering isn’t a pseudonym for Jenson Button, but you can fully expect to test the models that you’ll be working on and any competitor models too.
If you’re involved in the vehicle testing or customer experience departments, then driving is likely to be part of your regular work-load. This can be either on a dedicated test track or via road tests.
From chassis to design and cost analysis, graduates will usually be assigned a home department and then go on rotation to sample other departments.
International travel is also possible, with many global companies having suppliers and manufacturing plants around the world.
Many graduate automotive engineers will tell you that a large part of their job involves project management and managing and liaising with suppliers. Regular meetings are also typical and engineers will be required to report on progress and update senior members of staff.
Of course, the best way to get a taste for your future career is to apply for a student placement.
Even if you don’t secure a full summer of industrial placements, many companies will allow short shadowing periods – however this is often a case of knowing someone at the company, so network wherever you can. Your university will probably arrange such events.
The writer is a Sheffield University graduate and motoring enthusiast. You can read her automotive blog at Number 1 Plates