Gimme, Gimme, Gimme... a career in engineering

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Super Trouper….lights are on higher education

In less than a week young people across the country will be smiling, having fun and receiving their A level results. Yesterday, the Sutton Trust has published its latest aspiration polling which surveyed young people aged 11 to 16 about their aspirations and worries about higher education.


Here’s some of the super trouper headlines:

  • 74% of 11 to 16 year olds think that they are either very or fairly likely to go into higher education.
  • This is its lowest level since 2009 – down from 77% in 2016 and 81% in 2013
  • Those saying they were unlikely to attend is its highest level since the Sutton Trust began polling on this topic in 2003.


Money, money money….

There’s always a big debate on tuition fees and student debt. How much is too much? It was almost 19 years ago that fees were introduced, with students paying up to £1,000 a year. Fees then rose again under the Higher Education Act 2004, which saw universities in England charge variable fees of up to £3,000 a year, for those students enrolling on courses for the academic year 2006-7 (if only I had started one year earlier). Then in 2010, following the Browne Review, the cap was raised to £9,000 a year for those enrolling in 2012.


With students now facing £9,000 a year in fees it’s unsurprising then that of those young people that the Sutton Trust polled who said they were intending to attend university, 51% were concerned about the cost of higher education. Breaking it down a bit further 46% of those likely to go to university say they are most worried about tuition fees, with 18% saying the paying back of loans and 16% the cost of living as a student.

Take a chance on (engineering) fees….

At £9,000 a year it’s no wonder fees and debt plays on young people’s minds when considering their futures. But the increase in fees has for some time seen some interesting trends when it comes to applications to study at higher university.

Take engineering for example, until very recently (when we saw a slight dip in engineering applications) the trends towards studying engineering at university have been positive, whereas subjects that perhaps manufacturers don’t have such demand for, have seen fewer applications.

We’ve argued previously that actually the increase in fees may be driving this behaviour with more young people thinking about value for money from their degree and their career opportunities also.

The (engineering) winner takes it all…..

When you look at average graduate starting salaries you can begin to see why studying engineering disciplines at university may actually be quite a good return on that hefty investment.

The Complete University Guide puts Chemical Engineering graduates as the second highest paid starting salary after dentistry. When looking down the complete least graduates across engineering disciplines earn higher than average.


And according to EEF’s own pay benchmarking that figure is growing. That’s right engineering graduate pay increased by 4% year on year. Net lifetime earnings for engineering graduates are pretty tasty too at a rate of £151,300.

Making your mind up……

But there are even more choices now, choices that see young people choose vocational pathways and still reaping rewards. That’s right apprenticeships.


An “earn while you learn” apprenticeship that leads to no debt and some money in the bank - now that’s something worth considering.


Voulez vous....some interesting facts?

An engineering apprentice on a level 2 or 3 framework earns on average £6.46 per hour

Those taking higher level frameworks and standards earn even more

Engineering apprentices are most likely to receive bonuses

A level 3 engineering and manufacturing apprentice can net you a tidy £111,900 in lifetime earnings compared to someone who hasn't undertaken such an apprenticeship.


Should the Sutton Trust report findings be sending an SOS?

We don’t want to see young people deterred from undertaking engineering degrees. While we have seen a positive shift in trends towards more young people studying engineering alongside fee rises, there could still be something in incentivising young people to study engineering, and we’re looking into this right now.

A radical approach of scrapping fees altogether would have fundamental impacts on university departments who already struggle to offset the cost of expensive engineering courses even with tuition fee income and premiums for teaching the subjects.

And I say Thank You for Apprenticeships…..

But we also need to remember that having more young people think about apprenticeships as a career path should really be seen as a positive. Technical education is getting a revamp. We are seeing more University Technical Colleges, which are strongly supported by industry, a big to provide a vocational pathway at key stage 5 in the form of T-levels and of course…apprenticeships.

Over two-thirds of EEF members are currently offering apprenticeships. With high pay, great progression and career prospects, and actually an opportunity to acquire a degree level qualification during the apprenticeships – who wouldn’t want to consider.

Something to think about for all those receiving their A levels next week then eh?


Keep an eye out on the blog next week when we comment on those all-important A level results. And if you are receiving your results why not check out our apprentices page. We'll be hosting an SOS surgery on the day at our Apprentice Training Centre for anyone who may have questions on the next stage of their career.




Head of Education & Skills Policy

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