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Engineering remains one of the true professions in this country. Alongside other career paths, such as medicine, law, teaching, and others, its professionals are respected as experts in their chosen fields. Traditionally, these careers have also had in common a clear entry route for young people: excellent focused A-level choices followed by university and then professional qualifications.

But as an employer, I know that there is no longer a single route that our employees follow. In the context of our increasingly competitive and global economy, it is no surprise that most employers are demanding more from their prospective entry-level applicants. Academic ability alone no longer sets candidates apart from the crowd. Increasing importance is being placed on work placements; evidence of practical implementation of knowledge; and an understanding of the engineering market.

At Pearson, we work with schools and colleges in our provision of the very A levels students will often be studying towards for their place at university. However, we also work with these institutions to offer more vocational courses. Twenty-five years ago, we developed a BTEC in engineering for students who have a clear career focus at 16 to enable them to gain relevant practical skills alongside their academic learning.

Universities are increasingly vocal about the need for students and graduates with appropriate skills

Students studying for a BTEC in engineering have the opportunity to focus their learning in advance of their university course and engage with the core elements of engineering while also gaining the academic rigour required by universities and employers. BTEC students study a broad base of engineering areas with modules developed in partnership with industry, which range from aircraft propulsion systems to railway infrastructure construction and maintenance. This approach enables students to demonstrate their commitment to engineering as well as their aptitude for the field.

It is not only employers who are demanding more from their prospective workforce. University admissions tutors are also now increasingly vocal about the need for appropriately skilled students and graduates. While studying for A levels will always suit some students’ learning styles, we are seeing increasing numbers of students taking the BTEC in engineering, preferring the vocational option. Significantly, Russell Group universities welcome applications from vocational students for competitive courses.

Newcastle University is one Russell Group member that welcomes students applying with a range of qualifications, including BTEC. Newcastle University’s head of undergraduate admissions told us that these students demonstrate a high level of practical skills alongside theoretical knowledge, which, together with a strong base in maths, is particularly appropriate for competitive and career-focused courses such as engineering.

For many, engineering is a vocation. Perhaps then it is not surprising that the vocational route into the profession is so respected and valued by universities and employers. It may not be the traditional method, but in an ever-changing environment with new demands, every industry will need to be open to a wider range of entry routes.

We believe the BTEC in engineering will be increasingly recognised as equipping a new generation of engineers with the knowledge and practical skills needed to successfully compete with their peers. After all, it is these same young people who will ensure that UK engineering continues to compete internationally and remain one of our most respected professions.

Rod Bristow, President, Pearson UK
1980 BSc in psychology from University College London
1993 Managing director, Pitman Publishing
2000 President, Pearson Higher and Professional Education business in Europe, Middle East and Africa
2010 President, Pearson UK

Readers' comments (4)

  • You are dreaming if you think engineering is respected in the Uk - nothing could be further from the truth. It is seen as the path of academic losers that is why young UK people shun it. The word engineer could be replaced with "loser" because that is how it is perceived socially in the UK and is reflected in pay. How can people who fix fridges, Tv's and sewage pipes be taken seriously as a profession - it is a joke

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  • I must admit, my own experiences tend to back this view. I was employed as a technician engineer by the MoD for 25 years, but they were very quick to dispense with my services to save money!!

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  • The reason engineering is not respected in the UK is because every Tom, Dick and Harry can call themselves an engineer. Plumbers in this country far too often refer to themselves as an Engineer. No. Look at Germany, Engineer is a title there; when you have the high level of qualification, theoretical and practical engineering knowledge to become a member of a professional engineering institute such as the IMechE, THEN you are an engineer. The uk public need re-educating as to exactly who engineers are and what they do; they do NOT fix your heating.

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  • Couldn't agree more. Engineering in the UK is not at all understood by the general public and carries very little respect. The term engineer ought to be reserved as in other countries for those with an appropriate university level education, or equivalent.

    The Royal Academy of Engineers recognise this as a real issue in the UK in reports going back over 10 years, yet i see no progress.

    Those who fix boilers, install aerials and satellite dishes on roofs, service your car, wire your house etc, are technicians, not engineers.

    Without the due public understanding and poor pay, you will never get more students studying engineering. And those high achievers in engineering go and become traders in banks.

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