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Topic Title: Engineering at the Open University
Topic Summary: Helping to advise me on which route to take
Created On: 10 January 2013 02:02 PM
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 10 January 2013 02:02 PM
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mikeday1991

Posts: 4
Joined: 23 December 2012

Hello everyone!

First post here today, but been reading a good few topics - some really interesting things on this forum!

I am currently studying with the Open University, studying towards a chemistry degree. In recent months I have been seriously thinking about careers (mainly the salary) and job enjoyment. This has led me to engineering and has opened my eyes to what I am interested in and would like to do.
I am now presented with the opportunity of changes courses with the Open University, as I was quite early on in my studies.

My girlfriends step dad has been involved in projects such as Trawsfynydd and now Dounreay, which has really caught my interest and having a big impact on my wanting to get involved in Engineering

The problem I have now is getting onto the Open University course (one remaining IET accredited course) and then working out what to specialise in.
The course itself (B65 Bachelor of Engineering) is terminating in a few years, so I would have to get my head down and complete the course soon.
I have looked at all the modules the IET requires I study and I can then build on from there.
One of my questions are: which area of engineering pays the most? (I know this sounds very materialistic, but I am interested to know peoples real world opinions)
I have a passion for studying and being involved in projects relating to Energy and renewable power (I enjoyed jarathoon's topic on the ITER's JET project) and anything to do with the Nuclear industry. However I do also like the idea of being involved in large scale civil projects (bridges, roads and the like)

I would like some opinions on which people enjoy the most, which is going to be the most up and coming and peoples opinion of, if they were going at things from afresh, which area of engineering they would specialise in.

A little bit about me: My name is Michael, I've recently turned 21 and I am currently working for a nationwide up and coming legal firm (which I have no interest or prior knowledge in - its going towards the mortgage fund)
I have studied heavily in maths and science in secondary school and took Biology, Chemistry and Physics at College.
The initial plan was to "Get a chemistry degree and go from there" but now I am that bit older and wiser I wish I was one of those people who had a career in mind, rather than just a degree choice.

So someone - please help me!
 11 January 2013 02:03 PM
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CelticHeathen

Posts: 46
Joined: 10 December 2012

I'm just finishing the MEng (they no longer offer it as an enhanced first degree and so one must complete the BEng (Hons) first before proceeding to the MEng) through the OU and while I do not wish to sway you either way, I will give you my take on the whole experience:

When I interviewed face-to-face with potential employers and agencies alike, I was universally respected and praised for my ability to juggle a F/T job (Retail Management in the early years, before I landed a decent job as a Project Engineer) and study. The soft skills you learn (time management, organisational skills, etc.) will stand you in good stead if you wish to enter a more administrative/management role.

The flexibility in study schedule allows you to spread the degree out over many years, according to your needs (it is actually B24 that is being phased out, as opposed to B65, which is superceding B24).

On the other hand, Tutor support diverges MASSIVELY (you are assigned regionally), with far too many students suffering from poor Tutoring, resulting in many under-achieving as a result.

The price of the courses is also very expensive, in terms of teaching time to cost ratio. This will worsen as fees have been massively increased for those starting after Sept. 2012.

Referring back to my first point, while people universally respected and praised me for my resilience and organisation, this did NOT translate into employment opportunities and I continually lost out on this score.

As for my employer, I work as a Project Engineer, which is a decent job but more suited to a Business Studies Graduate than someone with a degree in hard Science/Technology like myself, AND it is paid well below the national average for a Graduate. Significantly, my continuing MEng study is not influencing my future opportunities either way, meaning I could finish it OR drop out and it won't make any difference.

Overall, going with the OU was not a great decision by me. Tread VERY carefully.
 12 January 2013 09:06 AM
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mikeday1991

Posts: 4
Joined: 23 December 2012

Hi there,
Thanks for the reply!
Do you mind if I ask you what qualifications you had prior to studying with the Open University?

I have heard about the tutor support for some people on some of the modules, so fingers crossed if I do choose to study then I would be lucky!

When you say that it did not translate into employment opportunities, on what point were you denied it? The fact you didn't have much hands on industry experience? Or is the Open University seen as giving a "lesser" degree?

Was your MEng a requirement of your employer?! Seems a bit expensive if it isn't going to benefit you!

I need to start making some in depth inquiries so it seems!

Did you do the IET accredited modules by the way? Just wondering if it sways things much?

How do you think an open university degree would stand in terms of Design Engineering?

Thanks!
Mike
 12 January 2013 09:55 AM
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amillar

Posts: 1918
Joined: 28 May 2002

Interesting that project engineering and design engineering have been mentioned.

Based purely on what you have posted here it reads as if project engineering is perhaps more where you should be aiming for, particularly if earnings are of major interest: whilst graduate PE jobs may not be hugely well paid, by the time you're 30 you can be earning far more than design engineers (provided you're prepared to put the hours in and to travel extensively).

It will probably be harder to get a design job with an OU degree. You need to expect to be able to show a portfolio of design experience (imagine what a photography graduate would have to show to get their first job), and this tends to come from team projects and from work placements. So if you want to go down this route you would probably initially need to take a job as a design technician and work your way up. The point is that most employers don't care where or how you did your degree, what they want to know is whether you have a genuine interest in the subject, know the absolute basics, and can start doing some work straight away.

It all depends what you want from your career: If your driver is a strong interest in technology and creativity then go for a design job. If it is status and pay then go for project engineering into project management. You can achieve in either route with any qualification - you don't actually need a degree at all if you're keen enough, very hardworking, and have a modicum of social skills. But it is much harder to get through recruiters without one.

And if you really want to earn money stick to the law firm. Or finance. Or business management. Millar's fourth law: r = s x t, where r = renumeration, s = stress, t = tedium

-------------------------
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

http://www.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 12 January 2013 12:44 PM
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mikeday1991

Posts: 4
Joined: 23 December 2012

To be perfectly honest, I'm still researching all the definitions and career paths for the different classes of engineering!

I am interested in both project engineering and design engineering, so I will need to inquire with the Open University about the modules to suit. In term of IET accreditation, at interview, will it have any bearing?

I really am up for the challenge, so i think it is just a case of taking in as much information as possible, and weighing up pro's and cons!
I really do appreciate the amount of information given to me in this short number of post, so thank you!

I really don't have the ability to stick with the law firm, solicitors and legal graduates are a different type of people all together. Engineering is where the inspiration is!
 14 January 2013 01:04 PM
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CelticHeathen

Posts: 46
Joined: 10 December 2012

Mike,

No need to thank me, I am glad to help. I just hope that you (or anyone else reading this) does not misconstrue my contribution as a condemnation of the OU or anyone in particular. I feel, however, that it is imperative that you hear the argument from all sides, in order to make an informed decision.

With regards my experiences, I do not wish to elaborate fully on personal circumstances, therefore I am keeping it brief and giving a synopsis only...

In a nutshell, I was one of many young working-class Brits who was the first in my family to go to University (my family is largely made up of ex-servicemen and skilled tradesmen). While I went in with both eyes open, I was, like yourself, young and enthusiastic and with a passion for Science and Technology. I did my HNC in Engineering and, faced with the choice of an apprenticeship or University, I felt priviledged to be presented with such an unprecedented opportunity and opted for the latter. I later graduated with a BSc in Applied Physics from a very reputable "red-brick" University in Scotland.

However, having no precedent was in many ways my undoing, for I had no clue what I was getting myself into. The old adage "it's not WHAT you know, but WHO you know" springs to mind. I had no family contacts and no prior knowledge of networking, or how University would prepare students (or UNDER-prepare, rather) for an increasingly hostile jobs market. Considered "over-qualifed" or "under-experienced" was the norm and, being turned down for apprenticeships now due to being 24 and "too old", as well as excluded from vocations due to the requirements that "you must NOT be qualified to degree level", I hit a brick wall at every turn.

So... long story short, I went for a Masters (MEng in Engineering through the OU), which I've been doing P/T while working hard as a Graduate Project Engineer, the title of which is deceptively misleading. I say deceptive, as the use of the word "Engineer" is dubious, for it is a job more suited to a Graduate of Business Studies or something of that ilk, as opposed to someone with a background in "hard Science" like myself and which you want to go into.

Andy Millar's post is very much, if you'll excuse the pun, "on the money", insofar as he confirms (whether intentionally or inadvertently, only he will know) the fact that those with genuine Scientific/Technological aptitude are VERY undervalued in the UK. Yet when one looks at the chronic skills shortages our workforce has, something has to give. I hope that this will be addressed in time for the likes of yourself to benefit and hopefully go on to enjoy a career in something you enjoy, but in my own heart of hearts, I think it's too late for my generation, as I drown in massive 5-figure debts (I pay £3000 a year and am most likely going to be in debt until I'm 55, so god help those starting out now, with fees of £9000 a year!) and have a huge uncertainty over future career prospects.

Just think carefully. By all means, follow your dreams, but have both eyes wide open and understand what you're getting into.
 15 January 2013 02:52 PM
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amillar

Posts: 1918
Joined: 28 May 2002

Originally posted by: CelticHeathen
Andy Millar's post is very much, if you'll excuse the pun, "on the money", insofar as he confirms (whether intentionally or inadvertently, only he will know) the fact that those with genuine Scientific/Technological aptitude are VERY undervalued in the UK. Yet when one looks at the chronic skills shortages our workforce has, something has to give.

I wouldn't use the word undervalued. The problem is that you have to be hard nosed about who you are competing with. Any company that pays its design engineers more will find that it loses business to overseas companies that can do the same work for less. Quite why this rule hasn't applied so much yet in the finance sector I'm not sure, but even there it's starting.

So the only jobs - of any type - that can pay above average (in the UK) are those where a) the work cannot be carried out offshore and b) there is sufficient money in that industry to pay well. So, for example, some aspects of law pass both these, healthcare often fails on part b, and engineering often fails on part a (and b!). A few years ago builders definitely met a and b, which is why most of the big houses around me are owned by builders; who are considerably less qualifed than I am. But there you go: being a builder would bore me stiff and I don't think I'd be very good at it, so good luck to them.

And coming back to the "undervalued" question, imagine a tiny startup with just a design engineer, a salesman, a financial officer, a market strategist, and a logistics / manufacturing specialist. Which one should be most valued? Answer: none of them. If you took any of them away the venture would fail (and often does).

But there's no point getting upset about it: engineering salaries are certainly not bad, in fact they're pretty average for professional work. Just don't go into it if a huge salary is what you're after - unless you want to start your own business.

On the other point, whether there actually is a skills shortage or not in graduate engineers at the moment is very hard to tell. It is certainly hard for new graduates to find work - the problem again is that a graduate engineer without any experience is (sorry!) not much use to an engineering company. The company needs to take a risk on them and spend a couple of years training them up - and sadly in the UK there aren't many companies that are in a position to do this. Closing any potential future skills shortage gap will probably require some sort of investment in training programs to retain graduate engineers in engineering. The political question is whether we want to do this, or whether we just let our engineering move overseas. Perhaps a question for a seperate thread.

-------------------------
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

http://www.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 10 December 2013 10:31 AM
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Fame

Posts: 2
Joined: 25 October 2011

Enjoyed this thread, some good comments, I came across it when Googling about Open Uni Engineering courses and many of my own questions have been addressed in here.
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