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Topic Title: Informed opinion sought
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Created On: 27 January 2012 02:51 PM
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 27 January 2012 02:51 PM
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Please could an informed member of the IET give me a view regarding the probability in reality, with all other factors remaining equal, of a person aged in their mid-50s or so (by then being an accredited BEng being recruited as a trainee -engineer, compared with a typical 22-year-old university graduate?
You can email me at <>

I am actively considering a radical change of career direction. I have been offered a place on a BEng Electrical and Electronic Engineering (Communications) Degree Programme, and would like to think I could afterwards, at the age I would be at the end of 2017, still have a real working future in engineering.

I currently have no engineering work-experience, but if personal and other circumstances allow I would obviously like to gain some work-experience (e.g. in vacations or via (self-) employment) in the interim.

Investigating and comparing types of jobs it is apparent, compared with commonly self-employed roles such as 'Furniture Designer/Maker', that employment structures in Engineering make it more likely that I could forsee applying to a company for employment with them, at least initially.

One of my concerns is that any covert ageism could be a determining issue for me getting into engineering, compared with other fields of work.

Despite its attractiveness to me personally, and ideas of skills shortages, I have also been warned that engineering has always been a particularly volatile job environment, with frequent downturns, and heard that electrical/electronic engineering employment has been expected to decline within the UK over the next few years.

I'm sure you appreciate that having an informed-answer will help me decide whether or not to invest a lot of time, effort, money etc in gaining relevant entry-qualification(s).

(Please feel free to copy this query to a colleague if they are in a position to give a reasonably quick reply.)

With thanks, in anticipation.


Vic (Stevens)
 28 January 2012 11:22 AM
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Your problem is a) that takes several years of experience after graduation to become an engineer (as in all professions) and b) (as you've mentioned) most engineers work for large companies. Now, is a company going to invest in you if by the time you are ready to add value you are also looking to retire? It's not ageism - covert or otherwise - I work with many engineers who are somewhat older than you are now (in fact only last year I recruited an engineer, albeit an highly experienced one, in his mid-50s). It's more to do with returns on investment: if a company's going to spend 3-5 years training someone up they want to see a return.

(Incidentally, slightly off subject, this is why it's so hard for all recent engineering graduates to get jobs: most companies struggle with the concept of spending years training someone only to watch them immediately leave and work elsewhere. In my company we've found a solution to this, but it does involve being located in a really nice part of the country with no other jobs nearby!)

Okay, so that was the bad news, now try looking at this from a different angle, why engineering? If it's just because there's a skill shortage then that's probably the wrong reason. The skills shortage relates to the fact that there isn't a new generation of engineers coming through with modern experience; there are already hordes of us over 50s with aging engineering experience that no-one knows what to do with! BUT if it's because you're fascinated by engineering and can see a niche in which you could fit more-or-less self employed then go for it. You will (I'm guessing) have the experience of managing yourself, possibly of knowing how to make a business work, very probably of how to deal with customers and suppliers, and all at a much deeper level than a 22 year old graduate. However to make a start don't expect much (i.e. any) support from large companies, for the reasons above. It's far more likely to be the one-man-in-a-shed type operations that will give you a chance to get started, there are a surprisingly large number of these around nowadays who would be grateful for an extra (cheap and reliable!) pair of hands. Computer repairers, small design consultancies, musical instrument repairers, domestic appliance services, those sort of people are all worth approaching for a chat.

Regarding the volatility of engineering, what job isn't volatile? Civili service, teaching, banking, building, all these jobs have been considered safe at one time or another. My experience over an embarrassingly large number of years is that engineering is no worse and no better than anything else.

All personal opinions of course! You need to get a range of views on this, have a look on this site at your local IET branch and go along to some of their events (they should be open to non-members), hopefully the "coffee break chats" should help.

Good luck!

Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 28 January 2012 01:35 PM
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I would suggest that your chances are 'lower' but not impossible and that they would be lower still with a choice of electronics. I would suggest that you chose a more multi disciplinary type of engineering degree and which includes aspects like quality, mechanical, electrical, electronic, design, materials, IT, etc., and undertake a final project in the discipline in which you feel best able to work. Your life experience will include much experience which goes with a multi skilled engineer.

Try also to study with a university who have agreements with local businesses and who provide some engineering work experience to students during their all helps and maybe one of those companies would see something they like and keep you on.

 18 February 2012 05:05 AM
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My question would be "why do you want to study anyway?"
Unless you already have experience of engineering in some form, I think that you would find it nearly impossible to get employment at a suitable level to make the degree worthwhile. This probably sounds rather harsh, but it is simply that young entrants are much flexible for an employer, are more likely to be on top of the latest technology and software, and are able / willing to work for less money. If you are already a very competent programmer in C++ or other OO language, or highly skilled in hardware design and VHDL or similar, then finding a job is fairly easy and no one will care if you have a degree or not. If you do not have even the beginnings of these kind of skills then the learning curve will be so steep that you will struggle to do the degree. If you can turn out reasonable electronic devices already, why not work on something at home that has a niche market opportunity. It does not have to be complex, for example I know someone who makes custom led advertising signs with some success.

If you fancy the electrical industry then electricians currently are able to earn reasonable money if they are competent and it is not rocket science to learn in a fairly short period of time (Some qualification can be obtained in 5 days, although experience is also very necessary) and it would cost you a lot less than a degree course.

If the degree is a lifestyle choice then engineering is not the subject to choose, it is probably among the most rigorous and academic courses available.

Good luck


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