Is it important for the next generation of Engineers to pick a speciality before commencing studying or should engineering degrees cover a broader base to enable future specialism, if required?

There are several routes to enter the exciting field of engineering, and multiple disciplines to pick from. So when you arrive fresh faced at the gates of your new data centre engineering-based company, how do you know you have selected the right speciality when studying at university? How can you be sure you have spent thousands of pounds on the right course for you?

Simply put – there is no way to know for certain, unless you have tried them all out.

So why do so many universities offer highly specific degrees in, for example building services, automotive, aerospace or environmental engineering instead of a broader based degree? Are we really expected to learn everything possible in those 4 years to know we are heading in the right direction?

Would a better solution be for engineering degrees to be generic for the first two years, like a foundation course, covering mechanical, civil, electrical, building services and automotive engineering? This would then give students a solid idea of everything that is out there, and therefore a good footing so they know the next few years will be spent doing something they enjoy and will prosper in. All of which will prevent them having to re-qualify in another field should they come to the realisation that this is not the field for them. Or, should the Schools and Universities step up and offer a module showing all branches of engineering that are on offer?

From the viewpoint of somebody who did not go to university to study engineering straight from school, I am firm in my belief that at 16/17 years of age, and selecting university education, students are vastly unaware of the numerous possibilities available to them in the engineering profession.

I think many potentially brilliant students are lost from the field as the subject matter they love the most is not shown as an engineering potential. Even upon entering into my engineering career as a work placement student at the age of 31, after having studied for 4 years full time, I was simply unprepared for the role that was I offered, at a company and in a team with a speciality that was so rare, other departments in the company did not even know they existed!

There are so many branches in engineering that it is easy to see why students don’t enter the field, especially when the entry point and initial course selection will play a huge role in how well they prosper later on in their careers.

We, as a workforce, should offer them more – a week of work experience, a trip to a site to see how things are made. Engineering companies should be advertising themselves and reaching out to the students, trying to bring in new ideas from the next generation. We are all Engineers after all – we should all be moving with the times and looking to the future. We are building a more sustainable world – should we not be working to build the next generation of Engineers at the same time?

Amy is one of the UK’s new generation of talented Electrical Engineers, with a strong focus on data centre design, power systems and utilities infrastructure. She is both a STEM ambassador and CIBSE committee member, and dedicates her spare time to advocating and encouraging young people, especially women, to take up engineering as a career.