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How to get into automotive engineering

Automotive engineers are responsible for the design, development and manufacturing of vehicles; from motorbikes and cars, to buses and trucks. They often focus on one of three areas: design, production, or research and development, so there are plenty of career paths you can choose as an automotive engineer. 

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the UK automotive industry employs more than 800,000 people and turns over more than £77 billion per year. With the scale of the industry and exciting developments in electric vehicles taking place, a career as an automotive engineer is an enticing prospect for many.

What educational background do you need to become an automotive engineer?

Usually, to become an automotive engineer, you need to have a degree in automotive engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, or production and manufacturing engineering. It’s useful if the degree is accredited by a professional body, such as the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) because this will help you to become an incorporated or chartered engineer further down the line. 

If, on the other hand, you have a foundation degree or HND (Higher National Diploma), then you can usually work your way up the career ladder. You’ll most likely start off as a technician and then be able to gain further qualifications to progress. Some employers will even offer financial support towards your studies.

What is the most common career path for an automotive engineer?

There are several career paths that automotive engineers can take. For example, you may choose to take on a supervisory role or another senior position within project team management, general management, or consultancy. You could also choose to move into a related area, such as environmental design, or, if you have a Masters or PhD, you could lecture at universities and colleges. 

Once you have a few years’ experience, you can also take on contract work, which provides variety, potential financial benefits, and opportunities to work abroad. But, it’s important to bear in mind that contract work doesn’t offer the stability associated with permanent positions.

Can you transfer from another industry?

It can be quite challenging to transfer from another industry, though we do occasionally see people coming over from aerospace. However, for people considering a transfer, it’s vital to remember that they’ll need to be able to adapt to the pace of work involved in the automotive industry as new cars are constantly being launched.

What skills and traits do employers expect automotive engineers to have?

Employers will be looking for someone who is efficient and has good time-keeping skills because meeting deadlines in this line of work is extremely important. You’ll also impress at interview stage if you can demonstrate ways in which you’ve managed to work to budgets as this is something you’ll be expected to do when working within the automotive industry. 

What other advice would you give to people looking to embark on a successful automotive engineering career?

If you’re thinking about getting into the automotive industry, and are still at university or college, now is a perfect time to gain experience through a work placement, internship, or a year in the industry (which is sometimes integrated into certain degree courses). This will help you to secure work with a reputable company once you’ve graduated. 

What job opportunities are available in automotive engineering?

With increasing numbers of manufacturers moving towards the production of electric vehicles and away from their petrol and diesel counterparts, there has never been a more exciting time to join the industry. There are interesting opportunities for CAE, advanced concept, calibration and electrical engineers to research, design and build the next generation of cars.

View our current automotive jobs here and kick-start your career as an automotive engineer.


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