Career guide: engineering and technology
Strong career prospects in a very diverse field
Mechanical engineering student Michael Harrinton displays his Fast Scan System designed for EMC at the 29th Cork Mechanical, Manufacturing and Biomedical Engineering Exhibition in the Nexus Hall, Cork Institute of Technology
The first engineers invented the wheel. Today, they continue to bring scientific ideas to life, inventing and maintaining the varied products and tools we use in our everyday lives. This article would never be read without engineers to invent and maintain the printing presses that created the newspaper or the computer you’re reading it on. Technologies from mobile phones to digital televisions and 3D cinemas exist because of engineers. So do hearing implants and laser surgeries. But engineers have also sent humans (and dogs) into space. Indeed, any invention you can think of exists because engineers exist.
Engineering and technology courses are for people with inventive, technical minds, who not only like seeing how things work but also like making them work better. An aptitude for maths is essential.
Engineering is inextricably linked to science, but it is a highly diverse field. Most college courses are neatly divided into chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, but this doesn’t adequately describe what engineers do, with acoustic, software, biomedical, manufacturing and aerospace engineering among the many other fields.
Engineering courses can be demanding, with students putting in long classroom hours. But they are incredibly useful careers, with engineering and technology graduates in high demand across a range of sectors.
Demand for engineering and technology courses has surged by more than 50 per cent in the last five years. Continuing that trend, between 2014 and 2015, first-preference applications rose by just under 10 per cent. Last year, a record one in three students sat higher level maths. All this hints at a promising future for engineering and technology graduates.
Where to study
Not sure what type of engineer you want to be? General entry engineering courses, where students study a broad syllabus in first year before moving on to specialise, are available in UCD, DCU, DIT, CIT, NUI Galway, Maynooth University, and Trinity College. All these institutions offer courses in the main branches of engineering.
Some students are already pretty clear on what area they want, and there are courses in electronic engineering or biotechnology at Maynooth University, sustainable energy engineering at Waterford IT, biological and chemical sciences at UCC, and mechatronic engineering at DCU, for example.
Choosing what to specialise in can be a little bewildering. Green energy and sustainable and environmental engineering remain major growth areas. Cork IT offers an environmental science and sustainable technology course; NUI Galway has an energy systems engineering course; UCC offers a BSc in energy engineering; while Waterford IT also focuses on sustainable energy engineering.
Biotechnology is the deliberate manipulation of living organisms and systems such as cells or cell components to make useful products, and direct-entry courses are on offer at NUI Galway, Maynooth University, DCU and Athlone IT. Meanwhile, the biomedical industry, which engineers products for use in medicine, continues to thrive in Ireland; courses can be found in Maynooth University, UL, NUI Galway, and DCU.
Computer science and technology graduates are in high demand and this is unlikely to change. DCU is gaining a particularly strong reputation for its suite of technology courses, while UCD’s BSc in computer science is the highest-ranked computer science course of its kind in Europe, and remains more popular than that of closest rival Trinity College.
Ireland currently has a chronic shortage of electronic engineering graduates which is expected to continue long beyond 2018, according to State agency Forfás. The organisation’s expert group on future skills needs says demand for software developers and designers and IT experts will remain high. In the manufacturing sector, demand for process engineering skills at professional level, as well as demand for precision engineering skills for tool design and polymer technology, are likely to be in demand well beyond 2020.
Meanwhile, computer science graduates are needed not just in technology companies, but in every organisation, big and small, whose success will depend on continued innovation.
A salary survey by CPL Recruitment puts a chemical engineer on €35,000-€65,000 a year, an industrial engineer on €30,000-€45,000 a year, and a software engineer on €35,000-€70,000 a year.