Why do engineering graduates choose non-engineering careers? (Hint: It’s not because of the financial sector!)

Written by: Georgina Bloomfield
Published on: 28 Apr 2016

The engineering industry isn’t as simple as being just one area of employment. There are so many sectors that it’s hugely difficult for many graduates to discover their specialist area if they haven’t already. There are chemical, electrical, mechanical, environmental, and nuclear engineering sectors to name a few.


The top subjects obtained at school, college and/or university include maths, science, IT and of course engineering. Basically your STEM subjects are much sought after by the engineering industry. However, these subjects are highly desired by other professions too. The finance sector for example is a huge employer for those who have STEM qualifications under their belt. And with so few graduates having these qualifications, if they can afford to compete, they will. The banking sector in particular has some very desirable salaries; but is it always just down to the money that attracts graduates from their paths towards engineering?

A lot of graduates studying other subject areas often choose to go into something completely different due to the intensity of some courses actually putting them off of a career in that particular subject. Many engineering courses involve work placement of some kind, and a lot of students will find that a long term career in engineering is simply not for them upon completing their course.

The good news is that engineering graduates are incredibly employable. In fact, according to Engineering UK, a non-profit organisation working with the engineering community, 65% of engineering and technology graduates were in employment within six months of graduating from their course. They usually have the perfect qualifications such as maths, science, IT and of course engineering subjects under their belts. The bad news for the engineering industry at this point is that these subjects are desired from many other professions who want to nab the graduates for themselves. After all, according to a survey mentioned from Engineering UK, in 2014, nearly half of employers surveyed reported that they prefer STEM graduates over those with other degrees.

Unfortunately, engineering and technology graduates were less likely than their male counterparts to work in an engineering occupation, with just over half reporting doing so, compared with over two thirds of male graduates. Why this is could be debated to the ends of the earth. Perhaps they decide to do something else with their qualifications rather than engineering due to the male-dominated industry putting them off? This does however contradict why they would study the subject in the first place.

A lot of people would argue that rich professions such as the finance sector are guilty of stealing graduates with their big bonus packages and attractive salaries in the City of London. After all, engineering graduates are widely numerical and analytical. However, according to Engineering UK, only two per cent of engineering and technology graduates were working in the financial and insurance sector. One fifth of engineering and technology graduates who were working in the financial and insurance sector were employed in an engineering-related role. This shows that the finance sector isn’t the main culprit in stealing the UK’s engineers as once previously thought.

One in nine employed graduates reported working in an engineering profession soon after graduation. This statistic is drastically low, and again hints at fears that it’s down to physical skills rather than the degree that a graduate has obtained. Is it down to the lack of training that companies can’t afford to give to new recruits? As is common among all graduates (no matter what their chosen field) you need experience to obtain experience. It’s a vicious circle which needs to be resolved before we run out of resources altogether.

Marcus Body, a consultant in the Brand and Insight team at employer marketing company ThirtyThree (and engineering graduate) challenged the employment of graduated engineers with less than a 2:1 degree qualification. He said: “What happens to all the engineers with 2:2 or 3rd degrees? Why do we basically treat them as if they have no qualifications at all? A few employers excepted - this is awfully silly if in fact they got a few per cent less than the people we’d fight over employing.”

He raises a point here which goes back to the age-old problem of getting below a 2:1 degree qualification. Loads of graduate schemes only offer placements to those who achieve the minimum of a 2:1 – but why, if especially there is only a fraction of marks between the two grades? A line has to be drawn somewhere, but surely most employers would still look at any relevant experience a 2:2 graduate had over a 2:1 graduate?

Having said that, Marcus continued on to say that the vacancies do get filled up – there just isn’t that many of them, contrary to popular belief: “Reality is every year, virtually every grad role is filled – it’s just that despite all this talk of skills shortages, the engineering schemes aren’t big enough to recruit all the graduates. So they go and do other things because there literally aren’t enough jobs for all of them to get in engineering. What engineering jobs are the rest supposed to apply to?” – This is backed up by Engineering UK’s annual report which states that the top non-engineering occupation for those with a degree in engineering and technology was sales and retail assistants, ‘which suggests that such graduates were severely under-employed.’

What do you think? Are you an engineering graduate who’s been forced to get a job that’s not engineering related because there’s just nothing out there? Have you been affected because you graduated with a 2:2 instead of a 2:1 or above? Write to us at etj.editor@theiet.org.