How much will I earn in engineering?
Start a career in engineering as a higher apprenticeship or graduate and you should have enough to live on – and a good salary a few years down the line.
Starting salaries for engineering higher apprenticeships
A typical starting salary for an engineering higher apprenticeship is £15,000. A handful of opportunities offer around £16,000 to £17,250. Obviously you’ll feel better off if you can find work close to home and live with your parents. If you need to leave home, rent will take up a significant proportion of your take-home pay to start with and you’ll probably have to line up an inexpensive houseshare.
However, many employers give higher apprentices an annual pay rise if they perform to the expected levels at work and in their studies. For example at Jaguar Land Rover you’ll get around a 10% increase each year if you meet these conditions.
Starting salaries for graduate engineers
Starting salaries for graduate engineers are much more varied than for higher apprenticeships. Typically graduates earn around £18,000 to £35,000 in their first engineering job. However, to get to this point they are likely to have had to borrow most or all of the money they needed to pay for their university tuition and living costs.
Just like higher apprentices, university students typically spend their late teens and early twenties either living with their parents or renting rooms in shared accommodation and counting the pennies.
Comparing salaries for engineering graduates and higher apprentices
It’s a bit pointless to compare salaries for engineering graduates and higher apprentices directly. If you start a higher apprenticeship at age 18, you’ll have three or four years of experience and pay rises under your belt by the time graduates of the same age as you start to join the company. Graduates will also have student loan repayments that are deducted directly from their salaries (if they earn over £21,000).
So at this stage would you be earning more or less than a graduate of the same age? It’s likely to depend on the individual employer and on the level of qualification it puts its higher apprentices through.
Looking again at Jaguar Land Rover, the starting salary for higher apprentices is £17,255 and the starting salary for graduates is £29,000. The graduate scheme is open to those with a bachelors degree (which typically lasts three years in England and Wales and four years in Scotland) or a masters degree (which typically lasts four years in England and Wales and five years in Scotland). However, the company’s six-year higher apprenticeship involves completing a bachelors degree in engineering part time while working. Rob Gill, future talent recruitment manager at Jaguar Land Rover, comments: ‘Higher apprentices should be on around £33,000 at the end of six years. This should be similar to what a graduate who is two years into the graduate scheme is on, so there is parity between the two.’
If your earning potential is a deciding factor for you in whether or not to go to university you may need to speak to employers individually about how the salaries of former higher apprentices compare with those of graduates. Talking to them in person at careers fairs and open days is a good way to do this.
Will my earnings later in my career be affected by whether I join as a higher apprentice or as a graduate?
It’s difficult to be definitive about how much you will earn later in your career, as there are many different factors that affect this. Your earnings are likely to be influenced by how hard you have pushed yourself in your career and how much you have done to chase pay rises – for example moving from company to company, taking on demanding responsibilities or studying for extra qualifications in your own time.
However, many engineers choose to become professionally registered (see our article on how to get into a career in engineering for more detail). There are different levels of professional registration, and on average the higher the level, the higher the salary.
The simplest route to the highest level, chartered engineer, is with a masters degree, which you won’t get on a higher apprenticeship. The simplest route to the next level, incorporated engineer, is with at least a bachelors degree, which you may or may not get on a higher apprenticeship. You can become registered at engineering technician level without a degree. However, you may decide to study for further qualifications at a later date, or become professionally registered at a lower level and then demonstrate how you’ve gained the skills and knowledge to move up a level on the job.
According to The Engineering Council’s Survey of Registered Engineers 2013 (published in 2014) the average (median) total earnings for engineers registered at different levels who responded to the survey were as follows:
- chartered engineers: £63,000
- incorporated engineers: £45,500
- engineering technicians: £40,000.
You can find more information on salaries for engineers with a degree on our graduate careers website TARGETjobs Engineering.