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What do technology, engineering and maths graduates do?

December 2020

The highest rates of full-time employment in this field were among new graduates of engineering disciplines, according to the latest What do graduates do? - perhaps unsurprising given the much-talked about skills shortages faced by the UK

Subjects

  • Architecture and building
  • Civil engineering
  • Electrical and electronic engineering
  • IT
  • Maths
  • Mechanical engineering

Technology, engineering, and maths graduates are highly sought after by employers and this is reflected in the high number of graduates that were in full-time work 15 months after graduation.

Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills are crucial for the UK's productivity, and the introduction of a number of STEM Inspiration programmes funded by government, such as the CREST awards and STEM Awards, is testament to how highly regarded these skills are. But even with such incentives, the UK still needs to do more.

In 2017, the annual shortfall of the right engineering skills was anywhere between 25,500 (level 3) and up to 60,000 (over level 4 skills).1 Nearly two thirds (61%) of engineering employers say the recruitment of engineering and technical staff with the right skills is a barrier to business.2 The high employment rate and salaries experienced by these graduates is likely to be a result of both the needs of the labour market and the fact that employers value the technical skills possessed by these graduates, as well as their critical thinking, analysis and problem-solving abilities.

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Destinations

The subjects studied by these graduates are relatively varied and include IT, mathematics, architecture and building, civil engineering, electrical and electronic engineering and mechanical engineering. Graduates of all these disciplines are more likely to be in full-time employment than the all-graduate average (59.8%).

Perhaps unsurprisingly due to the critical skills shortages present in the UK construction sector, we saw the highest rate of full-time employment for civil engineering graduates, at 73.2%, followed by mechanical engineering (71.9%), electrical and electronic engineering (71.4%), architecture and building (71.4%) and IT graduates (68.6%).3

Maths graduates were less likely to be in full- time employment (60.1%) than other graduates in this group, though this is still higher than the figure for all graduates. Conversely, they were the most likely of this group to be in further study, with just under a quarter (22.4%) either in further study or working and studying.

This is a greater number than the average across all graduates (17.9%). A greater proportion of maths graduates were studying for a postgraduate diploma or certificate (including PGCE/PGDE) (14.9% of those in further study) or studying for a professional qualification (23.7% of those in further study) than any other technology or engineering graduates. This makes sense when we consider that the three most common occupations for maths graduates were business, HR and finance professionals (38.6% of employed graduates), information technology professionals (20.3%) and education professionals (12.6%) - since many business, HR and finance professionals will be required to undertake work-based learning, such as accountancy qualifications with the ACCA or CIMA, or HR/management qualifications with the CIPD or CMI. Similarly, education professionals often require PGCEs, which may be studied full-time at university or via on-the-job training.

While graduates from maths degrees enter a range of job roles, IT graduates predominantly work as information technology professionals (71.3%). Less than 5% of IT graduates work in the next most common occupations - 'other' (4.9%), as arts, design and media professionals (4.4%) or as retail, catering, waiting and bar staff (4%). The picture is similar for civil engineering graduates, who were mostly working as engineering and building professionals (78.3%), and mechanical engineering graduates, over half of whom were working as engineering and building professionals (57%).

In contrast, electrical and electronic engineering graduates typically work as either engineering and building professionals (41%), or as IT professionals (23%). This demonstrates the transferrable nature of electrical and electronic engineering skills to both IT and engineering roles.

Architecture and building graduates also commonly work as engineering and building professionals (42.2%), though a significant percentage were working as other professionals, associate professionals and technicians (29.3%). This may represent graduates working as architectural technologists or in other roles to gain experience for a RIBA qualification.4 This conclusion is supported by the fact that 8.3% of architecture and building graduates are in work and further study. Of those in further study, most were pursuing a Masters (54.5%) but significant numbers were studying for a postgraduate diploma or certificate (including PGCE/PGDE) (18.7%) or a professional qualification (16%).

Sectors

Unsurprisingly, given the nature of their degree and the job roles they enter, most architecture and building graduates (71.4%) and civil engineering graduates (78.7%) work in the engineering, construction and R&D industry. The sectors in which other engineering graduates are employed is somewhat less homogenous, with mechanical engineering graduates commonly working in the manufacturing (46%) or engineering, construction and R&D sector (24.7%) and most electrical and electronic engineering graduates working in either the manufacturing (35.4%), engineering, construction and R&D (19.3%) or the IT and telecoms (14.7%) industries.

IT and maths graduates work in an even greater variety of sectors. Over half of all IT graduates were employed in either the IT and telecoms industry (41.5%) or other business or finance (11.5%), with the other 50% working in sectors such as retail (8.8%) and manufacturing (7.7%). Just under a quarter of maths graduates in work were employed in the business or finance sector (24.3%), but the education industry (15.2%), IT and telecoms industry (14.5%) and legal and accountancy industry (10.7%) were also popular with these graduates.

Salary

Graduate salaries for technology, engineering, and maths graduates varied slightly, depending on significant further study undertaken. Graduates who undertook significant further study had an average salary range of £20,232 to £28,907, depending on subject studied. Those without significant further study had a salary range of 22,019 to £28,642.

Interestingly, maths graduates with significant further study (£26,470) earned less than their peers without further study (£27,302). Of technology, engineering and maths graduates, electrical and electronic engineering graduates with further study earned the most on average (£28,907), followed by electrical and electronic engineering graduates without significant further study (£28,642). It is important to note that both IT and architecture and building are umbrella groups with a number of subjects within them. For example, 'IT graduates with no further study' who have studied computer science courses earned £28,268, while those who have studied games- related degrees earned £22,019. Similarly, building graduates with significant extra study earned £27,406, whilst those that studied architecture earned £22,099.

Gender

A STEM Returners report on The Hidden Workforce sampled 350 returning engineers - engineers who had taken a career break, for instance in the case of maternity leave or due to caring responsibilities - and found that 63% of engineers returning to the sector believe the biggest barrier to restarting a career is bias in the recruitment process that puts them at a disadvantage for taking a career break.5 This is likely to affect female engineers more than male engineers. However, the Graduate Outcomes data shows that there is an unequal gender balance far earlier than the workplace.

Technology, engineering, and maths graduates made up 11.8% of overall UK first- degree responses across all subjects. Of those that graduated with a technology, engineering, or maths degree, only 21% were female. At 39%, maths had the greatest proportion of female respondents, followed by architecture and building (32%). Conversely, female respondents made up only 9% of electrical and electronic engineering, 10% of mechanical engineering and 15% of IT graduates. Research from the Engineering UK 2018 report reveals that the number of girls considering a career in engineering decreases as they move through secondary school, from 46.4% of girls 11-14 who would consider a career in engineering to 25.4% of girls aged 16-18.6

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a greater focus on technology in the workplace – whether in offices or homes - than perhaps ever before. Combined with developments in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, big data and e-commerce, it is likely that the UK will need even greater numbers of technology, engineering and maths graduates than current levels. Yet research from the Institute of Engineering Technology (IET) suggests that we need to double, at least, the number of UK based university engineering students in order to meet the engineering industry's current skills needs.7

Increasing the number of women studying engineering at university could be one way to achieve this aim. Evidence shows that young people attending a STEM careers activity in the previous 12 months were over three times more likely to consider a career in engineering than those who had not.8

The same research found that salary ranks as an important factor in young people's career choices, over and above 'enjoyment', 'job security' and 'something that challenges me'. Perhaps Graduate Outcomes salary data discussed in this publication combined with STEM outreach activities could be effective in maintaining girls' interest in a career in engineering or technology before the critical point where they pick their A-level subjects.

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Also in this series

Notes

  1. Women in the UK STEM workforce, WISE Campaign, 2017.
  2. Skills and Demand in Industry, IET, 2017. 
  3. Skills shortage and Brexit, Institution of Civil Engineers, April 2017.
  4. Pathways to qualify as an architect, RIBA.
  5. STEM: The Hidden Workforce, STEM Returners, 2020.
  6. Engineering UK Report, Engineering UK.
  7. Skills and Demand in Industry, IET, 2017. 
  8. Engineering Brand Monitor, Engineering UK.

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