When most people think of careers in engineering, images of building superstructures or developing new cityscapes are the first to come to mind. However, the countryside offers a multitude of opportunities in engineering from developing new farm machinery to helping irrigation and land conservation projects. If you prefer the great outdoors to the claustrophobia of the city, a career in agricultural engineering could be for you.
There are a number of different ways to get into agricultural engineering; from working as an apprentice to gaining corporate membership of the Institute of Agricultural Engineers. If you wish to work as a technician for an agricultural engineering firm you can apply for an apprenticeship with them directly. While completing your apprenticeship you can work towards formal qualifications such as a National Diploma in Agricultural Engineering and may then be offered an opportunity to study at a higher level.
To become a professional engineer you may want to take the direct route by studying at college or university. To gain access to a university course in agricultural engineering you will need to have at least two A-levels, or equivalent, in subjects such as maths, science, engineering or design as well as five GCSEs graded A*-C. Alternatively you could study a more practical course such as a Higher National Certificate (HNC) for which you will need one A-level, or equivalent, and GCSEs in maths, English and science graded A*-C.
An agricultural engineer applies scientific and technical theories to the problems arising in nature. You must have an enquiring mind and be able to solve problems, sometimes by thinking out of the box and, of course, have a passion for the countryside and nature. Sometimes you will have to work in very remote areas by yourself or in a small group so having a tendency towards cabin fever is not an advantage. Being able to understand business will help you budget projects and having great inter-personal skills will help you find ways of working with the people who live in the area in which you are working.
As with many areas of engineering there is a great shortage of people with the relevant experience and training. People who have both practical experience and educational training are much sought after and can find themselves progressing in their career very quickly. Whichever route you take into agricultural engineering you should be able to find lots of opportunities to gain hands-on practical experience in the many different areas which it covers.
Some employers will offer schemes to newly qualified agricultural engineers where they will be able to gain internationally recognised qualifications which will help your career progress massively. Once you have studied a degree or HNC and have started work, you will complete a period of two to three years gaining practical experience in your desired field. After this point you can register with the Engineering Council UK as a technician, incorporated engineer or chartered engineer depending on your education and on passing an exam.
You can also gain recognition through membership of the Institute of Agricultural Engineers (IagrE) through a scheme aimed at graduates who work for smaller firms. There are also many other more specialised qualifications relating to environmental work such as becoming a Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv).
A newly qualified agricultural engineer can expect to receive a starting salary of £18,000 which will rise as your experience grows. If you gain membership to the Engineering Council UK or the IagrE as an incorporated member your salary could raise to as much as £40,000 whereas chartered members can earn £50,000+.