Technical or specialised skills required for an engineering career include the study of maths and science.
As with most careers these days, students need to start planning now to ensure they take the right kind of subjects which will enable them to take up engineering later at university. Following is an outline of why maths and science subjects are important.
Students will need to take lots of maths subjects at school if they are interested in pursuing engineering at a tertiary level such as algebra, geometry and trigonometry – they may sound or be difficult but they will open the doors to many exciting opportunities for students who take these subjects.
Algebra -vital for developing problem-solving skills. Algebra uses basic arithmetic rules to describe and group things to discover the value of an ‘unknown’ element (usually represented by a letter in an equation). Algebra also forms the basis for many other math subjects.
Geometry – the study of the properties of and relationships between points, lines, angles, and surfaces. Geometry uses logic and mathematical laws to describe the physical world and provides students with several critical problem-solving tools.
Trigonometry -the study of triangles and trigonometric functions like sine, cosine, and tangent. Trigonometry also has real world applications that deal with anything from radio waves and electricity to telescopes and ship navigation.
Calculus – combines all mathematical concepts and develops these to the next level to solve complex problems. Calculus uses designated symbols and logic and applies them to do difficult calculations, like determining the orbit of a rocket, finding out how many people can fit into a football stand or predicting the time it takes a wave to reach the shore.
Science, broadly speaking, refers to the body of knowledge about the world as it is understood through scientific method. Observations about the world lead to hypotheses or educated guesses about why things happen or operate in certain ways. In science, hypotheses are developed, tested and, based on the results of the test, proved correct or not. The following science subjects are important when considering an engineering career:
Physics – the study of matter and energy and how matter and energy interact.
Science is the study of why things move the way they do, or why stay where they are. For example, why does water behave the way it does? A basic understanding of physics is needed for every engineering field.
Chemistry – studies the composition, structure, and physical properties of substances and the reactions that produce or convert them into other substances. As with physics, a basic understanding of chemistry is necessary for every engineering field.
Biology – is the study of living organisms. Biology encompasses several specialised sciences including botany, zoology, microbiology, and genetics. An understanding of living systems is important to engineers, but is particularly relevant for those students working in environmental, agricultural, and medical engineering jobs.
Ecology – sometimes called environmental science, is the study of how living organisms and the physical environment interact with each other. All engineers need a basic understanding of how things in nature are connected.
There are several other sciences that students wanting to become an engineer should consider learning about:
- anatomy, the study the human body
- anthropology, the study of cultures
- astronomy, the study of stars and the cosmos
- economics, the study of markets and resource allocation
- psychology, the study of human senses; and sociology, the study of societies or people in groups.
See table Science v Engineering for more information.
Transferable skills, often referred to as personal skills, are as important as technical skills when it comes to working in an engineering team.
How do you become a better team player? Practice. Group projects, athletics, drama clubs, student government activities, youth groups, and community service activities all offer opportunities for you to work with other people. Start with something you enjoy or are really interested in, but don’t be afraid to try something new.
Being able to communicate your ideas to other people is a critical skill for any career path. Take advantage of every opportunity to develop your speaking and writing skills. Even things as simple as reading a story to your younger brother or sister or writing letters (or emails) to your grandparents can help make you a better communicator.
Technology is more than just computers: it’s tools, telephones, machines, and systems. It isn’t necessary to know exactly how they all work, but being comfortable with technology and having a basic understanding what it is and what it can do for you will make your life easier and will help you in your career.
Critical thinking isn’t just pointing out flaws and giving something a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”. Critical thinking involves asking questions, seeking out answers, comparing options, and making decisions. It is also about keeping things in perspective and learning from experience and practice
Below is more information about the many Arts subjects from history to sport that can help you in an engineering career.
Arts subjects to consider
In addition to studying maths and science subjects, the study of many arts subjects will help students to develop transferable that will help them to become, and be, good engineers. For example, engineers need to have well developed communication, teamwork and project management skills. Students will only develop these kinds of skills by trying new things and taking a broad range of subjects in school.
It is important that students start exploring different subjects before they get to secondary school and during their secondary school years.
Communication skills are critical to success in any career. Students need to continually develop and improve their reading, writing and speaking skills.
Subjects, which can help you, improve your communication skills include:
- English literature
- Media relations
Taking a language subject can also be an advantage. Learning about the language, culture and customs of another country is fun and can be a valuable job skill as the world is a global economy these days, and many engineers live and work overseas.
History and Geography
The globalised world is a small one. Because of skill shortages, there is now a portable workforce which means that many engineers are working in other countries or in ‘E’ teams with engineers from many different countries.
Courses that students may want to consider taking now and in the future include:
- Australian history
- ancient and world history
- politics and current events.
Creativity is an important part of engineering. Many engineers play musical instruments or speak multiple languages. The world students live in provides them with lots of opportunities to explore the arts in their community. Consider the following, visual arts such as sketching, sculpting, painting, photography, film-making and being involved in the performing arts in dance, drama, choir or singing in a choir or band all help students to learn about teamwork – an important skill for engineers.
Sport of any kind – from swimming, football to canoeing – provide opportunities for students to be active, stay healthy, and learn discipline and teamwork.