Systems engineers design, develop and improve engineering systems. They work on the whole system, and may be involved in all aspects of design, development, integration, manufacturing and marketing. They need a broad knowledge of engineering and must be able to guide the development of the system through all its stages.
Video: - Jessica: Systems Engineer
Modern engineering systems are large and complex. They include telecommunications networks, defence systems, air traffic control systems and manufacturing production plants. They are all made up of tightly or loosely connected building blocks.
As a Systems Engineer, you are responsible for the smooth running of the whole system. You get involved with:
- research and design
Systems engineering isn't just about knowledge of different areas of engineering - it's about making systems work by taking into account all the factors involved. These include specifications and targets, the development of systems over time, the processes and methods involved, as well as economic, safety, quality and environmental considerations. You need to write reports which list resources needed, including people, machinery, technology and finance.
Systems Engineers may have an in-depth knowledge of one specialist area, although it's essential that you have a broad knowledge of many subjects, like electronics, mechanics, ergonomics and computer software.
A typical engineering system involves many different types of Engineers working together as a team; you must be able to understand and support the work of all the different team members.
You need a broad knowledge because you often manage projects; this may involve leading teams made up of Engineers from different backgrounds.
Systems Engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) systems to produce computer models of working systems.
You have to understand both the manufacturer's and operators' points of view. Systems Engineers may also work with sales and marketing departments.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Systems Engineer, you need:
- to enjoy solving problems by taking an overview and looking at all the different factors involved
- a broad knowledge of engineering
- the ability to understand technical drawings and diagrams
- computer skills
- to be methodical and creative
- a logical approach to your work
- good interpersonal and communication skills as you're likely to be working with a wide range of people
- good organisational skills, for example, to plan projects
- the ability to work on your own and in a team
- good written skills, for example, to produce reports
If you've got leadership skills, these will also be very useful. You may also need knowledge of safety regulations and legal requirements.
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £33,500 - £37,000
- With experience: £41,000 - £50,000
- Senior Systems Engineers earn £55,500 - £62,000
Hours of work
Most Systems Engineers work around 35-40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. However, early starts, late finishes and some weekend work may be required, especially as deadlines approach.
Where could I work?
Major employers are those in aeronautical, motor and defence engineering. However, Systems Engineers also work for firms in:
- marine and offshore industries
- government departments
Opportunities for Systems Engineers occur with employers in towns and cities throughout the UK.
Opportunities occur for Systems Engineers to work as independent consultants or in partnership with other specialists in professional practice.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised in local/national newspapers, trade industry publications, at Jobcentre Plus and on the Find a Job website.
Vacancies can also be found through specialist engineering recruitment agencies, internet job boards and the websites of professional engineering bodies.
GreenJobs is a job board aimed at people interested in green careers:
Entry Routes and Training
The usual way to become a Systems Engineer is through a relevant engineering degree, foundation degree or HND.
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
A Higher Level or Degree Apprenticeship is a great place to start. Take a look at our information article
There are also some specialist systems engineering courses. These are available at a small number of universities around the country.
It's essential to check college/university websites very carefully to make sure the course you choose is appropriate to the branch of engineering you want to follow.
Some graduates join graduate training schemes, which offer structured training and learning.
Depending on their level of entry, you can gain Chartered Engineer (CEng) or Incorporated Engineer (IEng) professional status. Both are highly regarded by employers throughout industry.
To register as a CEng or an IEng, you must join a relevant, professional engineering institution licensed by the Engineering Council.
To become a CEng or an IEng, you need to demonstrate the appropriate competence and commitment. The standards for this are set out in the Engineering Council's UK-SPEC document, which can be downloaded from their website.
UK-SPEC and the engineering institution you've joined can tell you which qualifications are accredited or approved towards CEng or IEng status. Your engineering institution will also advise you on, and process, your application.
Routes to CEng status include completing:
- an accredited honours degree in engineering or technology, plus either an appropriate masters degree or engineering doctorate (EngD) accredited by a professional engineering institution, or appropriate further learning to masters level
- or, an accredited integrated MEng degree
Routes to IEng status include completing:
- an accredited bachelors or honours degree in engineering or technology
- or, an HNC, HND or foundation degree in engineering or technology, plus appropriate further learning to degree level
- or, an NVQ level 4, which has been approved by a licensed engineering institution
However, you can still become a CEng or an IEng if you don't have these academic qualifications. Further information about the assessment process can be found in UK-SPEC.
Previous experience within an engineering postion (such as an electrical, chemical, telecommunications, aeronautical, mechanical) would be useful for this career.
Experience using computer aided design would also be really helpful.
Depending on the qualifications, Systems Engineers can progress by taking on more responsibility for the management of engineering projects and teams of Engineers.
Some Engineers choose to become self-employed or take contract work on a freelance basis.
To get onto a Higher Level Apprenticeship, you will need at least two A Levels, or an Advanced Level Apprenticeship.
To get onto a Degree Apprenticeship, you will usually need at least 2 A levels.
To enter a degree course in systems engineering, the usual requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels
- GCSEs in your A level subjects at grade C/4 or above
- a further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C/4 or above
- maths and a science subject (often physics) are normally required at A level
- English, maths and a science subject are usually required at GCSE at grade C/4 or above
Other qualifications are available, such as:
- BTEC level 3 - computer systems and network support
- City & Guilds level 2 & 3 - ICT systems and principles
- the International Baccalaureate Diploma
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter your chosen degree or HND course, a college or university Access course (eg, Access to Engineering) could be the way in.
These courses are designed for people who have not followed the usual routes into higher education. No formal qualifications are usually needed, but you should check this with individual colleges.
Numerous institutions offer undergraduate and postgraduate engineering qualifications via distance learning.
Information on pathways to registration as a Chartered (CEng) or Incorporated (IEng) Engineer can be found on the Engineering Council's website.
Sponsorship for higher education study in systems engineering is available from the larger engineering and manufacturing companies.
Funding for postgraduate study is available through universities from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
- 10% of systems engineers are self-employed.
- 2% work part-time.
- 23% have flexible hours.
- 4% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Professional institutionsProfessional institutions have the following roles:
- To support their members.
- To protect the public by keeping standards high in their professions.
For more information on the institution(s) relevant to this career, check out the contacts below.
Apprenticeships: Get In. Go Far
National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)
Tel: 0800 015 0400
Local government vacancies
myjobscotland: Scottish local government vacancies
Skills for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies
Address: 14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 0845 6439001
Engineering technology news
Publisher: EngineeringUK and Royal Academy of Engineering
Publisher: Venture Marketing Group
Getting into Engineering Courses
Author: James Burnett Publisher: Trotman
Address: 105 West George Street, Glasgow G2 1QL
Tel: 0141 2213181
Address: 246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0500
Engineering Training Council Northern Ireland (ETC NI)
Northern Ireland Enquiries
Address: Sketrick House, Ards Business Park, Jubilee Road, Newtownards BT23 4YH
Tel: 028 9182 2377
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Address: Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1ET
Tel: 01793 444000
Careers Wales - Welsh Apprenticeships
Tel: 0800 028 4844