Engineering

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The Independent Online

What is it? One of the new vocational A-levels that looks at manufacturing processes, design and development, and materials used in engineering everything from car engines and washing machines to mobile phones and computers.

Why do it? Because you are fascinated by what makes things tick. So fascinated that you would take a clock apart to find out how it works and it would still be ticking after you put it back together.

What skills do you need? You need to be reasonable at maths and science, and interested in working with your hands as well as your brain.

How much practical work is there? Quite a lot. In your coursework, you design and engineer things. It might be a bike speedometer, for example, which you would design on paper, identify the parts you need from a catalogue, put them together using techniques such as soldering, and use machines such as a lathe, a drill and a vacuum-forming machine to make the casing.

Ratio of coursework to exams: At AS-level, it is two-thirds exams. At A2-level, it is the reverse.

Is it hard? It is particularly tough at AS-level because, like all vocational A-levels, the AS-is examined at A2 standard, so it is not for the faint- hearted. It is an academic subject and the standards expected reflect that. "This is a demanding and credible qualification," says Trevor Thompson, chief examiner and moderator in Engineering for Edexcel.

Who takes it? Mainly boys, although the girls who do it generally do extremely well. Problem-solvers like it.

How cool is it? Not very. Anything to do with the manufacturing industry is a bit unfashionable in this country.

Added value: You will be in great demand from friends for assembling Ikea furniture.

What subjects go with it? Maths and science. Modern languages help, because engineers are in demand globally.

What degrees does it lead to? A wide range of technological degrees.

Will it set you up for a brilliant career? It could, because Britain doesn't produce enough engineers, yet our quality of life is highly dependent on the consumer products for which they are responsible. Starting salaries are good, at about pounds 20,000 for a graduate. By mid-career, you could be earning up to pounds 60,000, and engineers often go into senior management positions with big money.

What do the students say? Edwige Nlassa, 17, of City and Islington College, London, says: "My ambition is to work for Nasa as a satellite engineer, so that's why I'm taking the course. I'm in my first term and I'm really enjoying the technological side of science. We've been doing computer- aided drawing and it's good because the subject feels like it is related to a job. It's great fun. I think every girl should do it."

Which awarding bodies offer it? AQA, OCR, Edexcel.

How widely available is it around the country? It is offered at most colleges of further education, and a lot of schools.

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