Learning new tricks in engineering

The advanced diploma in engineering gives you hands-on experience

Diplomas have burst onto the scene promising all kinds of opportunities to make your education better fit your interests. It is easy to see how a diploma in business or construction could help your future career and prosperity, but it may be harder for some to see what a diploma in engineering provides. The truth is that a career in engineering can take you to exciting places both in the UK and abroad.

Engineering shapes our lives subtly yet constantly, from providing hot water in the shower in the morning to catching the train home.Without engineering there can be no technology, energy supplies or transport. This underpinning of society also means that engineering is fairly resilient when economic times get tougher. Certainly some firms experience hardship, but engineering as a sector always wins through. So if you want economic resilience and the chance to work on things that matter to people everywhere, the advanced diploma in engineering could be your next step.

The advanced diploma is brand new, having been launched only this year. As with A-levels, it is a two-year, full-time course and can get you into university to study engineering – as long as you study the required maths units – or lead to a job.

The advanced diploma has nine core units; some will be familiar to A-level students, as they cover the usual array of facts, figures and theory. However, the other units are all about what engineers actually do with their careers.They are about computerised design and the latest methods for manufacturing products, from the mass-manufactured electrical goods in every home to bespoke pieces of high-tech hardware designed to solve a practical problem in a hospital. They are about engineering as an innovative business tool, and the process of keeping things moving and maintained.

The advanced diploma in engineering is currently offered in about 60 towns and cities in England, but that will double next year.This relatively slow beginning is deliberate, so that schools and colleges have time to build up the elements they need to teach the more innovative parts of the course.These are the things that bring the subject of engineering to life, linking it to real-life engineering firms and engineers, as well as a number of university departments.

Out go the old-fashioned notions of students lined up in rows in classrooms being dictated to by a schoolmaster; in comes work-related learning, relevant work experience, teamwork and problem solving, plus an extended project where diploma students get to do real engineering with a real purpose. All this makes for a pretty varied life for the advanced diploma student: sometimes they will be in school and other times in their local college to use specific equipment or hear the views of further-education lecturers and engineers. They will also visit the local university, where the multi-disciplinary nature of engineering can be explored. After all, it is a combination of material science, maths, physics, design, electronics and project management. Students also have the opportunity to visit the workplace, seeing how things really happen in the industry.

Because teaching locations vary during the week, the learning process does too. Students on the advanced diploma will use a range of learning styles, such as observation, discussion, teamwork and individual work.

Assessment varies too: seven of the nine core units are based on an assignment, while two units have a final exam.The extended project is assessed on the basis of a final report, and there is room for additional and specialist learning too. This is assessed by both exam and assignment.

The advanced diploma provides the variety and choice that 16- to 18-year-olds need in order to direct their learning. Remember: engineering could be your future. If you do well, you could be the next Isambard Kingdom Brunel or end up designing the MP3 player that surpasses the Apple iPod; all the more reason to find out about your options today.

Matthew Harrison is director of education programmes at The Royal Academy of Engineering. For more information, visit www.direct.gov.uk/diplomas