National Motorsport Academy

Getting Started in Motorsport Engineering Part 2

If you’ve been following our ‘Getting Started in Motorsport’ series, you’ll know that we’ve already given advice to those looking to become a driver, motorsport mechanic and team boss. But what about those just starting out? How do you break into the motorsport industry if you have no experience with cars, engineering or are just leaving school?

In the final instalment of the series, we look at motorsport apprenticeships, entry level training courses and which A Levels are most suitable if you’re looking forward to a career in motorsport when you  leave school.

Planning Ahead

If you’re a school leaver, current student, apprentice or complete novice, you’ve obviously identified that that you’d like to work in motorsport or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Well, the earlier you decide on your intended career path, the sooner you’ll be doing the job of your dreams! As with any skilled profession, the training it takes to become a motorsport engineer takes time. You could be talking as long as 10 years, depending on the education route you take. This is the best time to plan ahead and commit to your future.

It may be that you are most comfortable in a classroom environment and you have no ties or financial obligations so staying at school or attending college full time is a viable option. Or, like many of our students, you may be a more hands-on learner or have a young family or house to pay for, making it impossible not to earn while you learn.

Here, we explore the options for getting started in motorsport engineering as an absolute beginner.

“I have absolutely no experience with cars or engineering but would really like to have a career in motorsport engineering!”

You’d be surprised how often we are asked this question! We’re firm believers that it’s never too late to learn. Our oldest student is in his mid-sixties and he decided to return to study motorsport engineering at this stage in life because he felt he’d always lost out by not getting a degree.

If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need to be realistic. Do you have the stability to be able to sacrifice time, effort and money in the search for a new career path? Motorsport is about a lot more than just tinkering with cars. Believe us, the pro’s make it look easy! Studying an engineering discipline requires a different type of brain power. You’ll need to be able to rapidly problem solve, understand complex mathematical equations and principles of physics and then put them into practice. You’ll be required to understand every part of a complex vehicle and troubleshoot issues and come up with ways to improve performance. If all you’re interested in is the glamour, foreign travel and fast cars, you’d be better playing the lottery. Or finding a rich best friend.

A lot of people with no experience see motorsport engineering as a route into driving. Let us be clear – the two disciplines are far removed from one another and studying motorsport engineering will not be a sure-fire way to find yourself in the driver’s seat of a top team in three years’ time. If you’re considering studying motorsport engineering as a pathway into driving – don’t!

So – if you have absolutely no experience at all, we urge you to check your motives, your staying power and your commitment to your dream. It’ll be a long and hard slog but massively rewarding in the end! Worst case, you’ll save yourself a fortune on garage bills in future. Best case, you’ll end up with an exciting and fulfilling new career.

Here’s how to get started:

You’ll need an entry-level engineering or automotive qualification. Look at your local college or online for courses in engineering or vehicle maintenance. If you are more mechanically minded and came out of school with decent GCSEs in maths and science, you may find that an engineering course suits you better. If you’re naturally a more hands-on person then studying light-vehicle maintenance can be a good way to test the water and learn some solid skills.

Once you have completed your first course, you’ll have a better understanding of what you’re getting yourself in to. You’ll also be able to decide whether or not this a career path you want to take.

It will also be good for your skills if you find a project car or some other type of hands-on experience where you can put your learning into practice. Whether modifying a current model or restoring a classic – there are forums and other resources available online for pretty much every make and model. And don’t forget, there’s always the trusty Haynes manuals!

“I’m doing an engineering/automotive apprenticeship – how do I turn this into a career in motorsport engineering?”

If you are a school-leaver and have identified that you would like a career in motorsport then you’re already off to a good start. If you’re working in an independent garage, main dealer or as an engineering apprentice, you’ll be learning the hands-on skills at the same time as backing up your knowledge with a formal qualification.

Depending on the level of your apprenticeship, you may be eligible to apply for our motorsport engineering degree when you finish. If you have an Advanced apprenticeship, this is the equivalent of an A Level / Level 3 qualification. Many engineering and automotive apprenticeships are offered at Intermediate or Level 2 which would mean you’d need to progress your learning before you could apply. Again, the Engineers Academy is a good place to start or you could ask you employer or training provider about extending your apprenticeship. Funding is available for all 16-19 year olds who continue to study after school so you won’t have to pay for your course if you choose to attend a college course.

When you are qualified to Level 3, you will then be eligible to apply for a motorsport degree. By this stage you’ll be used to having money coming in so going back to Uni full time may be out of the question. The NMA motorsport degrees are studied 100% online so you can keep earing while you learn. 

Top Tip: Get as much experience within motorsport as you can! Whether that’s working on projects with family and friends or volunteering at a local track or with a local team at weekends. You may not even be old enough to drive on the road but that shouldn’t stop you pushing your technical skills. It’s the most experienced and passionate job applicant that usually walks away with the prize!

“I’m still at school and would like to work in motorsport, but don’t know whether to go for an apprenticeship or A Levels”

This is a difficult answer to give as it will depend on so many different variables. It will very much depend on the type of person you are, how you prefer to learn and sometimes even your geographical location.

There are 3 entry points for young people aged 16+:

  • A-Levels

    It may be that you've always done well at school and are comfortable in a classroom based learning environment. Studying A-Levels at either college or 6th Form is the most traditional way to access higher education (University) and a career as an engineer, whether in motorsport or any other industry. To give yourself the best grounding, you'll ideally need decent GCSEs in the core subjects: Maths, Science (specifically Physics if split), English and IT. These are also the subjects you'll want to look at studying at A Level. Maths, Physics and IT will all feature heavily in any motorsport role. You can read more about the career options in our Industry Zone.

  • Apprenticeships

    Almost all motor vehicle technicians initially train via apprenticeships. Many of the larger engineering companies also employ apprentices. Think Rolls Royce, Siemens, Jaguar Land Rover. If you're a hands-on learner, better being practical than stuck at a desk, an engineering or automotive apprenticeship may be best for you.

  • On-The-Job Training

    Sometimes getting stuck in at the deep end is the best way to learn. As a school-leaver it can be relatively easy to find entry-level positions with manufacturers and smaller garages where you can learn some skills on the job. This becomes harder the older you get as these positions are usually not very well paid. Look for motorsport suppliers offering school leaver opportunities in manufacturing (the composites industry is a good place to start), assembly or sales. You'll also want to back this up with a qualification at some stage but it's a good way to get a taste of what the industry has to offer and earn some money at the same time. Again, our Motorsport Careers section has more information about the opportunities available.

Push Yourself!

Nothing worth having ever comes easy. Motorsport is a highly competitive industry but it’s not always the natural learners who succeed. It’s those who are willing to sacrifice and push themselves. So, while all of your mates are out on the town, or playing Xbox, you’ll need to be spending as much time working on cars or at the track as possible. You’ll need to start reading as much as you can about current and future industry innovations. You’ll need to network.

Push yourself to learn more and get as much experience as possible and it will pay dividends!

Accelerate Your Career in Motorsport

You can find out more about the National Motorsport Academy's specialist motorsport degrees by downloading our course guide.

1 thought on “Getting Started in Motorsport Engineering Part 2”

  1. Diederik Diepeveen

    This article really changed my point of view! I’m 27 now and I finally (after a lot of failing and disappointments) I found my way in to motorsport to help as a volunteer at a racing school in the Netherlands. I always tought I was ‘to old’ to lauch my dream to work in the world of racing and gain knowledge and experience. Hopefully there will be more motivating blogs like this!

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