Control systems engineering is the design and implementation of engineering systems using control theory to produce desired behaviours. Control engineers are responsible for the research, design, development and control of the devices that make this possible.
Instrumentation is the science of measuring variables like levels, pressures, temperatures, humidity, flow-rate, or pH value and channeling the information back into the system to control it. Applications might be something as simple as the cruise control for a car or as complex as the running of a nuclear plant. All production industries depend on instrument engineers to optimise the dependability, safety, and productivity of their systems.
Although in recent years most people have pursued this career by taking a degree, there are alternative routes into the profession. Apprenticeships do exist, with some of these available through the defence industry, for example http://www.awe.co.uk/careers/apprenticeship-opportunities/control-and-instrumentation-apprenticeships-at-awe/). It’s also possible to study remotely for an HND. An HND in a related discipline like computer-aided engineering or electrical engineering may also suffice for this route. You can also convert later, through a postgraduate course.
Job opportunities in this field range from the supply and maintenance of electrical control components, up to engineering design and project management. You may work for the companies that produce the technology or for those who use it. For an idea of the equipment and the sectors you will engage with, check out a leading contractor, such as Osmelectrical.
Once on a job, engineers learn to think in terms of the whole system and not just its parts, and they work closely with their colleagues in operations, purchasing and design. Engineers may find themselves working in an office, laboratory or factory. At every level, they find they are often on-call,whether to deliver urgent electrical control components or to troubleshoot a major project problem. If you like travel, there are many opportunities to work abroad.
Most engineers work towards professional engineer status, typically becoming a chartered engineer (CEng), but because projects are multidisciplinary, those who have experience are often able to switch into other roles such as management, marketing or finance. There are still not enough women working in C&I, but they are encouraged to do so and there are organisations (such as WISE) to help redress the balance.