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Overview of the engineering and manufacturing sector in the UK

Overview of the engineering and manufacturing sector in the UK

The UK employs more than eight million people in the engineering and manufacturing industries, making it the seventh largest manufacturing nation in the world

What areas of engineering and manufacturing can I work in?

While areas of engineering include transport and logistics, energy and utilities and construction, the majority of job opportunities occur in the following areas:

  • Aerospace - employs more than 96,000 people in more than 3,000 companies who help supply both civil and military air transport.  
  • Automotive - has a 730,000 strong UK workforce and thousands more apprentices. In 2011, the UK automotive industry employed 11% of new recruits from universities and higher education institutions.
  • Biotechnology - science is at the root of the sector, with biotechnology harnessing cellular and biomolecular processes to develop technology and products.  
  • Chemical - the industry is made up of 3,300 companies employing 200,000 people. The three main areas of activity include commodity, speciality and consumer chemicals.  
  • Electrical and electronics - has the highest average number of engineering employers per organisation. More than 11,000 companies employ over 250,000 people.  
  • Food and drink - is the largest industry in the UK manufacturing sector, employing up to 400,000 workers.  
  • Metals, minerals and materials - this sector supports technological advances on a global scale. The UK has been at the forefront of the metals processing industry for hundreds of years.  
  • Marine - the industry contains over 5,000 companies employing 90,000 workers in the UK. It manufactures and provides a range of small sectors.  
  • Nuclear - not only does the UK nuclear industry provide 18% of the nation's electricity, it also exports to international markets. The industry directly employs 24,000 people and indirectly employs 20,000 more.  
  • Oil and gas - supplies the UK with power to heat homes, fuel for transport and raw materials to produce other everyday items. The industry employs 440,000 workers, some offshore and others in technical positions or in commercial areas.  
  • Pharmaceutical - is one of the largest sectors for investment in research and development. In the UK it employs 67,000 people.  

For examples of job roles in this sector, see graduate jobs in engineering and manufacturing.

Who are the main graduate employers?

The main companies in the aerospace industry are:

  • Airbus;
  • BAE Systems;
  • Boeing;
  • Thales Group.

The top UK employers in the automotive industry include:

  • BMW Group;
  • Ford;
  • Jaguar Land Rover (JLR);
  • Nissan;
  • Toyota.

Household names in the food and drink manufacturing industry include:

  • Cadbury;
  • Nestle;
  • Heinz.

In oil and gas the main companies consist of:

  • BP;
  • Schlumberger;
  • Shell.

Some examples of big names in the pharmaceutical sector are:

  • Beiersdorf UK Ltd;
  • GlaxoSmithKline.

What's it like working in the sector?

Graduates entering the engineering and manufacturing sector can expect:

  • to work in different environments depending on the sector. Many companies are industrial and have a factory environment, while you may also work in an office or even on an oil rig;
  • to earn an average of £24,615 a year working as an engineering professional, six months after graduating. According to the Association of Graduate Recruiters survey, predicted salaries for 2011/12 graduates are £26,750 for manufacturing engineers, £25,500 for electrical engineers; £25,000 for mechanical engineers, and £24,500 for civil engineers;
  • to work differing hours depending on your role: a nuclear engineer works 35-40 hours a week on a shift basis, occasionally being called out for emergencies, while office hours will be a 9am to 5pm working week. Some roles will require employees to spend time abroad.

What are the key issues in the engineering and manufacturing sector?

It is thought that once the UK moves out of recession the engineering and manufacturing sectors will pick up. The government is backing initiatives to encourage young people to work in these sectors as it expects future growth.

  • Engineering - There are signs of an upturn in fortunes in the engineering sector after a tough few years since the recession first hit. In 2010/11, more UK first degree graduates found jobs as engineers six months after leaving university compared to the previous year.  
  • Manufacturing - The manufacturing sector has struggled in recent years, with some international companies pulling out of the UK to save money. The problems in the Eurozone have combined with the UK recession and forced some businesses to close. However, some organisations, such as JLR, have found opportunities to take on more employees.
Written by Editor, Graduate Prospects
October 2012

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