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Overview of the engineering and manufacturing sector in the UK

Overview of the engineering and manufacturing sector in the UK

Engineers are in demand and over the next few years there will be 1.82 million vacancies that require engineering skills

What areas of engineering and manufacturing can I work in?

There are a range of industries to consider including:

  • aerospace;
  • automation and robotics;
  • automotive;
  • biotechnology;
  • chemical;
  • civil engineering;
  • construction;
  • electrical;
  • electronics;
  • film and TV;
  • food and drink;
  • green energy;
  • IT;
  • marine;
  • medical and pharmaceutical;
  • metals, minerals and materials;
  • music;
  • nuclear;
  • oil and gas;
  • space;
  • sport;
  • transport;
  • utilities.

There are opportunities for mechanical, electrical, electronic, chemical or software engineers within many of these industries. You could choose to work in a design, research and development, production or maintenance function.

The food and drink industry is the single largest manufacturing sector in the UK, employing more than 400,000 workers. However, it's not without its shortages and requires 109,000 new recruits by 2022 to meet the skills needs of the sector.

While medical and pharmaceutical companies employ large numbers of people in research and development.

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

Who are the main graduate employers?

While large companies employ lots of graduates, the engineering sector is dominated by small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Engineers are employed by companies working at regional and national level as well as by global companies.

Some of 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;
  • Rolls-Royce;
  • Toyota.

Household names in the food and drink manufacturing industry include:

  • Heinz;
  • Mondelez International;
  • Nestlé.

In oil and gas the main companies are:

  • BP;
  • ExxonMobil;
  • Schlumberger;
  • Shell.

Other large companies who recruit engineers include:

  • Dyson;
  • GlaxoSmithKline;
  • P&G;
  • Siemens.

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 industry. Engineers work in design offices, research and development laboratories, hospitals and out in the field (for example stadiums, airports, underground or at sea). Advanced manufacturing is closely linked to technology and engineers working in manufacturing are very likely to be working in highly modern, clean working environments such as offices and laboratories and occasionally factories.
  • have a mean average starting salary of £26,536. This is over a fifth more than for all graduates.
  • work differing hours depending on your role. Many engineering roles are office-based, with regular working hours, though some projects and assignments - such as disaster relief work - may require more flexibility.
  • work in multi-disciplinary teams with colleagues from different sectors and often from different parts of the world.
  • continue to build skills and experience and have the option of working towards becoming a Chartered Engineer (CEng) or Incorporated Engineer (IEng).
  • use their creativity and problem-solving skills to make a difference and tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges - from cyber security to maintaining clean water - or designing innovative products such as driverless vehicles and surgical robots.

To find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see types of jobs.

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

According to the Engineering UK 2015 report, engineering accounts for a quarter of all UK turnover. Although engineering companies employ 5.4 million people there are only half as many graduates as employers need. This means employment prospects are good.

The industry is working to attract a more diverse workforce and encourage more women and people from a wider range of backgrounds to become engineers.

The pace of technological development is such that many of the jobs that engineers will be doing in five or ten years don't exist yet. Think back ten years, who would have known what an app developer was?

There are a number of growth sectors, including:

  • Aerospace - estimates suggest there will be global demand for 27,000 new passenger planes and 40,000 commercial helicopters by 2031.
  • Chemicals - the UK chemicals sector directly employs over 110,000 people in companies dealing with household products, food, medicine, advance materials, fuels and process technologies.
  • Shale gas - the Institute of Directors claims shale gas production could create 74,000 jobs by 2030.
  • Space - this is one of the UK's fastest growing sectors, with an average growth rate of 7.5%.

Other growth areas include: renewable energy; finding sustainable ways to grow food, build houses and travel; and advances in medical technology for an ageing population. There is also an increasing need for research and development into use of automation and robotics to perform functions for us.

Written by Editor, Prospects
September 2015

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