Being at the frontline of an engineering plant and dealing with all equipment maintenance requires a responsible and organised approach

As a maintenance engineer you'll be responsible for the continuous running of equipment and machinery. Using computerised systems, you'll oversee routine maintenance and organise repairs. You'll also be involved with control and monitoring devices and occasionally in the manufacture of items that will help in maintenance.

Your role is vital to the efficiency, development and progress of manufacturing and processing industries. Working with other professionals, you'll improve production facilities, reduce the incidence of costly breakdowns and develop strategies to improve overall reliability and safety of plant, personnel and production processes.

Responsibilities

As a maintenance engineer, you'll need to:

  • design maintenance strategies, procedures and methods
  • carry out routine maintenance work and respond to equipment faults
  • diagnose breakdown problems
  • fit new parts and make sure equipment is working correctly
  • carry out quality inspections on jobs
  • liaise with client departments, customers and other engineering and production colleagues
  • arrange specialist procurement of fixtures, fittings or components
  • control maintenance tools, stores and equipment
  • monitor and control maintenance costs
  • deal with emergencies, unplanned problems and repairs
  • improve health and safety policies and procedures
  • work with specialist equipment, such as programmable logic controllers (PLC), which control machinery on factory assembly lines
  • write maintenance strategies to help with installation and commissioning guidelines
  • ensure there is continuous cover of the machinery and equipment in case of breakdowns.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for maintenance engineers are around £20,000 to £25,000.
  • Mid-range salaries usually fall between £30,000 and £35,000.
  • With experience, your salary could rise to £40,000.

Higher earnings are possible, although salaries vary significantly - depending on the industry, size of the organisation, location and engineering discipline.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll usually work around 40 hours a week. On occasion it may be necessary to work unsociable hours, in order to coordinate the work with technicians and minimise downtime.

Many plants operate 24 hours a day, all year round and, in some industries, maintenance engineers work shifts that cover nights, weekends and early mornings.

What to expect

  • Your usual place of work will be a plant, site or factory. The work may involve extended periods working on the factory floor and to tight deadlines in response to breakdown emergencies.
  • Self-employment or freelance work is sometimes possible, as a self-employed contractor on a specialist plant or equipment, in engineering consultancy or on contract project work.
  • More men than women enter this field of engineering, but the number of women is growing. There are also initiatives in place to try and encourage more women into the industry through organisations such as WISE and Women's Engineering Society (WES).
  • Depending on your employer you may be required to visit sites during the day and some roles require working away on a continual basis at client or site installations.
  • Overseas work is possible if you have a specialist knowledge area.

Qualifications

A degree is not an essential requirement to become a maintenance engineer but many candidates do have a BEng in a relevant subject, such as:

  • electrical and electronic engineering
  • manufacturing engineering
  • mechanical engineering
  • production engineering.

Some employers will accept college qualifications instead of a degree and related courses include:

  • BTEC certificate in operations and maintenance engineering
  • City & Guilds certificate in engineering.

It's possible to become a maintenance engineer by starting as an apprentice fitter or technician. To do this, you'll need to build up experience and will usually need to take further qualifications to progress through the career.

Researching companies thoroughly is important and will enable you to find out about employers who offer sponsorship on engineering courses. Many employers start recruiting in the autumn term.

It can be useful to get student membership with a professional body, to keep up to date with developments in the industry and to start making contacts. Relevant organisations include:

Skills

You'll need to show:

  • business skills, as you may be responsible for managing budgets, leading a team and liaising with suppliers
  • the capacity to understand a range of engineering functions and procedures
  • the ability to lead and motivate others
  • teamworking skills to work cooperatively and liaise with people at all levels
  • the ability to negotiate with, and persuade others
  • good diagnostic and problem-solving skills
  • the confidence to respond positively when under pressure
  • people-management skills.

Work experience

Employers place great value on related work experience as it shows that relevant skills and knowledge have been acquired. Specific requirements can vary for each job and some employers may want you to have previous experience in another area of engineering.

Gaining experience through sandwich or vacation placements will be useful and other work related to manufacturing or production can help to illustrate your relevant skills.

Employers

The manufacturing, process and construction industries provide many opportunities for maintenance engineers. Some opportunities exist in the public sector, for example within building maintenance and transport engineering.

As a maintenance engineer, you could also find work in the following types of industries:

  • aerospace and automotive
  • electronics and IT engineering
  • energy utilities, including nuclear engineering
  • engineering construction
  • engineering consultancies
  • government agencies
  • medical engineering
  • oil, gas and petrochemical
  • research agencies
  • the armed forces
  • transport, including road and railways.

Job titles can vary depending on the industry, alternative titles include:

  • works engineer
  • plant engineer
  • site superintendent
  • engineering manager.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

An entry-level graduate position allows you, under the guidance of senior engineers, to gain experience, develop maintenance strategies and apply your practical engineering and problem-solving skills.

Most companies provide structured training programmes and often opportunities to develop soft skills, such as people management, through on-the-job training and short training courses. As you develop through your career your employer may support you in studying part time for relevant further qualifications.

You may wish to work towards gaining incorporated (IEng) or chartered (CEng) engineer status, which is awarded by the Engineering Council. Gaining this status can provide you with higher earning potential and improved career prospects. See Engineering Council - Professional Registration for more information.

To become chartered, you'll need to demonstrate that you're working at a particular level and have the required professional competences and commitment, as set out in the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC).

You'll also need to become a member of a professional institution, such as IET or IMechE, and apply through them for professional registration. The process of becoming incorporated or chartered is more straightforward if you have accredited qualifications but it is still possible to achieve it without.

Career prospects

How you progress in your career will depend on the industry you're working in. For example, in the process industry you may develop specialised knowledge and become a technical expert. In other industries, you may become a maintenance manager, managing technical staff and developing maintenance programmes.

If your employer is involved with technical markets, you may be able to move into technical sales or technical sales support. In these roles, you will liaise with other technical professionals and marketing, supply chain management, human resources, finance and IT. There may be the potential to move into management functions in any of these areas.

There may be opportunity for overseas travel as you gain experience, visiting client sites to develop maintenance strategies and solutions.

As a chartered engineer, opportunities for progression to senior level positions will arise and these could include roles in consultancy, where your expertise in maintenance management can be used in several industries.