Being at the frontline of an engineering plant and dealing with all equipment maintenance is a large task for the right person
As a maintenance engineer you will be responsible for the continuous running of equipment and machinery. You will use computerised systems to oversee routine maintenance and organise repairs.
Maintenance engineers are also involved in control and monitoring devices and occasionally in the manufacture of items that will help in maintenance.
They play a vital role in the efficiency, development and progress of manufacturing and processing industries.
Maintenance engineers work with other professionals in order to 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 and tasks vary from role-to-role but you will typically be involved in:
- designing maintenance strategies, procedures and methods
- carrying out routine scheduled maintenance work and responding to equipment faults
- diagnosing breakdown problems
- fitting new parts and making sure equipment is working correctly
- carrying out quality inspections on jobs
- liaising with client departments, customers and other engineering and production colleagues
- arranging specialist procurement of fixtures, fittings or components
- controlling maintenance tools, stores and equipment
- monitoring and controlling maintenance costs
- dealing with emergencies, unplanned problems and repairs
- improving health and safety policies and procedures
- working with specialist equipment, such as programmable logic controllers (PLC), which control machinery on factory assembly lines
- writing maintenance strategies to help with installation and commissioning guidelines
- ensuring there is continuous cover of the machinery and equipment in case of breakdowns.
- Starting salaries for maintenance engineers are in the region of £20,000 to £24,000.
- With experience, it is possible to progress to salaries of £27,000 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 are usually 40 hours a week. You'll work with technicians and minimising downtime can sometimes mean working unsociable hours.
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
- Work is generally based within a plant, site or factory and it may involve extended periods working on the factory floor.
- 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.
- Jobs are available in most areas, on industrial sites and complexes throughout the UK.
- 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).
- Working to tight deadlines and in response to breakdown emergencies is sometimes required.
- Travel within a working day depends on the organisational structure; some firms require visits to their sites.
- Some jobs may require working away on a continual basis at client or site installations.
- Overseas work is possible if you have a specialist knowledge area.
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 is possible to become a maintenance engineer by starting as an apprentice fitter or technician. You will need to build up experience and usually take further qualifications to then progress through the career.
It is important to research companies thoroughly and find out about employers who offer sponsorships 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:
You will need to show:
- business skills - maintenance engineers 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.
Employers place great value on related work experience to show you have the relevant skills and knowledge. 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.
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.
In addition to these, maintenance engineers may also be recruited into 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.
You should be aware that job titles may vary depending on the industry. As well as maintenance engineer, look out for titles such as:
- works engineer
- plant engineer
- site superintendent
- engineering manager.
Look for job vacancies at:
Recruitment agencies sometimes handle vacancies.
Entry-level graduate positions allow you to gain experience and develop and implement maintenance strategies. You will have the chance to apply your practical engineering and problem-solving skills, and manage people.
It is likely you will work under senior engineers, gaining hands-on experience as well as developing related skills and abilities.
Most companies provide structured training programmes, which offer cross-functional experience and, where necessary, specialist courses.
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.
You will need to be a member of a professional institution and apply through them for professional registration. Relevant bodies include:
The process of becoming incorporated or chartered is more straightforward if you have accredited qualifications but it is still possible to achieve it without. Some employers will offer opportunities to study part time for relevant further qualifications.
You will also need to demonstrate that you are 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).
In addition to technical and professional training, employers' training schemes normally offer the opportunity to develop softer skills, such as people management, through on-the-job training and relevant short training courses.
Develop your own network of contacts and seek out a mentor to help identify your personal development opportunities. These contacts may help advance or broaden your career ambitions.
How you progress in your career will depend on the industry you are working in. For example, in the process industry you may develop specialised knowledge in a particular area and become a technical expert.
In other industries, you may become a maintenance manager, where the main responsibility is to motivate and manage technical staff and develop maintenance programmes.
If your employer is selling into highly technical markets, there may be opportunities to apply your specific practical knowledge and move into technical sales or technical sales support. With ambition and all-round ability you could aim high; production and technical development are usually represented at board level.
Gaining incorporated or chartered engineer status can be useful for career progression. For more information see Engineering Council Registration.
Other routes include working in consultancy, where your expertise in maintenance management can be used in a number of industries.
Here, the opportunity for travel, including overseas travel, greatly increases as you will be required to visit client sites to develop maintenance strategies and solutions.
Working as a technical professional involves liaising with people in other technical areas but also with those in marketing, supply chain management, human resources, finance and IT. A move into management functions in any of these areas may be possible and will offer new challenges.