Overview of the engineering and manufacturing sector in the UK

Emma Knowles, Editor
October, 2018

The rise of apprenticeships, as well as career and work experience opportunities within engineering companies, are helping to supply the 124,000 skilled workers needed to keep up with demand in the sector between now and 2024

What areas of engineering and manufacturing can I work in?

Engineering and manufacturing is one of the UK's broadest sectors, with specialist branches in a number of areas. According to EngineerJobs, these are:

  • aerospace
  • applications
  • architecture
  • automotive
  • building services
  • chemical
  • civil
  • commercial
  • commissioning
  • computing and IT
  • construction
  • contracting
  • defence
  • design
  • electrical
  • electronics
  • environmental
  • estimator
  • facilities management
  • geotechnical
  • health and safety
  • hydrology
  • infrastructure
  • instrumentation and control systems
  • manufacturing
  • marine
  • materials
  • mechanical
  • petroleum, oil and gas
  • planning
  • plant
  • power
  • process
  • production
  • project management
  • quality
  • rail
  • research and development
  • site
  • software
  • surveying
  • systems
  • telecoms, digital communications and networks
  • test
  • transportation.

Industries that require suitably qualified engineering and manufacturing graduates include space, music, nuclear, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and automation and robotics. The food and drink industry is the UK's biggest manufacturing sector, employing more than 400,000 workers.

Mechanicalelectricalelectronicchemical and software engineers are particularly sought after, with design, production and maintenance opportunities existing in numerous industries. Science and pharmaceutical companies employ large numbers of workers in research and development.

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

Top engineering companies

Graduates are employed by large companies, including:

  • Airbus, BAE Systems and Thales Group (aerospace industry)
  • Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and Rolls-Royce (automotive industry)
  • Heinz, Nestlé and PepsiCo (food and drink industry)
  • BP, ExxonMobil and Shell (oil and gas industry).

Despite this, the engineering and manufacturing sector is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Most graduates of this discipline, therefore, work in smaller organisations.

See what other engineering and manufacturing companies have to offer by browsing engineering and manufacturing employer profiles.

What's it like working in the sector?

Graduates can expect to:

  • have opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD), perhaps working towards becoming a Chartered Engineer (CEng) or Incorporated Engineer (IEng)
  • earn an average starting salary of £25,607 (according to EngineeringUK), compared to the average graduate starting salary of £21,700
  • use their creativity and problem-solving skills to design innovative products or tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

To find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see engineering and manufacturing job profiles.

What are my employment prospects?

The UK education system doesn't have the capacity or rate of growth required to meet the demand for skilled engineers. As a result it's estimated that there are 22,000 fewer graduates entering the industry than is needed.

Tie this in with the fact that, according to Engineering UK 2018, 62% of engineering and technology graduates were in full-time employment within six months of graduating compared with 56% of all graduates, and things look promising.

You could try breaking into an area experiencing growth, such as:

  • Nuclear energy - The government wants nuclear power to eventually provide reliable, low carbon and cost competitive electricity. To meet this target, the workforce is required to expand by 7,000 to 8,000 per year until 2021, with many of these replacing retirees.
  • Big data - This sector is forecast to generate £241billion to UK GDP by 2020, creating 157,000 new jobs in the process.
  • Road and rail transport - The passenger and freight operations workforce of 58,000 could potentially double by 2030 (The state of engineering, EngineeringUK, 2017). The government is also investing £400billion in transport projects, which makes this an area worth considering.

Find out more