Overview of the engineering and manufacturing sector in the UK

Rachel Swain, Editorial manager
September, 2017

Engineers are in extremely high demand; 186,000 people with engineering skills are needed per year in the run up to 2024

What areas of engineering and manufacturing can I work in?

According to EngineerJobs, there are many branches of engineering. 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.

Mechanical, electrical, electronic, chemical 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 people in research and development.

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

Who are the main graduate employers?

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, Mondelēz International and Nestlé (food and drink industry)
  • BP, ExxonMobil and Schlumberger (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.

What's it like working in the sector?

Graduates can expect to:

  • enjoy continuing professional development (CPD), perhaps working towards becoming a Chartered Engineer (CEng) or Incorporated Engineer (IEng)
  • earn an average starting salary of £25,880 compared to £22,000 for all graduates
  • 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 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 20,000 fewer graduates entering the industry than is needed.

Tie this in with the fact that according to Engineering UK 2017, 68% of engineering and technology graduates were in full-time employment within six months of graduating compared with 58% of all graduates and things look promising.

You could try breaking into an area that’s experiencing growth such as:

  • Nuclear energy - The government wants nuclear power to eventually provide reliable, low carbon and cost competitive electricity. To meet this the workforce is expected to expand from 70,000 to 98,000 by 2021.
  • Petroleum, oil and gas - The Institute of Directors (IoD) claims that shale gas production could create 74,000 jobs by 2030.
  • Road and rail transport - There are 58,000 people employed in passenger and freight operations, a figure which is expected to potentially double by 2030. Add to this the government investing £400billion in transport projects and this is an area worth considering.

The alternative is to look for roles that are classed as hard to fill such as:

  • civil engineers
  • design development engineers
  • engineering technicians
  • mechanical engineers.

Find out more