Overview of the engineering and manufacturing sector in the UK

Jemma Smith, Editor
September, 2019

The engineering sector is experiencing a shortage of skilled workers, which means that there are plenty of opportunities for qualified graduates. Discover what it's like to work in the sector

Areas of engineering and manufacturing

Engineering and manufacturing is one of the UK's broadest sectors and according to EngineeringUK, workers within the sector accounted for 19% of all UK employees in 2018.

While some engineering-related industries, such as mining and quarrying, are in decline, a range of others are actively seeking new recruits.

Branches of engineering include:

  • 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 qualified engineering and manufacturing graduates include space, music, nuclear, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and automation and robotics.

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

Top engineering companies

Graduates are employed by large companies, including:

  • Airbus
  • Arup
  • Aston Martin
  • Atkins
  • Babcock
  • BAE Systems
  • Balfour Beatty
  • BMW Group
  • Cadent
  • Colas Rail
  • Dyson
  • Jaguar Land Rover
  • Kier Group
  • Mercedes
  • Network Rail
  • Nucleargraduates
  • Rolls Royce
  • Siemens
  • Sellafield
  • Thales Group
  • Transport for London.

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

Biggest manufacturing organisations

The food and drink industry is the UK's biggest manufacturing sector, employing more than 450,000 workers according to statistics from the Food and Drink Federation (FDF). Within this area top employers include:

  • Arla Foods
  • Associated British Foods
  • Coca Cola Enterprises UK
  • Greencore Convenience Foods
  • Mondalez UK
  • Muller UK and Ireland
  • Nestle
  • Unilever.

Other large manufacturing companies include:

  • AstraZeneca (pharmaceuticals)
  • British American Tobacco (tobacco)
  • GSK (pharmaceuticals)
  • Rio-Tinto (metals).

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 a median salary of £30,360 to £51,279 (full-time engineering employees), according to EngineeringUK
  • 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.

Employment prospects

Due to the sector-wide skills shortage, employment prospects for engineering and manufacturing graduates look good.

EngineeringUK's 2019 update on the state of the sector reported that 62% of engineering and technology graduates were in full-time employment six months after graduating, compared to 57% of all graduates.

The same report also estimates that there will be an annual demand for 124,000 engineers and technicians with core engineering skills up to 2024, alongside an additional requirement for 79,000 related roles, requiring a mixed application of engineering knowledge and skill alongside other skill sets.

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. Read up on nuclear engineering courses.
  • Big data - This sector is forecast to generate £241billion to UK GDP by 2020, creating 157,000 new jobs in the process.
  • Food and drink manufacturing - FDF research estimates that the food and drink industry will need 140,000 new recruits by 2024 in order to meet market demands.
  • Mechanical, electrical, electronic, chemical and software engineers - particularly sought after, with design, production and maintenance opportunities existing in numerous industries. 

Search for graduate jobs in engineering and manufacturing.

Find out more

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