Overview of the engineering and manufacturing sector in the UK

Jemma Smith, Editor
October, 2022

The engineering and manufacturing sector provides huge scope for technical minded problem solvers. If you have the right qualifications and skills employers are in desperate need of your talents

Concerned with the design, building, maintenance and use of engines, machines and structures, at its heart engineering is about problem solving and using your science, maths and technological ability to apply innovations to the real world.

Manufacturing on the other hand is the large scale production of products or goods that are then sold on to a customer.

The engineering and manufacturing sector is one of the UK's broadest and encompasses a range of disciplines (examples of which you can see below). According to a recent Engineering Council report 'Mapping the UKs engineering workforce' 18% of the UK's working population work in the field, which roughly works out at 6.9 million people.

Types of engineering and manufacturing

  • aerospace
  • applications
  • architecture
  • automotive
  • building services
  • chemical
  • civil
  • commercial
  • commissioning
  • computing and IT
  • construction
  • contracting
  • defence
  • design
  • electrical
  • electronics
  • environmental
  • estimator
  • facilities management
  • forensic
  • 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
  • BMW Group
  • British Airways
  • Colas Rail
  • Dyson
  • Jaguar Land Rover
  • Kier Group
  • Mercedes
  • Network Rail
  • Nissan
  • Nucleargraduates
  • Rolls Royce
  • Siemens
  • Sellafield
  • Thales Group
  • Transport for London (TfL).

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. According to the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), in 2019 the industry had a turnover of £104billion and employed over 440,000 people across every region of the UK. Within this area, top employers include:

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

Other large manufacturing companies include:

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

Skills engineering employers want

It's no secret that the engineering sector in the UK is experiencing a skills shortage. This cannot be attributed to one reason alone; instead it's down to a number of factors such as an ageing workforce, economic issues like Brexit and a lack of education and awareness surrounding engineering among young people.

A number of engineering occupations feature on the governments shortage occupations list including civil, mechanical, electrical, electronic, design and development engineers and production engineers.

A 2021 survey conducted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found that less than half of new engineering recruits have the technical or soft skills needed to work within the industry and that half of experience difficulty when recruiting due to a lack of skills. 

Take a look at the biggest challenges facing the engineering sector.

So what kinds of skills do employers want? In the engineering sector the following are highly valued by employers:

  • IT knowledge
  • a high level of numeracy and analytical skills
  • specific subject knowledge and technical ability
  • creative problem solving
  • attention to detail
  • communication
  • teamwork
  • leadership skills
  • the ability to project manage
  • commercial awareness.

Working in the sector

Graduates can expect to:

  • work in a variety of locations depending on your specialism - from the office and factory floors to building sites, workshops, laboratories and plants
  • have opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD), perhaps working towards becoming a Chartered Engineer (CEng) or Incorporated Engineer (IEng)
  • earn an average graduate salary in the region of £27,000 to £33,000
  • use their creativity and problem-solving skills to design innovative products or tackle some of the world's most pressing challenges
  • travel locally and regionally between locations. Depending on your job, international travel could also be an option.

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

Employment prospects

Engineering graduates are highly sought-after by employers and due to the sector-wide skills shortage, employment prospects for engineering and manufacturing graduates look good. A huge range of graduate schemes are available, across a variety of disciplines with leading employers. To find out more, see how to become an engineer.

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. Read up on nuclear engineering courses.
  • Renewable energy
  • Big data 
  • Food and drink manufacturing
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Mechanical, electrical, electronic, chemical and software engineers. 

Find out more

How would you rate this page?

On a scale where 1 is dislike and 5 is like

success feedback

Thank you for rating the page