Overview of the engineering and manufacturing sector in the UK

Author
Jemma Smith, Editor
Posted
September, 2021

The engineering and manufacturing industries are in desperate need of talented, skilled graduates who are passionate and committed to innovating for the future

Areas of engineering and manufacturing

Engineering and manufacturing is one of the UK's broadest sectors. 5.5 million people work in engineering in the UK, accounting for 18% of all UK employment.

While some engineering-related industries, such as mining and quarrying, are in decline, 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:

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)
  • Rio-Tinto (metals).

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, design and production engineers.

It's also estimated that the industry will need 200,000 skilled engineers between now and 2024 to meet demand. 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

Graduate 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 of £33,725, according to The Engineer's Salary Survey 2020/21
  • 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. 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 
  • Food and drink manufacturing
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Mechanical, electrical, electronic, chemical and software engineers - These roles will be particularly sought-after, with design, production and maintenance opportunities existing in numerous industries.

Find out more

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