The Engineering and Manufacturing sector offers a range of highly rewarding careers to candidates across the UK. There are several different roles that manufacturing engineers usually apply for. These are typically as a:
Research Engineer - Research engineers play integral roles in a manufacturer’s planning for the future. These engineers analyse their market and the sentiments of its consumers in order to design products that they’ll love now and that they’ll still love in ten years’ time. Brilliant research engineers are crucial if companies are to stay ahead of their competitors. Essentially, these researchers are tasked with spotting gaps in the market and then creating products which fill those gaps in commercially viable ways.
Design Engineer - Design engineers take researchers’ plans and transform them into prototypes. They need to bring these ideas to life while remaining within budget and on time. Additionally, designers must consider the impact of their creations on the environment, and create products which can easily and safely be disposed of after consumers have stopped using them. This consideration of a product’s ‘whole life’ follows increasing consumer awareness of and concern about not only climate change but also how disused electronic goods can negatively impact communities overseas when these goods are sent to landfills around the world.
Development Engineer - These engineers turn prototypes into products which can be manufactured at scale and sold for profit. Manufacturing products of suitable quality whilst keeping costs under control and schedules tight is extremely challenging. Talented development engineers are key to transforming world-leading ideas into world-leading businesses.
Production Engineer - Production engineers make manufacturing more efficient and cost-effective without ever compromising on quality. They do this by analysing entire production lines and making optimisations where they are essential for enhancing performance and ultimately, productivity. Their focus is on the development of systems used in production rather than products.
Quality Assurance Engineer - If products are found to have breached strict regulatory standards, or to have been manufactured in facilities which don’t conform to the very latest health and safety legislation and guidelines, manufacturers could be liable for millions of pounds worth of fines. Quality Assurance Engineers play a vital role in preventing these liabilities from ever occurring in the first place. They design and test quality control systems, as well as training staff to ensure that stringent regulations are followed at all times.
Aerospace & Defence- Manufacturing of newer, safer, faster and more technologically advanced aircraft is key to the development of the global economy. This industry also services the defence industry with a range of products and technologies that are making our world a safer place. If your specialism is electronics, a career in this industry could place you at the heart of manufacturing sensors, radar systems and the latest avionics. As a manufacturing engineer, you could be building the very latest planes and spacecraft. Research engineering roles could cover topics varying from signals jamming to hypersonic travel.
Pharmaceuticals - Engineers in this industry make the medicines and tablets that we take whenever we feel ill. They also test these drugs and engineer their methods of production to ensure that the demands of efficiency, cost and stringent government regulations are always met. As research into diseases and conditions which previous generations considered untreatable progress, pharmaceutical engineers will be at the forefront of huge medical advances that could give those suffering from serious illnesses a vastly increased life expectancy and quality of life.
FMCG - Products have to be manufactured before they make it to supermarket shelves. Engineers in this sector have many different roles. Some will work on creating the tastiest new foods, drinks and snacks to tantalise consumers’ taste buds. Other engineering work will involve the creation of exceptional logistics systems to ensure that those products reach distributors as efficiently as possible, without losing any of their quality.
Software - As the data trails that we leave whenever we use the internet impact more and more on our lives, an entirely new field of engineering has opened up over recent years. Software engineers create systems that harness this data as effectively as possible to ensure that businesses are using this data to maximise their profits, while carefully observing and respecting privacy laws. Software engineers also create products (often digitally) that make consumers’ and professionals’ lives as easy and convenient as possible. From programmes that streamline multiple business processes to home assistants that allow people to turn appliances on or search the web simply by speaking, software engineering is advancing significantly every quarter and is making functions that were previously considered impossible daily realities in the lives of millions of people around the world.
Energy - Whether they are finding new ways to extract remaining fossil fuels, designing newer, greener energy sources, or making the sourcing of nuclear energy safer and more efficient, engineers play integral roles in powering the world. National governments are actively creating jobs in renewable energy to make the transition from fossil fuels to green energy as fast, smooth and efficient as possible. Power outages or enormous increases in fuel costs as a result of fossil fuel sources drying up without adequate replaces could be politically disastrous for the government of the day in any country. The British government plans to avoid this disruption involves filling 7,000-8,000 vacancies in the nuclear sector every year until 2021. If you are currently at University and are considering an engineering career, then the nuclear industry could offer the perfect job for you.
Automotive - It’s impossible to walk down a street without seeing at least one car. Despite this, the automotive industry is under huge pressure, as household name brands are placed under ever-increasing pressure by cheaper competitors. The possible challenges posed to importing parts from Europe by Brexit and in particular, the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit increases this pressure exponentially, and has already led a number of vehicle manufacturers to warn of massive redundancies in worst-case scenarios. Into this volatile but potentially hugely rewarding atmosphere walk the automotive engineers of the future.
These engineers will have to make vehicles that perform better than ever before, on far lower budgets than ever before. Their success will prevent some of the biggest brands in the industry from encountering severe financial difficulties. Automotive engineers also make motorbikes, scooters and a range of other vehicles that allow consumers to travel from A to B more safely than ever before, without ever compromising on style.
If you work well under pressure and want to play an essential role in how the world travels, then a role in automotive engineering could develop into your dream career.
Biomedical - Imagine if crops could discreetly change colour to give a secret signal to anyone who needed to know about the presence of chemicals in the air. Imagine if you could eat a substance that looked and tasted exactly like meat, without being meat. Imagine if crops could easily be replaced if they were damaged by the weather, and could be genetically altered to become more weather resilient. Thanks to biomedical engineering, all of these scenarios could become realities over the coming century. As well as innovating plants, biomedical engineers also work to create more effective medical treatments than ever before.
Automation and Robotics - Robots used to be futuristic additions to sci-fi thrillers that regularly entertained film lovers. Now we are approaching a time where robots could become companions to everyday life. From robot servants to robotised kitchen appliances, robotised office equipment and even fully-robotised manufacturing systems, developments in this field of engineering make anything possible. The creation of robotised friends and even sexual partners is made possible by developments in automation.
Engineers working in this field will be central to not just innovative product design, but the design of the global economy and even the design of society’s basic fabric. If you want to influence how the world will work, live and love over the next century, then you’ll be right at home in this field.
Not all engineers work in manufacturing. A huge number of engineers work to create better roads, highways, bridges, waterways and transport systems for the public to use and enjoy on a daily basis. This discipline is known as Civil Engineering.
Job opportunities for Civil Engineers are slightly different to those of manufacturing engineers, as their work is often focused on the design, construction and maintenance of a structure, rather than the design and production of consumer products. Civil engineers often find work as:
Structural Engineers - However wonderful they may look aesthetically, structures such as bridges are useless and could quickly become dangerous if they are not able to withstand the pressures and stresses forced upon them by daily usage. The work of structural engineers to prevent this dangerous damage from occurring is vital to ensuring that the public can travel across the transport network conveniently and safely. It can be difficult for these engineers to gain work on some of the industry’s most significant projects if they are not Chartered with the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE). Once Chartered, hugely lucrative career opportunities become available for these engineers.
Site Engineers - Site Engineers ensure that the designs specified by Structural Engineers are applied precisely and in accordance with all health and safety regulations on-site so that structures are built exactly as they were designed. A fault by a site engineer could have disastrous consequences for a structure’s safety, making the quality of their work an absolutely crucial part of the construction process. Site Engineers tend to begin their careers as site technicians and can then progress to become consultants or contractors, depending on their performance and experience.
Salaries depend significantly on experience and certifications. Graduate schemes for engineers can often recruit at 24-32k per year. Chartered engineers can earn upwards of £60,000, and even £80,000+ a year if they are Structural Engineers. Engineering careers require a number of skills which are easily transferable to roles in other professions, particularly in general management and finance. The ability to carefully analyse data and statistics, clearly communicate the conclusions drawn from it and then liaise with colleagues and commercial partners to determine ideal responses to the data are essential for success in any business. That’s why engineers who find work in some of the world’s largest organisations can easily progress to senior leadership roles within them. Those roles are accompanied by enormous salaries which often reach six, seven and sometimes eight-figures.
As mentioned above, the skills required for and development during an engineering career are vitally important in a range of different careers. These skills are:
- Numeracy - An engineer being unfamiliar with numbers is a bit like sunshine being unfamiliar with beaches. It doesn’t happen. The ability to make accurate calculations is integral to understanding how many diameters of a product your design has to fit, or how much pressure a bridge’s girders can tolerate. Without successful maths, successful engineering is impossible.
- Team Working - Engineering projects often involve entire teams of talented individuals. The ability to value everybody’s contribution equally and show everyone how much their input is valued is essential for building a team that will design fantastic projects and structures. The best engineers in any field will be able to talk to the newest apprentices in a way that makes them feel appreciated and encouraged to pursue their engineering careers for many years to come.
- Communication - Getting your point across effectively will make the difference between presenting your vision for the future of smartphones, and presenting a phone that doesn’t fit in anyone’s pocket.
- Creativity - In markets that are saturated with new products, the ability to see what nobody else can see, and create the future, without pushing a manufacturer’s debts long into the future, makes the difference between engineering products and engineering the future of social interaction and progression.
- Attention To Detail - Was that measurement 15cm or 50cm? Absolute precision is required at all times in order to design and develop products and structures to exact specifications.
- Problem-Solving - Engineers need to be able to come up with innovative solutions to the world’s biggest problems. They have to find answers when everyone else just sees complex issues and questions.
- Organisation and Time Management - Engineers will be expected to work on multiple aspects of a project simultaneously if they are working on-site, and multiple projects simultaneously if they are working in an office-based role. That requires exceptional organisation and time management skills, as everyone you are working with will expect you to put any stress you may be feeling over other projects to one side whilst you’re dealing with them, and give them your full attention at all times whenever you are with them. Sites can often be in rural areas, so it is vital that you arrive on time and bring all required materials with you. Unnecessary delays caused by disorganisation could jeopardise entire projects.
- Project Management Skills - As engineers grow in experience, they will be required to manage larger and larger teams, possibly across multiple sites and offices. It is vital to balance the soft skills that encourage every member of the team to achieve their full potential, with the commercial awareness to complete projects to tight deadlines, whilst remaining within tight budgets.
- Technical Skills - Building products and structures with meticulous skill are essential to many engineering jobs. It is vital to be willing to get stuck in to help your team with manual tasks where required, and to complete these tasks efficiently, without compromising on quality. An awareness of the latest health and safety regulations is essential, as any deviation from these guidelines is likely to result in huge fines for your employer. Therefore, the ability to adapt individual ways of working so that they fit with third-party guidelines and other people’s working methods is a key attribute that successful engineers share.
A typical day can vary enormously depending on the type of engineering that you specialise in. If you are working on-site or in a factory, the hours can be long and time spent travelling can be even longer. If you need to attend a structure a short notice to support emergency maintenance works, unsociable shift patterns will become a regular feature of your life. These hours are a career stage that many engineers have to go through. That being said, you will be working on incredibly exciting projects, and if you impress your team, you may well find yourself being assigned to work on these projects from an office role with more regular hours. Career breaks are also possible to allow you to spend some much-needed time with your family and friends.
An advantage of working in engineering is that you will be given a huge amount of responsibility early on in your career. These responsibilities involve designing products, structures and water distribution and safety schemes, working alongside talented teams to develop these designs into incredible realities, liaising with suppliers to obtain equipment at competitive prices, and meticulous record-keeping to name a few.
It is important to remember that some site work will be cold, dirty, and could even be wet. All site work will require you to wear appropriate protective clothing.
Many companies offer either apprenticeships or site-based jobs that can be applied for as soon as candidates leave school. That being said, university undergraduate and postgraduate degrees can be incredibly helpful if you want to obtain more complex and engineering roles earlier on in your career. Many leading firms offer work experience placements so that those applying from University can gain meaningful professional experience in this industry before applying for relevant graduate positions. Writing to smaller firms in letters that show a real passion for their work is a great idea if you’re looking to get more offers of work experience. Apprenticeships are also widely available throughout the industry.
As many engineering companies include some site work in their projects, sometimes getting a job on a construction site or a factory and impressing your employers can act as the first part of an exciting and highly rewarding future as an engineer. Competition for all opportunities in the industry is fierce, but don't let it put you off applying. If you can demonstrate that you have the skills required to succeed, then you’ll be able to take advantage of one of these opportunities.
Engineering degrees provide undergraduates with all of the skills that they will need to become successful engineers. As well as three-year BEng Bachelor’s degrees, students can also choose to take an MEng course which includes a Master’s degree and is four years in length. Students can then further specialise by taking a range of other postgraduate qualifications specific to the field of engineering in which they would like to specialise, such as aerospace or biomedical.
An engineering degree is not the only academic route into the industry. Degrees in Mathematics provide students with the perfect opportunity to develop the numerical and analytical skills that they will need to enjoy successful careers in engineering. Degrees in Physics and other sciences are also immensely valuable here for the same reason. Geography degrees also provide fantastic training for engineering careers, as they give students a detailed understanding of how different parts of the physical world around them relate to each other.
The Institute of Engineering and Technology offers a vast number of courses covering everything from industry-focused business management skills to specific technical skills for different engineering disciplines.
The gold standard of professional development in engineering is becoming chartered. In the UK, a CEng from the Engineering Council grants engineers this prestigious status which will allow them to work on the industry’s most lucrative projects. Often, employers will fund this professional training. In fact, the IET offers in-company training, and the Engineering Council works extremely closely with stakeholders across all industry that utilise Engineers. Individual fields of engineering also have their own bodies, whose accreditations are highly sought-after (such as the IStructE mentioned above). If you are starting your own engineering business, or are working on a freelance basis, it is advisable to have as many qualifications (both academic and professional) as possible.