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Manufacturing engineering

Manufacturing Engineering

An estimated 1 in 5 engineers work in manufacturing in the UK, making it one of the largest engineering sectors. So what’s it like to work in manufacturing? Rebecca Barnes investigates.


The UK is the world’s sixth largest manufacturer so it’s no surprise that manufacturing engineers are in great demand. The sector, which generated £150 billion for the UK economy in 2008, is a key economic and social driver for the UK, and accounted for 55% of all exports, employing three million people.

A few more facts and figures: the sector is projected to expand over the period 2007-2017 in output terms; however in parallel, efficiency is projected to increase at a faster rate.

By 2017, 587,000 new workers will need to be recruited into the manufacturing sector. The profile of workers is also predicted to change – overall almost 47% of all employees in 2017 will be at associate professional level or higher, compared with just over 32% in 1987.

But despite healthy stats, engineering manufacturing has been affected by the global downturn and along with a marked reduction in manufacturing output and export orders, business activity is at a record low and widespread job cuts have also taken their toll.

So what does the role entail?  Put simply, manufacturing engineers make things. Almost everything used at home or work is manufactured and manufacturing engineers are designers as well as analytical and creative thinkers, utilising their technical expertise to plan, design, modify and monitor the processes and production systems from beginning to end.

Using the most cost-effective, environmentally friendly methods, the aim is to help the factory produce on time, on budget and to strict quality standards.

Key sectors engaged in manufacturing engineering activities include aerospace and defence; automotive; construction and engineering; pharmaceutical; food and drink and marine.

With a working environment that could include a factory floor, office or lab, successful engineers working in this field need to have a natural curiosity for the way things work, good communication skills, and a methodical mind. 

If you’re the type of person who wonders why something works and then enjoys getting their hands dirty to find out how, this could be the career for you.

A degree is essential and many renowned engineering colleges including Cambridge, Brunel and Newcastle offer manufacturing engineering courses, while the Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence (CEME) also offers access to a wide range of courses in engineering; visit ceme.co.uk for details. 

It’s also worthwhile checking out the Courses & Training and Jobs & Recruitment sections at engineermagazine.co.uk, as companies are keen to discuss roles with candidates with previous experience, as well as those with relevant technical and management skills that can transfer easily from other industry sectors.

Alternatively, for entry-level candidates, there is a good range of apprenticeships to choose from; visit apprenticeships.org.uk for more information.

Address Book
British Engineering Manufacturers’ Association (BEMA) is an established trade association that aims to keep the industry informed. Visit bema.co.uk for information, news and job opportunities.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) is an international professional society and the premier source for manufacturing knowledge, education and networking. It’s a good resource for all manufacturing engineers. Visit sme.org for more information.

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