The UK has a grand tradition of manufacturing that stretches back over centuries. Times have changed, with the industry becoming more competitive, international and technologically advanced. It affects every corner of life, from areas as diverse as fashion, construction, toiletries and submarines.
Ideas of dark mills and burning furnaces linger in the minds of some when they think about this sector. This couldn’t be further from the truth in today’s highly advanced manufacturing plants.
Huge machinery obviously has its place in the process, but they are no longer hulking oily structures. Design and technology are now key, making manufacturing a world leader in innovation. And don’t think that you will spend your days staring at an endless production line getting bored. Great creativity is required in order to make products that push technological boundaries and make a big impact on the marketplace.
The options are endless, but can be broadly broken down into the following key sectors:
- Aerospace – commercial, industrial and military
- Chemicals and pharmaceuticals
- Electronics – household goods and components for larger equipment
- Environmental – building wind turbines and developing cleaner ways of processing oil and gas are just two ways manufacturers contribute to the green issue
- Fast-moving consumer goods – think about what’s in a supermarket (Toiletries, household cleaning products and food and drink, etc.)
- Marine – military and commercial ship building, developing machinery to help with global logistics
- Materials and metals – e.g. steel
Career options in manufacturing
The roles within manufacturing are as varied as the sectors you can work in.
- Finance and IT
- Research and development
- Sales and marketing
Show me the money
Many years ago, salaries in the industry were relatively low, due to the workplace being dominated by unskilled labourers. This is no longer the case. Of course it depends on which sector you choose, but renumeration can be highly competitive compared with engineering roles in other industries. Imagine working in aerospace or on the latest F1 car – salaries and benefits in these areas can be particularly attractive.
Don’t forget qualifications. A degree or postgraduate qualification will increase your value in the marketplace, as will membership of a professional institute. However, the career highlight of many engineering professionals is achieving chartered status and this can have a huge impact on what you are worth to a company.
The overseas challenge
Many companies have chosen to relocate part, or all, of their production processes abroad. They often struggle to compete with low-wage economies that can produce goods at a fraction of the cost.
The challenge for engineers is to come up with methods and processes that will allow the UK to retain their position as one of the great manufacturing nations. India and the Far East have witnessed a phenomenal rise in manufacturing in the last ten years, particularly in the fields of textiles and electronics. Graduate engineers will now have to use all their powers of enterprise and ingenuity to make manufacturing in the UK an attractive option again.