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Engineering & manufacturing Career Pathways For School Leavers

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Engineering and manufacturing are critical to the society that we live in - we need engineers to maintain our telephone lines, maintain our water systems, help with the development of buildings and integrate technology in our everyday lives.

Naturally, with the scope of work being so wide, there’s no shortage of jobs in the engineering and manufacturing sector - particularly for those who are willing to learn new skills for their trade. Currently, the UK engineering industry alone hires 5.4 million people across 542,440 companies.

Engineering utilizes STEM subjects (Science, technology, engineering, and maths) to solve complex problems in whatever area it is required - ranging from aerospace, marine, electrical and everything in between. Engineering specialists are always busy working away at the next big thing, like maybe the new iPhone, or working on projects to improve things we already have such as the Thames Tideway scheme.

The key difference between engineering and manufacturing is the latter is concerned with execution, while the former is the planner. Manufacturing is more focused on the creation of the physical item in factories, or in laboratories. The two work in very close proximity to one another and there are many areas of crossover between the two - such as manufacturing engineering - whereas other areas have very little in common.


The engineering sector has a pretty significant skills gap, which means that for those who are willing to put the time and effort into furthering their skill-set there are a number of opportunities available that’ll help to progress your career.

Employers will also be looking for your soft skills, such as communication and teamwork. These are particularly important for large projects that go on within manufacturing and engineering that could involve liasing with a number of other teams.

Other skills you’ll definitely need include:

- Ability to Work Under Pressure
- Analytical skills
- Attention to detail
- Commercial Awareness
- Communication
- Creativity
- Leadership
- Teamwork
- Technical skills

Progression opportunities

You should be in a position to apply for assistant level roles within the engineering and manufacturing sector after you complete your apprenticeship if this is the route you decide to go down. After this, you could consider going on to university afterward in order to increase your professional standing.

The early part of your career will be focussed on getting all of the technical and business knowledge that you need to contribute to the projects that your company takes part in. Once you’ve got the basics, you will find that you are able to gradually take on more responsibility and move into senior roles.

For most engineers, the end goal is to become chartered and details on how to achieve this can be found on The Engineering Council’s website. Being chartered means that you are recognised as a professional by an external body and it boosts your employability massively because it is such a respected status. It’s a lot of work, though, you need to be able to prove your knowledge and have a strong portfolio of work to fulfill the criteria set by The Engineering Council.

Manufacturing professionals also have a range of professional qualifications that they can pursue to prove their competencies in the field. Examples include the Certified Manufacturing Practitioner award from the Insitute of Manufacturing. There may be other, more specific, qualifications available to you - it all depends on what area of manufacturing you are working in.

Earning potential

As an apprentice, you’ll earn a minimum of £3.70 per hour if you’re under 19 or in the first year of your apprenticeship, or the National Minimum Wage if you’re over 19. This works out at around £150 - £240 per week.

When starting out in the industry (even after your apprenticeship) your wage is likely to be modest, but due to the responsibilities placed upon you and the level of organisation and skill required you could see your salary increase quickly.

Engineers are well paid due to the aforementioned skills gap and once you are qualified you can expect to see your pay rise jump quite quickly. Once you are chartered, you will see another jump in salary.

Here are some average salaries for engineering jobs, according to Payscale:

Software engineer (entry level) - £32,000
Software engineer - £34,453
Mechanical engineer - £30,007
Chief engineer - £60,510
Automotive engineer -£35,637
Electrical engineer -£31,053
Civil engineer - £30,317
Material engineer - £31,577

The National Careers Service offers further insight on the salary ranges for various jobs across the industry, from entry level roles to those with years of experience:

Manufacturing supervisor - £18,000 - £35,000
Structural engineer - £22,000 - £50,000
Satellite engineer -£16,000 - £30,000
Energy engineer - £20,000 - £80,000
Electronics engineer - £21,000 - £65,000
Production manager (manufacturing) - £20,000 - £40,000

Qualification requirements & subjects to study

To get a job in this sector as a school leaver, it’s a good idea to undertake a vocational qualification. A diploma, certificate or short course can give you the practical skills you need to get a job in this sector.

Professional engineering or manufacturing organisations, as well as colleges, can provide these qualifications, or at the very least provide you with information on which might be the most suitable.

Alternatively, you could look at apprenticeships in engineering or manufacturing. Apprenticeships will see you studying and working for a company at the same time; you will work alongside experienced staff and will have one day off per week to study, usually at a local technical college or equivalent.

Further Reading

Royal Academy of Engineers
Tomorrow’s Engineers
Women’s Engineering Society
Environmental Engineering
Society of Operational Engineers
Engineering Council
Engineering UK
Engineers Without Borders UK
Institute of Manufacturing
The Institution of Engineering and Technology