Engineering Operative

The Job and What's Involved

Engineering operatives play an important part in manufacturing and producing a huge variety of products and services. They work in all branches of engineering, including mechanical, electrical, electronic, transport, marine and aviation.

The work varies depending on the type of engineering, the company and the particular job, but might involve:

  • Building up components and sub-assemblies into finished electrical or mechanical products.
  • Fitting parts to machinery and equipment.
  • Cutting and shaping parts and tools.
  • Operating machine tools, such as lathes, grinders and borers.
  • Using molding machines, which are preset to carry out certain tasks.
  • Setting and operating hand-controlled or computer-controlled machines.

The work may involve punching holes or cutting screw threads, shaping metal and plastics or using heat-treatment processes to harden products. Operatives may also use sprays or put parts through chemical treatment tanks to add surface coatings such as chrome or to clean them.

In a workshop or production plant, engineering operatives might work on their own at a machine or may work closely with other operatives on an assembly line. They usually have to carry out quality checks while they work.

Operatives may also work in other areas of an engineering company, perhaps keeping control of the stock of materials, parts and tools or packing finished products for transporting to customers.

Engineering operatives usually work 39 hours a week and may have to work shifts. This could involve working days one week and evenings the next. Some factories work around the clock on shift systems. Overtime may be available, especially when there are seasonal peaks or when orders are high.

Operatives work in factories and workshops and at outdoor sites, including docks, building sites and transport networks.

Most engineering and manufacturing factories are clean, tidy and well lit, especially in the electronics industry. However, working with engineering machines can be oily and greasy.

For most operations, engineering operatives wear protective overalls or coats. For some jobs, they wear goggles, earmuffs, face masks or extra protective clothing.

In electronic assembly and some machining jobs, operatives work sitting down. However, in large-scale assembly and packing, and in machining and finishing, they spend most of their time on their feet.

Starting salaries for an engineering operative may be around £10,000 a year. More experienced operatives may earn around £18,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are a wide range of jobs for engineering operatives in the manufacturing and engineering industry. Around 1.5 million people are employed in engineering-related jobs and there are engineering and manufacturing companies in most areas.

Many companies tend to be based near the major cities and in areas such as the West Midlands, the North of England, London and the South East.

Employers range from food and drinks manufacturers to rail and road transport operators, steel makers, machinery manufacturers and vehicle producers. There are also a growing number of high technology manufacturing companies in the aerospace and computing industries, as well as precision engineering and pharmaceuticals. The sector also has a large number of smaller firms, often producing high-value, technologically advanced products.

Vacancies may be advertised in the local and national press, Connexions centres and Jobcentre Plus offices. The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) website has a search facility for engineering jobs and there are many other websites, such as, that specialise in engineering vacancies.

Education and Training

Although it is possible to find a job as an engineering operative without any formal qualifications, GCSE's (A*-E) can be useful, especially for Apprenticeships. With increased automation and use of technology, operatives need to have some understanding of ICT and of the systems involved in producing goods. Some employers may ask applicants to take a technical aptitude test to assess their manual skills.

Many people start as apprentices and train on the job. There are also pre-employment training courses at some colleges and training providers, and a range of engineering-related qualifications at different levels, including a GCSE in engineering and City & Guilds qualifications.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

The Diplomas in engineering, and manufacturing and product design may be relevant for this area of work.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most training is done on the job. There may be an induction course in a training workshop, to include learning how to recognise and insert different components, soldering and wiring and how to handle materials. Short courses away from the workplace may be offered too.

Operatives training as apprentices study to NVQ Level 2 or 3 in subjects such as mechanical manufacturing engineering.

Other qualifications operatives could work towards include:

  • NVQ in fabrication and welding at Level 2
  • NVQ in performing engineering operations Levels 1 and 2
  • NVQ in performing manufacturing operations Levels 1 and 2
  • BTEC First Certificate in engineering
  • BTEC First Diploma in manufacturing engineering or operations and maintenance engineering

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Engineering operatives should:

  • Be willing to do a variety of tasks.
  • Have good practical hand skills and be able to use a range of tools.
  • Be strong enough to do some lifting and carrying.
  • Be able to work in a team.
  • Have computer skills.
  • Be able to work on their own where necessary.
  • Be able to concentrate on repetitive tasks.

Your Long Term Prospects

Engineering operatives who undergo an Apprenticeship gain craft-level qualifications and can, with experience, move into supervisory positions.

Further study, which could be part time, can lead to a range of qualifications at various levels, and the possibility of jobs at engineering technician level or in other engineering roles.

Get Further Information

Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB),
Blue Court, Church Lane, Kings Langley, Hertfordshire WD4 8JP
Tel: 01923 260000

Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST),
80 Coleman Street, London EC2R 5BJ
Tel: 020 7382 2600

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET),
Michael Faraday House, Six Hills Way, Stevenage,
Hertfordshire SG1 2AY
Tel: 01438 313311

SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science,
Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies),
14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 0800 100 3682

Women's Engineering Society,
The IET, Michael Faraday House, Six Hills Way,
Stevenage, Hertfordshire SG1 2AY
Tel: 01438 765506

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