Materials engineers, also known as materials engineer scientists, specialise in understanding the structure, properties and processing of a wide range of materials. Materials include metals and alloys, ceramics, glass, plastics, rubber, semiconductors, biomedical materials and combinations of materials called composites.
Materials engineers/scientists combine or modify materials in different ways for use in products ranging from cars and aircraft to buildings, bridges, silicon chips, sports equipment and even replacement body parts for humans. In fact, there has been a materials scientist or engineer involved in designing and developing everything we use in our everyday lives. They may study alternative and sustainable sources of materials and energy to make processes more environmentally friendly, and look at how we can make the best use of the materials we already have by recycling them.
The work of materials engineers/scientists is used in a variety of industries and they are involved in many different stages of processing. Work activities vary from job to job, but may include:
Materials engineers/scientists usually work as part of a team of scientists, engineers and technicians from different disciplines. They may also liaise with colleagues from departments such as purchasing and marketing.
Most materials engineers/scientists work between 35 and 40 hours a week, from Monday to Friday. Additional hours and overtime (including weekend work) may be required when working to deadlines or dealing with problems.
Materials engineers/scientists are usually based in laboratories, offices or manufacturing environments. They wear appropriate protective clothing. Traveling to visit sites is often required, so a driving licence may be useful. Some jobs involve staying away from home in the UK or overseas.
Starting salaries may be around £20,000 a year.
Materials engineers/scientists are employed in many different industrial and manufacturing sectors, including construction, construction engineering, building services, electronics, shipbuilding, aerospace, power generation, railways, biomedical engineering, and vehicle and consumer goods manufacture. Employers range from huge multinational companies to universities, government agencies and small research laboratories, and may be based anywhere in the UK. There may also be opportunities to work overseas.
Job vacancies may be advertised on recruitment websites and in magazines such as Materials World and The Engineer.
The majority of materials engineers/scientists have a degree or HNC/HND. A number of UK universities offer three- and four-year BEng and MEng degrees in materials engineering, materials science or materials science and engineering. Graduates have a similar range of careers options whatever the title of the degree in this subject field.
Other useful degree subjects include:
- Applied chemistry
- Applied physics
- Ceramics and glass
- Chemical engineering
- Mechanical engineering
- Minerals/mining engineering
- Polymer science/technology
- Structural engineering
The minimum requirements for a degree course are usually at least two or three A levels, normally including maths and a science subject, and five GCSE's (A-C), or equivalent qualifications. It is a good idea to check entry requirements with individual institutions. Candidates who do not have the required qualifications in science and maths may be able to enter after taking an Access or Foundation course.
For HNC/HND courses, the normal requirements are one A level, or a BTEC national certificate/diploma in a relevant subject, or equivalent qualifications. Candidates starting work with an HNC/HND may take longer to complete their training.
A Diploma will help you make a more informed choice about the type of learning that best suits you and about what kind of work or further study you may want to do afterwards.
People with GCSE's (A-C) including English, maths and science, may be able to enter this field by training with an employer as a technician-level Apprentice and then, with further experience, training and qualifications, progress to more senior positions.
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 www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Some universities and training providers in England are involved in the Graduate Apprenticeship Scheme. Candidates should check with individual colleges and universities to see if this option is available.
Materials engineers/scientists usually work towards professional status by becoming either an incorporated engineer or a chartered engineer. People who do not have a degree may opt to follow the engineering technician (EngTech) route.
To qualify as an incorporated materials engineer, individuals should:
To qualify as a chartered materials engineer, individuals must:
Ideas and technologies change rapidly in this field, so materials engineers/scientists must commit to Continuing Professional Development (CPD). The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) can recommend a range of courses, including some available by distance learning.
Further study for postgraduate qualifications may be an option. Materials engineers/scientists may find a management qualification will help them to develop their careers.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A materials engineer should:
With experience, promotion to senior materials engineer/scientist or project manager may be possible. There may also be opportunities to progress into senior general management. Promotion prospects are better for materials engineers/scientists with chartered or incorporated status.
Some materials engineers/scientists become self-employed, often working on specific projects on a contract basis. It is also possible to move into other fields, such as research and development or other branches of engineering and product design.
Engineering Council UK (ECUK),
246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0500
Engineering and Technology Board
The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET),
Michael Faraday House, Stevenage SG1 2AY
Tel: 01438 313 311
SEMTA (Sector Skills Council for Science,
Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies),
14 Upton Road, Watford WD18 0JT
Tel: 0800 282167
Women into Science, Engineering
and Construction (WISE),
2nd Floor, Weston House,
246 High Holborn WC1B 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0408
Women's Engineering Society,
The IET, Michael Faraday House,
Six Hills Way, Stevenage SG1 2AY
Tel: 01438 765506
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.