The Job and What's Involved

Metallurgists study the properties and performance of metals, such as iron and steel, and non-ferrous metals, such as aluminium, copper, lead, tin and zinc. Non-ferrous metals are those metals that do not contain iron. They are not magnetic and are usually more resistant to corrosion than ferrous metals.

Metallurgists may be:

Chemical Metallurgists who deal with the extraction of metals from ores, and investigate metal corrosion and fatigue. They:

  • Develop, improve and monitor the manufacturing process of steel and other metals.
  • Develop ways to make metal better, stronger and more adaptable.
  • Devise methods to recycle waste metals.
  • Use destructive or non-destructive testing to check that products and components meet quality and safety standards.

Physical Metallurgists study the behaviour of metals under stress and changes in temperature. They:

  • Analyse the composition and structure of metals and their reaction to processes such as heat treatment.
  • Run product and process development trials.
  • Help to investigate accidents, such as air crashes, where it is suspected that metallurgical failure could be a cause.
  • Produce reports on research, tests and investigations.

Process Metallurgists who are concerned with:

  • Shaping and joining metals.
  • Selecting the best metal to use for a particular application.
  • Designing metal components - ranging from support structures for huge buildings such as airports, to tiny parts for use in medical science.
  • Interpreting design drawings and working to precise specifications.
  • Advising on new products and designing prototypes.

Metallurgists work in areas such as research and development, design and manufacture, production management and quality control. They work in teams with other technical staff, as well as colleagues from areas such as finance, sales, marketing, quality control and production management. They may also manage staff and liaise with clients.

A metallurgist's role can vary enormously according to the needs of his or her employer.

Metallurgists usually work 37 to 40 hours a week. Some work normal daytime hours, from Monday to Friday; others may cover a 24-hour shift system, especially if they work in industries such as heavy engineering. They may work extra hours at busy times.

Working environments vary from clean laboratories, to noisy, hot and dirty iron and steel works. It may be necessary to travel to visit clients, both in the UK and overseas.

Salaries may start at around £20,000 a year. With experience, metallurgists may earn up to £40,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The UK metals sector is made up of around 15,000 companies employing over 400,000 people, including about 7,000 metallurgists.

Metallurgists work for organisations such as:

  • Companies producing iron, steel, copper, aluminium, gold, silver and other metals and alloys.
  • Foundries.
  • Manufacturers producing metal components and finished products.
  • Aircraft and motor vehicle manufacturers.
  • Railways.
  • Energy suppliers.
  • The Ministry of Defence (MOD) and its agencies.
  • Specialist consultancies.
  • Universities research and development departments.

Organisations employing metallurgists are located throughout the UK and overseas, especially in areas of specific industry activity such as steel manufacturing. There is a shortage of metallurgists entering the industry.

Vacancies are advertised in the local and national press, and in specialist publications like Materials World, Foundry Trade Journal and New Scientist. Academic research posts are advertised in The Times Higher Education Supplement and on other general recruitment sites, as well as those of employers. Civil Service posts are advertised on:

Education and Training

It is possible to enter the profession, particularly at technician level, with a Higher National Certificate/Diploma (HNC/HND) or foundation degree in a subject such as metallurgy and materials, metals technology, manufacturing engineering, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering or applied science. Entry to an HNC/HND or foundation degree course is usually with at least one A level and four GCSE's (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications.

Most metallurgists are graduates. Relevant degree courses include metallurgy, materials science, chemical engineering, physics or other physical sciences. To study for a first degree, candidates usually need at least two A levels, usually in maths, physics or chemistry, and five GCSE's grades A*-C. Alternative entry qualifications include relevant BTEC national qualifications.

For some positions, a postgraduate qualification (either an MSc or PhD) is required. Entry to a postgraduate course is normally with a first degree.

The Diploma in engineering may be relevant for this area of work.

Some organisations that employ metallurgists offer Apprenticeships.

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

Applicants may be accepted on to degree courses without the usual entry qualifications if they have work experience in engineering and industry. Access courses prepare students to study for a degree. These are available at local colleges.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most training is provided by employers in-house. Many major employers offer graduate training programme's. Successful completion of an accredited graduate training programme may lead to membership of a professional institution, such as the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) or the Institute of Cast Metals Engineers (ICME). Membership of a relevant professional body is not essential, but it may improve job prospects.

Following the award of a degree or an HNC/HND, and after further training with an employer, metallurgists can go on to register as a professional engineer with the Engineering Council (ECUK), either as Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng).

Metallurgists are expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD). This can include attending courses, meetings, workshops and seminars.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) offers awards to help women who are studying for incorporated engineer qualifications.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A metallurgist should:

  • Have strong scientific and mathematical abilities.
  • Have a logical and enquiring mind.
  • Have strong communication and presentation skills.
  • Have a methodical approach to work.
  • Be able to keep meticulous records.
  • Take responsibility for health and safety.
  • Be able to make decisions under pressure and work to strict deadlines.
  • Be prepared to keep up with changes in technology and have innovative ideas.
  • Be able to work in a team and on his or her own initiative.
  • Have leadership qualities.

Your Long Term Prospects

Metallurgists can progress to positions of senior technical management. It is possible to specialise in a particular area of metallurgy or in a particular industrial sector. Some metallurgists move into production management, quality assurance, technical sales, or product and business development.

Metallurgists working for multinational companies may be able to work abroad.

Self-employment, particularly in consultancy, is a possibility.

Get Further Information

Civil Service Recruitment Gateway

Engineering Council UK (ECUK),
246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0500

Institute of Cast Metals Engineers (ICME),
National Metalforming Centre,
47 Birmingham Road, West Bromwich,
West Midlands B70 6PY
Tel: 0121 601 6979

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

Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3),
1 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5DB
Tel: 020 7451 7300

Science, Engineering, Manufacturing
Technologies Alliance (SEMTA),
14 Upton Road, Watford WD18 0JT
Careers advice line: 0800 282167

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

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