Metals Industry Production Operative

The Job and What's Involved

The metals industry consists of companies which extract, process, distribute and recycle metals, or fabricate metals for construction or other products. It supplies vital raw materials, basic precision products, and complete building structures to the manufacturing, public and service sectors. Many manufacturing sectors depend on the metals industry for raw materials.

Every year, the industry produces 14 million tonnes of steel, 1.2 million tonnes of castings and 500,000 tonnes of aluminium, and reclaims and processes 10 million tonnes of used or end-of-life metals. It also supports a national network of stockholding and distribution which handles 16 million tonnes of ferrous and non-ferrous metals a year.

Production operatives in the metals industry work in factories and manufacturing units. Their work involves:

  • Preparing machines to begin the manufacturing process.
  • Collecting, weighing and preparing materials.
  • Checking machines regularly when they are in operation.
  • Closing machines after a production run.
  • Carrying out cleaning, repair and maintenance work on the machinery.
  • Working with and assisting engineers, technicians and workshop staff.
  • Fitting and assembling components such as jigs and tools.
  • Taking measurements and samples to provide accurate production and quality control data.
  • Recording results on computers.
  • Understanding and adhering to health and safety requirements.

The metals industry has invested heavily in technology, and operatives now work with valuable computer-controlled machinery. In some organisations, production operatives may carry out work which requires additional skills to:

  • Drive cranes and forklift trucks.
  • Carry out welding and burning operations.
  • Change sheets of metal into a variety of shapes, as required by the customer.
  • Use special equipment to join metals together.
  • Apply heat treatment and NDT (non-destructing testing) processes to a range of metals.

A production operative's work is overseen by skilled, experienced workers such as team leaders, supervisors or technicians. The job is team based and involves working with colleagues to solve problems, maintain equipment and meet deadlines.

Production operatives normally work a standard number of hours each week, with possible overtime and shift work. They are based on the factory floor, and the work often involves standing at machines for long periods of time. The work can be strenuous and involves bending and lifting.

Protective clothing, such as ear defenders, eye protection, headgear, safety shoes and overalls, are worn in the manufacturing area.

Starting salaries may range from around £15,000 to £17,000 a year. With more experience, this may rise to around £20,000. Highly experienced operatives may earn up to £27,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 30,000 companies in the UK metals sector, employing 470,000 people in the UK (amounting to around one in every eight jobs in the UK manufacturing sector). There are metals companies throughout the UK, although the greatest concentration is in Yorkshire, Humberside and the West Midlands. The UK metals industry is the country's fourth largest manufacturing exporter and it exports almost 50 per cent of what it produces to around 200 countries. The sector has an annual turnover of £38 billion with exports worth nearly £10 billion per annum. Most other manufacturing sectors depend on the metals industry for raw materials.

While some technologies in the industry are well established, new ones are also emerging, and the trend is for companies to produce specialised products such as medical equipment or systems aimed at particular markets such as the aerospace industry.

Opportunities for production operatives are advertised in the local press, in Jobcentre Plus offices and on the websites of larger employers. The MetSkill Academy offers a facility for job searchers to forward their CV to a dedicated metals industry careers team and to browse through current vacancies in the industry. Access to this facility is available on the MetSkill website.

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements for work as a production operative. It is possible to enter the industry straight from school, and many train as an apprentice. The Diplomas in engineering and in manufacturing and product design may be relevant for this area of work.

For entry to an Apprenticeship, employers look for individuals with an ability in maths, English and science, good interpersonal skills and a positive attitude. Applications from candidates with GCSE grades in manufacturing and engineering are particularly welcomed. Metals employers also value GCSE passes in applied business, applied ICT and applied science.

For entry to an Advanced Apprenticeship, four GCSE grades (A*-C), including maths and English, are usually required.

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

A Few More Exams You Might Need

An Apprenticeship takes about two years to complete and the Advanced Apprenticeship takes between three and four years. Both courses include practical training in the workplace as well as studying at college or with a training provider.

Apprenticeships lead to an NVQ at Level 2, an Advanced Apprenticeship to an NVQ at Level 3 and often to technical certificates, such as a BTEC National Certificate or Diploma. Key skills and industry awareness are also including in the training.

NVQ training includes:

  • Metal processing and allied operations at Levels 2 and 3.
  • Combined working practices at Levels 2 and 3.
  • Engineering maintenance and installation at Level 2.
  • Mechanical manufacturing engineering at Levels 2 and 3.
  • Process engineering maintenance at Levels 2 and 3.
  • Fabrication and welding at Level 2.
  • Performing engineering operations at Levels 1 and 2.
  • Performing manufacturing operations at Levels 1 and 2.

The following BTEC qualifications are also available:

  • First Certificate in engineering.
  • First Diploma in manufacturing engineering.
  • First Diploma in operations and maintenance engineering.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A production operative in the metals industry should:

  • Be reliable, conscientious and punctual.
  • Understand how the operating machinery works.
  • Be aware of health and safety issues and take them seriously.
  • Be a good team worker who enjoys working in a technical environment.
  • Be fit enough to cope with active physical work.
  • Be good with their hands.
  • Have good hand-to-eye co-ordination.
  • Have a steady hand to carry out delicate work.
  • Develop good communication skills.
  • Have a flexible attitude to carrying out a range of different jobs.

Your Long Term Prospects

Employers encourage production operatives to progress to supervisory roles and production management.

For production operatives with experience and ambition, there may be opportunities to move into other business areas, such as quality or technical and production support.

Get Further Information


SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science,
Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies)
Tel: 01923 238441
Learning helpline: 0800 282167

Women into Science, Engineering
and Construction (WISE)
Tel: 020 3206 0408

Women's Engineering Society
Tel: 01438 765506

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