Motor Vehicle Manufacturing Operative

The Job and What's Involved

Motor vehicle manufacturing operatives assemble the various parts of a motor car, light goods vehicle or heavy goods vehicle to make the finished product. They normally work in one of three areas in a factory:

Body section. This is where the body of the vehicle is made. Operatives position pressed unpainted metal panels into jigs. They make sure that the panels are spot welded together successfully. This operation demands a lot of care, as the panels must be aligned correctly or the end product will not reach the accepted standards of quality.

Paint section. Paint operatives spray the parts of a vehicle body that cannot be covered by a factory robot. They may spray inside the bonnet, in small joins or inside the boot. They may work in a spray booth.

Trim and final assembly section. The painted body enters the assembly building. The vehicle travels along the production line where operatives progressively fit parts to complete the vehicle. These include such items as wiring harness, front and rear light clusters, headlining, subframe, engine and transmission, brake line, steering mechanism, soundproofing, windscreen, carpet, dashboard, seats, wheels and tyres and front and rear bumper units.

It is common for an operative to use equipment that is operated by computers and power-assisted hand tools to fix units into position.

In vehicle component manufacturing firms, operatives assemble units. Here they might build engine or transmission assemblies and prepare wiring harnesses or seats.

Motor vehicle manufacturing operatives normally work up to 40 hours per week. They may work a range of shifts. Flexible working and overtime, to fit in with the flow of work on the production line, may be required by many manufacturers.

The factory may be large, well lit and comfortably ventilated, but some areas of work may be quite dirty and noisy. Operatives may be required to wear protective clothing, such as safety glasses, masks, gloves, steel toe caps and ear defenders.

Operatives may have to lift or stand for long periods.

The starting salary for apprentices is around £8,000 a year.
Operatives with two years' experience may expect to earn around £18,000.

Experienced manufacturing operatives may earn up to around £22,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are approximately 200,000 people working in vehicle manufacturing throughout the UK. They are employed by the large automotive manufacturers and component manufacturers who make parts for the motor industry.

Over 1.4 million vehicles a year roll off production lines in Coventry, Birmingham, Sunderland, Swindon, Oxford, Solihull, Derby, Ellesmere Port and Crewe. They are supplied by components factories throughout the UK.

The industry is not expanding, but is changing in character. For example, Ford has stopped producing cars in Britain, but the UK is becoming one of Ford's major centres for engine production. The UK's best-selling vehicle in 2008 was the Ford Focus and 75 per cent of the engines that went into those vehicles were produced in the UK. In addition, 67 per cent of all vehicles sold in the UK are from manufacturers that produce engines and vehicles here.

Job vacancies are advertised in the local press, in Jobcentre Plus offices and in Connexions centres in the areas where the factories are situated. Information can also be found on company websites.

Education and Training

A common way to start a career in production assembly is to join a manufacturer's training scheme. Entry requirements and the style of training may vary between companies, so details of individual schemes should be checked. Some employers offer Apprenticeships. The Diplomas in manufacturing and product design and in engineering may be relevant for this area of work.

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

Most apprentices start at 16-18 years old. There are no minimum qualifications, but some employers may look for GCSE's (A*-C) including English, maths and science or technology. Applicants are expected to demonstrate skills in literacy and numeracy. All applicants usually spend a day at the manufacturer's assessment centre, taking part in an interview, an aptitude test and a team activity, together with some pre-work activity.

Applications from those with some engineering experience are welcomed by the motor manufacturing industry.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is often provided on the job, but will vary between employers. New recruits are given an initial induction to company processes, particularly with regard to health and safety procedures and quality issues. Some trainees may spend a month in each of the production sections working under the supervision of an experienced operative.

Apprenticeships usually take between three and four years of work in the factory combined with study at college. Apprentices learn a range of skills such as working with engines, servicing, body repair, paint spraying and welding and an introduction to computer-controlled manufacturing operations. Apprentices normally work under the supervision of an experienced operator towards NVQ Levels 1 and 2 in performing manufacturing operations.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Motor vehicle manufacturing operatives should be:

  • Able to concentrate on routine tasks.
  • Confident working with their hands.
  • Flexible
  • Able to work to a specified procedure, written or oral.
  • Able to carry out intricate operations.
  • Wlling to learn new skills.
  • Able to work well as part of a team.
  • Safety conscious.
  • Able to work to defined standards of quality.
  • Strong and have stamina to work for long hours on their feet.
  • Confident operating heavy machinery.

Your Long Term Prospects

Within the manufacturing environment, promotion to supervisory grades may be possible for people who show the right skills and a desire to learn.

Workers who gain further qualifications, such as NVQ Level 3 or a BTEC National Diploma or Certificate, may achieve technician status. Some may even progress into management positions.

There may be opportunities for technicians to go on to do an engineering degree or HND/HNC, and to achieve incorporated or chartered engineer status.

Get Further Information

Engineering Connections,
EEF West Midlands, Reddings Lane,
Tyseley, Birmingham,
West Midlands
Tel: 0800 917 1617

Enginuity, 2nd Floor, Weston House,
246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX
Tel: 0207 557 6432

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: 01923 238441

Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT),
Forbes House, Halkin Street,
London SW1X 7DS
Tel: 020 7235 7000

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

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