Production or manufacturing engineers work with companies that make things - from food, drink and chemical products to clothing, cars, aircraft and printing equipment. They design, build and maintain all the systems in factories, including automated and computer-controlled machines.
They develop production lines and systems for all kinds of manufacturing processes. These can be anything from filling cans or bottles to packaging medicines or assembling trucks or computers.
The latest technology is used in this work, and production engineers are responsible for planning, managing and maintaining the production methods and processes.
This may involve:
Production engineers usually have a day-to-day responsibility for providing technical expertise and diagnosing and solving problems. They work with production staff, including operatives and technicians, to keep assembly, manufacturing and packaging systems working smoothly and efficiently.
If their job involves a management role, production engineers will be involved in meetings with other technical and management staff, and they will have to produce reports on production issues and budgets for new or replacement systems. They may also liaise with suppliers and customers, ensuring that service departments handle product defects correctly and recalling products if necessary.
Production engineers usually work 37 hours a week, but this could include weekend and evening work, particularly when a new production process is being installed and tested, or if the company works a shift system.
They may work on the shop floor, at a desk with a computer, or in meetings. Protective clothing may be required when visiting the shop floor.
Manufacturing machinery can be noisy, and in older traditional industries the environment can be hot, dirty and dusty. Modern production lines are quieter and usually operate in an air-conditioned, dust-free environment.
Starting salaries for graduates after their initial training may be in the region of £23,000 a year. Experienced production engineers may earn up to £37,000 a year.
Around 1.5 million people are employed in engineering-related jobs in the UK, and there are engineering and manufacturing companies in most areas. Many companies tend to be based in the major cities and towns across the country.
Employers range from food and drinks manufacturers to vehicle producers. There is also a growing number of high-technology manufacturing companies in the aerospace and electronics industries, as well as precision engineering and pharmaceuticals. There are also many smaller firms, often producing high value, technologically-advanced products.
Jobs tend to be advertised in professional and trade publications, through recruitment agencies specialising in engineering posts and on the many website's dealing with engineering jobs.
Many production engineers are graduates. In fact, most employers look for graduates, and a degree or equivalent is essential for professional (chartered) status. An HND with distinctions or merits may be an alternative, although further training will be required. It is also possible to take an Open University degree. The engineering institutions accept these as long as studies follow an approved profile.
For a degree course in an engineering subject, applicants need at least two A levels normally including maths and physics, and five GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications including Access courses.
The Institution of Mechanical Engineering (IMechE) offers funding for people starting a degree, as well as opportunities to win further funding through prizes and awards.
Opportunities include the Whitworth Scholarship Awards, (www.whitworthscholarships.org.uk), designed for engineers who are planning to embark on, or have already commenced, an undergraduate engineering degree-level programme, normally a MEng. The scholarships are available in all the main engineering disciplines - mechanical, civil, electrical, aerospace and others. Many universities appear to have some funding to encourage students to study technology (www.scholarship-search.org.uk).
It is also possible to begin apprentice training for craft- or technician-level jobs in production engineering straight from school, with three to five GCSE's (A*-E). Ideally, these should include English, maths and science. GCSE's in engineering, manufacturing or design and technology could also be useful. A BTEC First Diploma in a relevant subject would be a good alternative.
The Diplomas in engineering, and manufacturing and product design 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 www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
All apprentices follow a structured training scheme at work, with part-time study at a local college leading to NVQ Level 2 or 3 in engineering production. This can then lead on to study for a foundation degree, HNC/D or degree.
For graduate trainees, training is mainly on the job, usually within a structured graduate training scheme. Many will go on to do postgraduate qualifications such as the MEng.
Following the award of a degree or an HNC/HND, and after further training with an employer, production engineers can go on to register with the Engineering Council (ECUK) as a professional engineer - either Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng).
Production engineers are expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD). This can include attending courses, meetings, workshops and seminars.
The IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology) offers a number of awards to help women who are studying for engineering qualifications.
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 production engineer should:
Production engineers can gain experience in a variety of manufacturing areas, which will help them to move into other industries or sectors.
There is also scope to move into production management, or to gain experience in other technical functions such as systems engineering.
Some engineers move into sales, marketing, general management, training or consultancy.
Engineering Council UK (ECUK),
246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0500
The Institution of Engineering and Technology
(formerly Institution of Electrical Engineers and
Institution of Incorporated Engineers),
Savoy Place, London WC2R 0BL
Tel: 020 7240 1871
The Manufacturing Institute, Quay West,
Trafford Wharf Road, Manchester M17 1HH
Tel: 0161 872 0393
SEMTA (Science, Engineering,
Manufacturing Technologies Alliance),
14 Upton Road, Watford WD18 0JT
Careers advice line: 0800 282 167
Women into Science,
Engineering and Construction (WISE)
Tel: 020 3206 0408
Women's Engineering Society
Tel: 01438 765506
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.