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Manufacturing is critically important to the UK's economic vitality and sustainability. The manufacturing industry employs around 2.6 million people in the UK and accounts for around 10% (£150.7 billion) of national economic output. A large proportion of jobs in service industries depend on manufacturing. Manufacturing revolves around the production of goods to meet design specifications, quality controls and customer requirements. According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) their analysis of the industry has indicated that the recent growth in manufacturing sub-sectors could boost the economy by as much as £30 billion by 2025, creating over 500,000 jobs. Therefore, a manufacturing graduate career is a promising choice.

Within manufacturing, the top four industries in the UK measured by production value are food and drink, transport, metals and plastics. Manufacturing stability is heavily dependent on the economy. Decades of economic instability, coupled with under investment, high interest rates and over-regulation had left manufacturing reeling. One by one manufacturing industries contracted or disappeared. According to CBI, in order to retain a robust foundation industry sector in the UK, businesses like steel, mineral products, glass and chemicals will have to innovate relentlessly to ensure international competitiveness.

In spite of this there has been a recent sense of optimism around the British manufacturing sector. Confidence in the sector is rising at its fastest rate since the seventies with order books filling up and investment intentions increasing. The industrial strategy that businesses had been longing for is taking hold, and with it the expectation of a stable policy framework and stronger partnership between businesses and government. Advanced manufacturing in sectors such as automotive, aerospace and life sciences are continuing to excel. Businesses are investing with renewed positivity in energy generation technology, and research and development continues to create ideas at the cutting edge of manufacturing innovation.

Business sentiment is strong, but to convert this optimism into visible growth the sector needs stronger supply chains to realise a true resurgence in manufacturing that filters down to firms of all sizes and touches all regions of the UK. Without a plan to raise the capacity of the UKs supply chains the industrial recovery will be stunted. The industry needs to compete to win supply chain activity as companies across the world re-evaluate their supply chains in the wake of the financial crisis and other major global events. This can be done based on a business environment that adopts innovation, higher quality and a better service for customers, rather than a futile race to the bottom on cost. With the right strategy the UK can build its supply chain capacity and be seen as the destination of choice for advanced manufacturing.

Traditionally manufacturing covers a wide variety of career areas including engineering, design, transport, logistics, distribution, research and development, scientific work, administration and management roles. These jobs are available throughout the UK but mainly in urban centres and industrial areas.

Average Manufacturing Graduate Salary

Manufacturing Graduate Career Path

Graduate employers range from big multinational companies to specialist small and medium-sized businesses. The larger manufacturing or processing plants are located near ports, close to natural resources, or in major industrial centres close to potential customers. With the multinationals, there may be opportunities to work abroad. There are many posts open to graduates and in some roles there are skills shortages. Good rates of pay and incentives are offered for university graduates of a specific calibre.

Production Planners are responsible for designing and implementing production schedules, which basically means specifying what the product is to be made out of, how long it will take to make and how much it will cost.

On the management side, Purchasing Managers (or buyers) on an industrial level will obtain all the necessary "ingredients" to make the product, combining quality and cost effectiveness where possible. Production Managers are responsible for coordinating schedules at ground level and making sure supplies and manpower are running to full capacity. Quality Assurance Managers monitor and test all the stages along the way to the finished products, to make sure that the products meet with design specifications, that they are properly made, packed, labelled and transported.

Production Engineers design, create and maintain the process equipment and facilities. They keep the production facility running smoothly. Every time a new product is put into manufacture, engineers will be called upon to either adapt existing machinery or write a new machine specification. They take into account the amount of product it needs to churn out, how often it will be needed and how it can fit in with existing machinery. They also decide how it will be operated, cleaned and maintained. As with other positions in this area, a technical background and an ability to work with other people are important.

Naturally, the manufacturing industry offers careers in a number of support roles. Jobs are available for graduates in finance, marketing and IT, to name but a few. Also expect that no two days will ever be the same, especially in a managerial position where there will be a thousand and one things to co-ordinate and plan. Many companies make more than one product, so the opportunities for moving into different career paths may be quite good, especially if you are prepared to work unsocial hours.

There are many opportunities out there for graduates, but be prepared to search for them. Consider sectors you wouldn't normally think of. There is often the possibility to move across functions within the industry as well as the chance to develop expertise in a particular field. Opportunities also exist to progress to a team-leader role or a more general managerial position.

A graduate pursuing a manufacturing graduate career can expect to be spending some of their days in factories, building sites and industrial plants, which might be hot, noisy and dirty. You will probably be wearing clothing for functionality not fashion. However, as the industry becomes more and more high-tech, the better the working conditions are getting. Opportunities for overseas travel may be available because many manufacturing companies run overseas operations, either within Europe or further afield.

Qualifications and Skills Needed

What proportion of candidates as a percent we place into Manufacturing graduate careers and the typical qualities graduate employers look for.

GRB Placements for Manufacturing by Degree

Typical Candidate Attributes

Target your job applications carefully. There are more graduates competing for fewer jobs and employers want to see a genuine enthusiasm for the job and the company itself. Show how your work experience and studies have led you to choose manufacturing and demonstrate the skills you've got. Be open-minded and flexible about the roles you may be offered and where they are located. Work experience is invaluable when it comes to finding out what prospects are available in manufacturing, what they involve on a day-to-day basis and which ones you like or dislike. It can also open your eyes to new opportunities. Any relevant work experience you can get to put on your CV will be extremely useful, as long as you make it relevant and use it to show how you possess the competencies that are being asked for. Work experience isn't always that easy to organise as some manufacturing plants do shut down over the summer, limiting opportunities for summer vacation placements. Be prepared to do a bit of research and put yourself out there.

Relevant university degrees are required for many roles - engineering disciplines like manufacturing, production and process, and management related courses in quality, strategy, purchasing and supply chain and operations. However, manufacturing companies welcome applications from graduates of all disciplines. They all have commercial, marketing, purchasing, logistics, finance, HR and IT departments which need skilled employees.

Languages are not always a prerequisite for applying, as a willingness to learn is often sufficient. Employers will be looking at your ability to organise and attention to detail. Some jobs involve a lot of data-crunching so you must be comfortable working with numbers. IT literacy is expected and you should be able to communicate with people at all levels in a confident manner, be able to prioritise tasks effectively and keep to budgets.

Research the organisation you are applying to extensively. Company websites should give an indication of the selection criteria and competencies the recruiter is looking for. Think about your skills and experience, focus on any positions of responsibility you've held and what you contributed to, or learned from, the experience.

Sources for Further Information

The Society of Chemical Industry
Society of Manufacturing Engineers
British Institute of Regulatory Affairs
Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining