Industry, engineering and manufacturing: R&D and other career routes

According to Engineering UK 2016, engineering accounts for around a quarter of UK turnover.

By the year 2022, 257,000 new engineering jobs will need filling in the UK, but the education system is struggling to meet this demand, producing only around 50% of the graduates needed to fill these future vacancies. Job prospects in the sector are therefore very strong. See Prospects’ more detailed overview of the engineering and manufacturing sector in the UK for more information, including the areas of engineering set to grow most rapidly over the next ten years.

As well as recruiting engineers, many engineering firms also hire graduates into other business and commercial functions such as HR, sales, marketing, project management, logistics, procurement and finance. In larger firms, these roles are often accessible through graduate training schemes. Although these schemes are often open to graduates of all levels (including undergraduates), they often take a wide range of degree subjects and can offer opportunities for Postgraduate Researchers to retrain and enter rewarding careers in areas not immediately related to their research.

Research Engineer and New Product Development

Research engineers work in R&D (Research and Development). The exact work undertaken will depend upon the field of engineering in question, for example mechanical, electrical or bio-engineering. Generally however, work focuses on the development of new products (New Product Development, or NPD) or the improvement of existing products. This distinguishes these roles from Research Scientist roles in industry, which are more focused on research and technical work.

Research Engineers work with colleagues in design teams to redesign the product, or with the production team to create the product. Other work may involve developing and evaluating new approaches to deliver projects more quickly and efficiently, using computational models to assess how designs will work, testing, presenting findings to project managers or assessing how a new product might sell once developed. If you are interested in the more commercial side of R&D, roles relating to consumer research and analysis could also be of interest, where you undertake research to make sure that a company's products are suitably responding to consumers' needs. As work in these roles varies a lot between companies, it can be a good idea to look closely at individual job descriptions to make sure they fit your motivations and interests.

Other engineering roles

There are a range of roles available in engineering industries depending on your specialism. Some of the roles listed below may not require a postgraduate degree, but the skills and experience gained through undertaking postgraduate research can put you in a good position provided that you have an understanding of how to articulate your skills and value to non-academic employers.

Many of the roles below may be advertised in two ways:

  • As ‘direct hire’ roles where companies advertise and hire ‘as-and-when’ new recruits are required
  • Via graduate training schemes or development programmes. Deadlines to apply for graduate schemes tend to fall in autumn, up to twelve months in advance of the start date. As a result, you should take this timescale into consideration as you may have to apply up to a year before starting, and factor in how this may fit with your submission and potential viva dates. There is information about graduate schemes on the Traget Jobs website

Below are some job profiles outlining the principal roles across a range of engineering disciplines. Each one links to further information on career guidance websites like Prospects:

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