Engineering and manufacturing

Aerospace and aviation

Companies in this industry sector tend to focus on two main areas: Aerospace or Aviation.

According to data from the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), the UK’s aerospace industry is ranked 1st in Europe and 2nd in the world in terms of its size and production so is a major player internationally. Companies within the aerospace industry focus on designing, manufacturing and selling products aligned to aircraft and the space sector. They might be involved in airframe or component design and manufacture eg wings; engines; systems; landing gear, etc or might also specialise in design and innovation of materials; aerodynamics; propulsion; software or flight systems. Products might have civil or military/defence applications.

The space sector is also offering a rapidly expanding range and number of opportunities. Specialist areas include satellite design and manufacture, equipment and instrumentation, lunar and Mars missions, human spaceflight/exploration and space tourism, and even space mining or space law and regulation. The satellites and space industries observed a 16% growth between 2009 and 2013 and continues to grow now. 7 in 10 satellite services and space industry organisations expect income growth over the next three years.

In contrast to the aerospace sector, aviation companies fly, operate and maintain aircraft and associated equipment. Companies within this industry can be involved in activities ranging from maintenance, repair and overhaul operations (MRO) in order to assess airworthiness of craft, to airlines which operate and manage planes, airports and associated ground crew, regulation and flight deck, and cabin crew.

The aerospace industry is dominated by large well-known companies such as Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Boeing, BAE Systems, but each of these large organisations has a vast supply chain of 2nd and 3rd tier suppliers who design, manufacture or provide specialist products and services. The sector thereby presents opportunities in large international companies and small-to-medium sized and regional organisations. The image illustrates 'aerospace hotspots' around the country
(Ref RAeS)

For obvious reasons, opportunities in aviation and airlines tend to be located around airports.

Political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental factors have an impact on the aerospace industry. As the aerospace industry is a global industry with an international supply chain of components manufactured in different parts of the world and exported for assembly in one location, meaning international political, economic and legal factors can have a huge influence on the sector. We are likely to see a big impact on the industry because of Brexit and the USA’s international trade policies to name just two examples. Environmental factors are also having an impact on the sector with companies competing to find fuel-efficient designs and materials to cut CO2 emissions and maintain flight safety.

Types of graduate roles

Aerospace and aeronautical engineers work on the research, design, development, maintenance and testing:

  • aircraft
  • missiles
  • weapons systems
  • satellites and other spacecraft
  • components of crafts and systems

Specialist areas include:
  • aerodynamics
  • avionics
  • materials and structures
  • propulsion
  • systems integration

Entry points

Graduate schemes: Although potentially competitive, and often requiring graduates to be on target to achieve a 2:1 or above, graduate schemes offered by the larger companies in the sector can be good if you want to have 'rotations' around different departments in order to find out about different roles and operations within the company. Graduate schemes tend to start in summer and can be advertised from the autumn of the preceding year. Companies may have a nominal closing dates eg December 31st, but recruitment is often on a ‘first-come first-served’ basis and when posts are filled the vacancy expires. Anyone interested in these opportunities is advised to apply early in the autumn and be prepared for extended recruitment processes that may include aptitude tests, interviews and assessment centres and technical tests etc.

Undertaking a placement in a company often helps with securing a graduate job as some companies use summer and year-long placements as part of their graduate recruitment strategy and may be ‘talent spotting’ potential candidates from people who have spent a period of time with them during their course.

Direct entry: As well as their graduate entry schemes, the larger companies may also offer direct entry routes into specific job roles within the company. These can be advertised around the year as and when opportunities arise, rather than following the annual traditional graduate recruitment timescales. Final year students are advised to look for direct entry jobs from March or April time, but obviously your research can begin earlier than this. Entry into a direct entry job does not stop you from transferring onto a graduate scheme later potentially.

SMEs: Although there are a lot of ‘big names’ and well-known companies, the engineering sector is well represented by small and medium-sized companies who are an important part of the supply chain and often specialists in their own product or service. In other words, do not dismiss companies you have not heard of - check their opportunities and give them a go if you like what you see, as they can offer very good opportunities from which you can progress, either within the company or via a subsequent career move.

Once in the industry, ongoing professional development may be important, and achieving recognition of your professional experience, competence and commitment by a relevant professional body may be a priority for you. For graduates, this commonly involves working towards Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng) status and requires you to demonstrate competence in a number of technical and professional skills as stipulated by the UK’s Engineering Council.

Skills and experience required

These will vary greatly between roles, but strong technical skills will obviously be required in addition to the following 'soft/transferable skills':

  • Communication
  • Team work
  • Analytical problem solving
  • Time management
  • Innovation and Creativity
  • Interpersonal
  • Organisational and Planning
  • Attention to detail

Some employers also accept graduates from other subjects such as physics, maths, chemistry or earth sciences, but this will depend on the relevance of your degree subject, your motivation and the particular role you are interested in.

Job search strategies

The High Flyers Graduate Market in 2016 report which surveys the country’s leading graduate recruiters indicated that "32% of this year’s entry-level positions are expected to be filled by graduates who have already worked for their organisations, either through paid internships, industrial placements or vacation work."

The 2017 issue of the report also suggested that "Over a third of recruiters who took part in the research repeated their warnings from previous years – that graduates who have had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process and have little or no chance of receiving a job offer for their organisations' graduate programmes."

Those seeking graduate schemes are therefore advised to secure vacation or year-long placements, or take advantage of other opportunities to network with companies. Increasingly larger companies are offering work experience opportunities, insight or introductory days, including to first year students, so this is something students can start to work on from early in their time at university. Alternatively, small or medium-sized companies can provide valuable experience from which graduates can progress.

Many of the opportunities on graduate schemes with larger companies are advertised on Career Connect and sites such as Gradcracker.com and targetjobs.co.uk, while firms often come onto campus to recruitment fairs or hold company presentations during the autumn semester.

Companies who do not have such large recruitment budgets may not advertise in the same way, hence a more proactive job search strategy might be required which relies on you checking Career Connect AND specialist websites, following companies on social media, joining LinkedIn networking groups, or for smaller companies making direct approaches to firms to ask about the possibility of jobs with them.

Attending networking events such as those organised by professional bodies (eg RAeS/IMechE) can also be helpful if you want to extend your network of contacts in the industry from whom you can gather industry insights or advice and tips on entry. There may also be specific trade and industry shows each year eg the RAeS 'Careers in Aerospace Live' show usually held in London in November each year.

Useful websites for further information
ADS Group
Trade organisation for companies in the UK aerospace, defence, security and space sectors. Follow the 'Our members' link for a list of companies searchable by region, capability (specialism) or keyword.
Aerospace company listing - FAC South East Aerospace
Includes aerospace companies, suppliers and services in the South and East of England.
Aerospace company listing - Midlands Aerospace Alliance
Includes a directory of member firms for the aerospace industry in the English Midlands region.
Aerospace company listing - North West Aerospace Alliance
Includes a list of companies in the aerospace cluster in the North West of England.
Aerospace company listing - West of England Aerospace Forum
Includes a list of companies in the South West of England in the 'Our Members' section, plus placement companies in the Careers section.
Aviation Job Search
Jobs in the aviation industry worldwide.
Careers in Aerospace (Royal Aeronautical Society)
A guide to aerospace and aviation opportunities, includes entry routes, roles and career resources.
Flight jobs
Aviation and aerospace jobs.
Life as an aerospace engineer (Prospects)
Insight into what the job involves, the working environment along with advice and tips.
Reach new heights
Jobs board for the aerospace industry.
Space Careers
Careers resources along with jobs and internships.
UK Space
Includes Space Organisations in the UK, plus a link to an 'SME Forum' with a list of Small to Medium sized Enterprises in the sector.

Last updated: 14 Sep 2018