Engineering and manufacturing


Automotive engineering involves the development and manufacture of motor driven vehicles.
Although now dominated by overseas-based companies, according to the Society and Motor Manufacturers and Traders' 2017 Motor Industry Fact book there are more than 30 automotive manufacturing companies in the UK building 70 different models and employing 169,000 people directly in manufacturing, and in excess of 814,000 across the wider automotive industry and supply chain. It invests £4 billion each year in automotive research and development and generates more than £77.5 billion turnover per year. 80% of cars manufactured in the UK are exported and as a result the automotive sector accounts for 12.0% of total UK export. The UK is therefore a significant player in the global automotive industry. The effects of Britain’s planned exit from the European Union are uncertain at the time of writing, but this is a global industry which offers excellent opportunities for graduates.

While all aspects of automotive engineering are open to innovation, current major developments include the development of autonomous vehicles ('driverless' cars) and the shift to new forms of fuel, including electric and hybrid vehicles, and away from traditional petrol and diesel.

Types of graduate roles

Automotive engineers design, develop and manufacture vehicles of all types and their engineering systems. They focus on one of three broad areas, which are design, production and research and development. With experience, engineers can specialise in a particular aspect of vehicles, for example, structural design, exhaust systems or engines.

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 and, 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 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 are also motor industry trade shows each year which are useful to attend.

Useful websites for further information

Last updated: 14 Sep 2018