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Materials and metals: industry sector overview

Materials and metals: industry sector overview

A graduate engineering job in the materials and metals sector could take you into research, manufacturing or a more commercial role.

Materials are everywhere and are constantly being developed to meet new demands in every area of engineering and technology. But as well as innovation, this sector also encompasses raw materials supply and the manufacture and sale of products – these can be finished components such as a turbine blade or an advanced material in a ready-to-use form, such as high-strength strip steel for an automotive application.

Low-cost production offshore has put pressure on the UK’s manufacturing sector. Therefore, the priority for any company operating in this sector is to differentiate its portfolio from that of its competitors. Typically this is done through focusing on adding value, for example, by providing coated steels or developing advanced materials for specific purposes.

Trends and developments in materials and metals

Environmental legislation is the permanent industry headline that drives manufacturing and processing improvements. High energy and raw material costs are also topical issues and have focused producers on shaping their product portfolio and production inventory to maximise profit. New materials to watch are biomaterials and nano materials, and composites are also a massive area of growth in this sector.

What it's like working in the materials and metals industry

Working in this sector is interesting and varied. Materials and metals companies serve many industries, developing new products and processes, as well as problem solving for customers. In both research and manufacturing roles, projects vary from short, quick turnaround projects, such as implementing general efficiency improvements in production, to longer-term strategic projects, such as expanding a product portfolio into new markets. Working in manufacturing facilities is fast paced as engineers have to react to the daily challenges of keeping production facilities running. They have to apply their technical knowledge and communicate fresh ideas persuasively. You need the confidence to communicate with people at all levels.

Getting a graduate job in materials and metals engineering

Typical degrees sought by this sector include materials-related subjects for product research, and mechanical, control, manufacturing and electrical engineering disciplines for manufacturing roles. Larger employers run graduate schemes, but in smaller organisations you may have to apply directly for a specific role. Research roles are usually direct entry and engineers then train on the job to extend their knowledge and grasp of their specialist area.

Career progression in materials and metals

Career progression really depends on your personal preferences and the opportunities offered by your employer. As well as continuing on a technical route, you could also move into a commercial function such as sales, customer support, operations management or supply chain.

The highlights of a career in materials and metals

  • Working on products that are vital in the modern world
  • Developing and producing new materials is exciting – they can make a significant impact on everyday life.
  • The actual scale of production can be awesome.
  • There is enormous variety in the work you can do in this sector.

The materials and metals industry seeks graduates in...

  • Automotive
  • Chemical
  • Civil/structural
  • Control
  • Electrical
  • Electronics
  • Environmental
  • Instruments
  • Manufacturing
  • Materials
  • Mathematics
  • Mechanical
  • Physics
  • Software
  • Telecoms

Always check individual employers' requirements.

Thanks to Dr Andrew Smith for his help with this article. Andrew is a knowledge group leader for Tata Steel. His first degree is in metallurgy and his PhD is in physical metallurgy.