Did you know that the UK aerospace industry is second only to that of the USA and owns some of world’s largest aerospace companies?
Modern aircraft, spacecraft and satellites are so complex that it is usually too expensive for one country to produce a product on its own, so international partnerships have become crucial and international companies have been attracted to the UK due to the vast expertise that has been built up over the years. Therefore, the UK continues to contribute highly advanced engineering systems on most global aerospace projects. There are opportunities to work in both UK-owned and internationally-owned aerospace firms and there are also hundreds of smaller engineering companies (known as SMEs, Small and Medium-sized enterprises). In total, SEMTA recently estimated around 780 UK companies in aerospace engineering.
Key UK aerospace manufacturing ‘hotspots’ are: the South West, Midlands, North West, Northern Ireland, South East and Wales.
What do aerospace engineers do?
Aerospace engineers are usually seen as experts in the design, manufacture and innovation of existing and new aerospace components. Many join a large aerospace manufacturer following university and rotate around several departments aiming to specialise in a particular field of engineering.
Specialist areas include: aerodynamics, stress engineering, materials and structures, fuel systems, avionics, flight test, flight simulation, sustainable aircraft design, landing gear, helicopters, satellite design, spacecraft .. the list goes on. Overall, aerospace engineers will be working to improve fuel efficiency, safety, speed, weight, incorporate new technologies, meet changing customer needs, or even create new needs, such as space tourism! Many aerospace technologies are transferred to other industries, notably automobile, but also increasingly in the low carbon sector.
Key skills and qualifications
• Innovation, teamwork, communication, analytical and problem-solving skills.
• A strong background in maths and physics, such as A Levels/Scottish Highers (or equivalent).
• A relevant degree in aerospace or aeronautical engineering, and possibly a postgraduate qualification.
Most major aerospace companies run graduate schemes. Schemes usually start in September each year, but recruitment is usually one year before, so most places are filled by early Spring. During the graduate programme, trainees will usually rotate through several relevant departments, getting a feel for how the business and engineering departments operate, possibly with a placement in an overseas location or partner company before moving into a more specialist role following the programme.
Smaller companies (SMEs) may offer graduate level roles which offer a more specialist route with a lot of ‘on-the-job’ training directly alongside more senior engineers.
There is a lot of competition for graduate jobs, and large firms often use online application forms as the first stage in the recruitment process with a series of questions focussing on your soft skills as well as your technical knowledge. More help on these is available in our Career Resource section. Smaller companies usually ask for CV and covering letters.
Aerospace manufacturing also offers exciting roles for those who prefer to be more hands-on. You can become highly skilled in building the airframes or other components such as the landing gear, engines or electrical systems that make up the aircraft.
Apprenticeships are the traditional route to hands-on engineering roles. You gain practical experience of the manufacturing process with support from the employer to complete college studies in preparation for qualifications such as foundation degrees and/or Higher National Certificate and Higher Level Vocational Qualification levels. All this, and you get paid to learn as well! Find out more on our Apprenticeships page.
Over time, you can move on to Senior Engineering roles overseeing developments within your department, or moving across to project management positions overseeing the full integration of internal and external components for the finished product. You could specialise in manufacturing processes or quality assurance, or even move into commercial roles in sales, customer care and eventually move up through the organisation into senior management roles. Professional development is strongly supported by engineering employers, with much support for further learning and qualifications, and registration to become an Incorporated or Chartered Engineer, recognising your skills and achievements.
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