Careers in Manufacturing

See also: Careers in Business

From big pharma to textiles, and all points in between, any company that makes anything is associated with manufacturing. Far from the stereotype of unskilled manual work, most manufacturing locations and factories are now high-tech, and require people with the skills to manage in those environments.

Manufacturing can also be both small- and large-scale. There are huge factories, churning out mass-produced goods such as cars. These are often robot-controlled with just a few staff members. However, there are also smaller scale facilities where 3D printers can make one-off items on demand. Craft workshops or collectives making knitted garments or pottery by hand could also be considered manufacturing facilities.

This huge range means that there is also a wide selection of jobs and careers available.

Understanding the Manufacturing Sector

What do we mean by manufacturing?

Manufacturing is defined by Prospects (the UK’s official graduate careers website) as “the large-scale production of products or goods that are then sold onto a customer”.

However, the growth of craft workshops and the development of 3D printing means that the definition needs revisiting. It is therefore worth considering manufacturing as simply the making of goods or products to be sold to customers.

The careers site Indeed adds another dimension, and states that manufacturing involves changing a raw material into a new product.

This means that sectors like logging or mining, which simply involve extracting a raw material from its natural state, cannot be considered manufacturing.

The main manufacturing sectors are generally considered to be:

  • Food production;
  • Beverages and tobacco, which includes ice-making;
  • Textiles, leather and apparel (clothes);
  • Wood, paper and printing;
  • Computers and electronic products;
  • Electrical equipment and appliances;
  • Metal, fabricated metal and machinery;
  • Transportation equipment, including cars, ships, planes and trains; and
  • Other production sectors, including furniture, chemical, and non-metallic minerals.

There are factories and manufacturing facilities around the world. Their precise location depends on a wide range of factors, including the level of technology used vs. the labour required (and the relative costs). In sectors that require more labour and less technology, factories tend to be located in areas where labour is cheaper, often in the developing world.

Manufacturing in the UK

In the UK, the biggest manufacturing organisations are food and drink companies, including Arla Foods, Coca-Cola Enterprises UK, and Mondalez UK. In 2019, this sector of the manufacturing economy had a turnover of £104 billion and employed more than 400,000 people in the UK (source:

Other major manufacturers in the UK include pharmaceuticals companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, British American Tobacco and Rio Tinto (in the metals industry).

Careers and Jobs in Manufacturing

There is a wide range of jobs available in manufacturing, and they require many different skills. However, many jobs also have a core of skills required, such as good communication skills, the ability to work effectively as part of a team, good IT skills and excellent problem-solving skills.

You can find out more about some of the general skills needed for a career in manufacturing from our post on the skills you need to enter the manufacturing industry.

More specialist jobs in manufacturing include:

1. Machinists set up and operate machinery within a manufacturing environment

Machinists are responsible for managing the machines that make goods within a factory. These machines may be both computer- and mechanically-operated. For example, robots assembling cars and sewing machines would be included in this description. Machinists therefore require a range of skills for different jobs. However, most need to be fairly tech-savvy, and have good IT skills and excellent problem-solving skills to sort any issues that arise.

Machinists’ job titles include plant operator, equipment technician and CNC machinist.

You can find out more about the last of these in our guest post on why you might choose a career in CNC Machining.

2. Assemblers put together parts along an assembly line to create a finished product

They may do this using machines, or by hand. They are also responsible for sorting any problems with the machines they are using along the assembly line. They therefore need good practical ability and excellent problem-solving skills. Assemblers also need to be able to communicate effectively with other workers in the assembly line, which requires good communication skills and the ability to work effectively as part of a team.

Assemblers’ job titles include precision assembler, material handler, and painter.

One example of an industry that requires assemblers is mattress making. You can find out more about the different skills involved in assembling a mattress in our post on the skills needed to become a mattress maker.

3. Quality control inspectors check the quality of the finished goods at manufacturing sites

Quality control inspectors are responsible for making sure that the finished goods that leave the site meet the required standards. This may include being safe for human consumption for food and drink companies, being safe for use, or meeting the necessary standards for size, shape or strength. The job titles of quality control inspectors include quality engineer, inspector, and quality assurance engineer.

Quality Management Frameworks in Manufacturing

There are several frameworks that have been developed to improve and control quality in manufacturing. Many manufacturing organisations have adopted these frameworks, and it is often the role of the quality manager or quality control manager to oversee their use.

These frameworks include Six Sigma and Lean, and you can find out more about them from two of our pages, What is Lean Six Sigma: A Complete Overview, and 12 Benefits of Using Lean Six Sigma for You and Your Organisation.

4. Analysts are responsible for identifying consumer trends to improve products

Manufacturing industries are increasingly using analytical techniques to analyse and identify consumer trends to drive changes and improvements in products. Many manufacturers now therefore employ analysts to carry out this work on a regular basis. Analysts need good analytical skills, including the ability to gather information for competitive intelligence, statistical analysis, and the ability to turn information into action.

Careers Beyond Manufacturing

The manufacturing sector also offers a range of linked careers that you may also see in other sectors. For example:

Supply chain management and logistics

Manufacturers need a supply of raw materials. They also need to transport goods from the factory to their customers. Like other businesses, manufacturing companies therefore employ supply chain managers and logistics experts to manage this side of the operations.

You can find out more about these roles from some of our posts on these issues, including Essential Skills for Successful Procurement Professionals, and Skills You Need to Work in Logistics.

Product development

Manufacturing companies need products to make. Some may make goods for other companies—but some develop their own, and these firms will employ product development specialists. In some sectors, these will be highly specialist jobs: for example, developing new eco-friendly materials and approaches for car manufacturing, or exploring the use of nanotechnology in electronics. These jobs are therefore highly skilled and may need particular qualifications or expertise.

Process improvement

Manufacturers may employ process improvement specialists to monitor, manage, and continuously improve the processes within the company’s operations. This role is particularly important in manufacturing, because of all the processes involved on the factory floor and assembly lines.

Other business roles

Again like any other business, manufacturing companies will also employ a range of professionals in areas like finance, human resources and payroll.

You can find out more about these roles in our page on Careers in Business.

Not a Typical Office Job

Careers in manufacturing are very definitely not a typical office job.

Even if some office work is required, factories are a very different environment from offices. They tend to attract people with strong practical skills, who are willing to ‘get their hands dirty’. If this is you, this could be a very good sector to consider for a career.