Everything You Need To Know About Manufacturing


Everything we use, from our tablets and bikes to high tech hardware, ships or even satellites, has to be built and put together. That’s what the manufacturing industry is all about: crafting and assembling products from the component parts into the finished item. It’s an industry that moves fast, adapts and evolves constantly, and always needs new, skilled talent.

Types of Apprenticeship

You could be a manufacturing apprentice on programmes such as Furniture, Science, or Glass Manufacture. There’s often some crossover with the engineering sector – programmes include Manufacturing Technology Engineer.

About manufacturing

Manufacturing is a vital part of the UK’s economy and infrastructure. The furniture manufacturing sector alone is worth £12billion a year and involves everything from bed making (building them, not putting the duvet back on neatly) to chair building, for example, while Science Manufacture produces the individual parts that go on to form nuclear reactors, lab equipment and more.

Manufacturing is also concerned with making the things we need to make other things, so an Apprenticeship is just as likely to teach you how to make moulds for different parts of the ceramic manufacturing process as it is how to use those moulds – and you’ll know how to make a new tea mug if yours breaks, so that’s a bonus.

What can I do?

The sector offers a huge range of opportunities to work with different materials at various different points in the manufacturing process. You could start at the very beginning in process manufacturing, which uses crude oil or other raw materials to make lubricants, pharmaceuticals and toiletries, for example.

Alternatively, you could turn your hand to glass or ceramics, where there are roles doing everything from blowing glass or firing clay products to polishing and glazing the finished articles. You could do this on a huge, industrial scale, or you might work for a small company making bespoke items like scientific glass instruments for labs throughout the UK.

Going even bigger, those trains, planes and automobiles don’t put themselves together, so you could work on an assembly line for car engines, or in a slightly more sensitive environment learning how to build a missile, or perhaps the fighter plane that carries them. If land or air isn’t your thing, there are also opportunities building boats – we’re an island nation, after all, and we’ve been making them for thousands of years, so you’d be part of a proud tradition of shipbuilding Apprenticeships.

In every industry, there are hands-on roles actually working with materials and putting it all together, or there are management and supervisory positions once you have a bit more experience.

Manufacturing skills

In most manufacturing roles you’ll be a part of a much larger team, so one of the most important skills you’ll need is the ability to work well with other people. As you’ll potentially be working with machines, chemicals, explosives, glass and other volatile materials, you’ll also need to listen carefully and take health and safety seriously.

There are many different kinds of work environment in this sector and the jobs themselves vary a lot, so you might need different skills depending on your role. Some are very specific: there’s nothing to compare to getting the feel of blowing glass by hand, or knowing when the glaze is right for ceramics, for example; so you’ll be learning skills that will set you up for a particular trade.

Other skills will transfer to multiple roles. Being fit, active and able to move heavy equipment safely might be one; or having a sharp eye for detail could be another. Because manufacturing can involve a lot of repetition, you’ll also need to be good at concentrating on a single task and be consistent with the quality of the work you do. Meanwhile, in management and supervisory roles you’ll need an understanding of the work your team is doing, along with good organisational skills and the communication skills to make you a good leader.

At every level, the final key skill is really solid technical knowledge about the products you’re making, as well as the tools and processes you’re using to make them. The good news is you don’t need any of that at the start: your Apprenticeship is there to teach you.

Manufacturing careers

Here are just some of the roles available in manufacturing:

– boat builder

– glass manufacturer

– structural steelwork fabricator

– motorcycle manufacturer

– paper maker

– textile manufacturing operative

– wood product manufacturer

Getting Started

To find out what’s available near you, visit careermap.co.uk and search for manufacturing vacancies. You can also head to semta.org.uk, which has lots of information on the manufacturing industry and the kinds of Apprenticeships available.

Routes into manufacturing include:

– Apprenticeships

– Vocational qualifications / A Levels

– National Diplomas and Certificates

– Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Diplomas (HNDs)

– Foundation Degrees (England and Wales only)

– Bachelors Degrees

Levels of Apprenticeship

There are generally three levels of Apprenticeship offered in these areas. The one you choose will depend on your previous experience and qualifications:

Level two/Intermediate – equivalent to GCSEs/Standard Grades

Level three/Advanced – equivalent to A Levels/Highers

Level four and above/Higher – equivalent to Foundation Degrees or Bachelors Degrees

Your training will last between one and four years depending on the programme. If you don’t have the qualifications you need yet, a Traineeship can help fill in the gaps in your learning.

Life as a Manufacturing Apprentice

For a manufacturing Apprentice, life can be pretty varied. As you learn your trade you could be training on a specialised piece of equipment on one day, being shown a new technique the next, and putting the finishing touches to a product the day after that.

That’s just while you’re at work: as an Apprentice you’ll also have studying to do, which will either take place at a college during the week or in the evenings. This is where you’ll learn the technical side of things and look at the theory, before putting it all into practice at work. You’ll soon learn to juggle your work and studies until it becomes your normal routine, and you’ll get lots of support from your employer along the way.

Manufacturing can throw up a few challenges, as it often (although not always) takes place in hot or noisy environments. It can be mentally and physically demanding and as much of the work happens 24 hours a day, you might find that you’re on night shifts, or required to start early in the morning. However, this is one of those industries where you actually get to make something, and see the results of your efforts, which many people find really satisfying.

As you gain more experience you’ll be given more responsibility, as well as gradually increasing your skills. You might start learning to use more tools and equipment or oversee whole stages of the production process, so that by the time your Apprenticeship finishes you’ll have a CV full of skills and knowledge that will help you in your future career.

You could work in…

Manufacturing can take place in a range of locations, including:

  1. Factories
  2. Workshops
  3. Laboratories
  4. Processing plants
  5. Production lines

Find Apprenticeships and jobs in manufacturing near you at Careermap.co.uk

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