The manufacturing sector in Ireland employs around 200,000 people and it is estimated that each direct manufacturing job supports at least one other job in the wider economy.
There is a widespread belief that manufacturing involves low-skilled work in unpleasant and even dirty surroundings. The reality is that the skills and competencies needed within manufacturing are changing. This is due to factors such as scientific and technological advances, automation, changes in regulation, new developments in computer technology, and the drive for continous improvements in the way things work.
Mechanical Engineering involves the design, manufacture and operation of machines of all types and sizes that involve motion or have moving parts.
The range of work for the mechanical engineer means he or she could be working on anything from the design and manufacture of Formula 1 racing cars, high performance engines, and precision machine tools to working on major power generation plants and production equipment used in the chemical, electronics and food processing industries. Mechanical engineers are one of the main developers in the new, emerging fields of nanotechnology and biotechnology.
Entry level occupations in this area include the machine users and operators (Operatives). Then there are those who service, install and repair the machinery, for example the Fitters, Mechanics and other Craftspeople.
Engineering technicians are employed to test, install and operate more complex machines. They may also work alongside Engineering Professionals who would have the overall responsibility for the operation and functioning of the equipment. Senior professional positions would include responsibility for the design and production of new machinery, or the installation of large scale complex projects that may take years to build.
Third level college courses in mechanical engineering provide a very broad-based technical education. The career is an excellent foundation for graduates who, in time, want to move into more management-oriented positions such as engineering manager, project manager and general manager.
Aeronautical engineering is the branch of engineering behind the design, construction and science of aircraft and spacecraft. Aeronautical engineers bring ideas to reality. They are responsible for the creation of newer, safer and more energy-efficient, economical methods for travel including airplanes, helicopters, missiles, satellites and spacecraft.
Professionals in this field may specialise in Structural design, Flight mechanics and control systems, Aerodynamics, Instrumentation and communication or Manufacturing and maintenance.
Aeronautical engineers, technologists and technicians can specialise in a particular area or pursue a career in such areas as:
- The automotive industry
- Space exploration centres
- Commercial aviation
- The defence forces
- Research centres
This profession has global appeal and a qualification in aeronautical engineering is a genuine passport to an exciting career almost anywhere in the world.
Manufacturing (or Industrial) Engineers are involved in the design and development processes that result in products. Whether it's clothing, cell phones, computers, cars, CDs and DVDs, food and drink, athletic gear, medicine or cosmetics - virtually everything we use on a daily basis has passed through the manufacturing process.
These and many other products have become part of everyday life because advanced manufacturing techniques make them reliable, affordable and available. Manufacturing engineers work to improve quality and productivity across the manufacturing process.
What has made manufacturing processes so versatile is technology. Advanced manufacturing applies the latest developments in mechanics, electronics, computers, and automation to improve production.
In the past 10 years, the use of computer systems and software to monitor and control processes in large and small plants around Ireland, has led to increased product quality and productivity.
Developments in communications technology have increased the ability of Manufacturing engineers and plant managers to check on operations, even if it's halfway around the world. Systems can be set up to transmit data on how much material is being used, how machines are running and if problems are occurring. The ultimate example of what can be achieved is "lights-out manufacturing," which allows a highly automated plant to be run by computers and robots, with minimal involvement by skilled human operators.
Graduates in Manufacturing Engineering can work in areas such as:
- The industrial manufacturing sector including aerospace and automotive engineering
- Production - including food and beverages, computers, electronic components etc
- Public services
- Management and design consultancy
Useful Career Sheets from STEPS to Engineering [pdf files]
Engineering Careers - Download the 2013 Engineering Sector Overview from gradireland.com
Getting into Engineering
There is more than one way to become an engineer. The most direct way into Engineering is to take an Honours Degree (Level 8) Engineering course as offered by almost all third level colleges and universities throughout the Country. You can specialise in any of the engineering fileds outlined above from the start of the 4 year course.
It is also possible to take a general course in engineering in the first year or two and then choose an area to specialise in. A higher Leaving Cert. grade in maths together with a science subject is normally required for entry to these courses. Selection into the courses is on the basis of Leaving Cert results, with the CAO ‘points system’ used to select applicants.
It is possible to take a Higher Certificate course in engineering at an Institute of Technology (IoT) without having higher maths or even a science subject in Leaving Cert. These are two year courses leading to a qualification as an engineering technician. Specialized technician courses are offered in many colleges for all of the engineering disciplines outlined. You could opt to work as a technician with this qualification or proceed to an ordinary degree (Level 7) and then to an honours degree (Level 8).
The future prospects for both technicians and professional engineers in all of the above fields remains promising. Future employment scenarios indicate an increasing demand for higher level skills - skilled operative jobs will replace more elementary jobs in a changing manufacturing environment; qualified technicians and STEM professionals will increase as a proportion of total employment. Recent labour market reports also highlight that there is a clear shortage of mechanical engineers.
It is not usual for engineers to move career from one branch of engineering to another. Much of the work that engineers engage in is learned on the job. Their background of study and experience gives them the ability to analyse problems properly and provide technical solutions. For this reason they find that they can adapt to working in different type of industries.
Many engineers move into management roles within 10 years of working as engineers. Continuing education is important for electrical and electronics engineers. Engineers who fail to keep up with the rapid changes in technology are more likely to be passed over for advancement.
Currently, almost 80 per cent of graduates with primary degrees go straight into employment, with almost 15 per cent pursuing further study. The biggest employment area is the manufacturing and non-services sector (engineering, electronics and metal industries). The Medical Devices sector is now also a significant employer in manufacturing.
Most graduates start on a salary of approximately 27,000 euro, rising to over 35,000 euro after the first few years. The opportunities for overseas employment are extremely high, with the UK being the first-choice destination, followed by Northern Europe and the USA.
Engineering in Ireland Today
Enterprise Ireland figures show that there are 600 engineering companies in Ireland employing 16,000 people. Over 170 engineering firms are multinationals and operate in key areas such as aerospace, automotive, electrical engineering and automation. The shift towards new areas such as clean technology and green energy is generating an increase in demand for engineers in these sectors.
The National Skills Bulletin reports that Engineers (other than software) were the most frequently cited difficult-to-fill occupations, with Mechanical Engineers, in the areas of Process Automation, System Control Engineers and Design Engineers specifically cited.
Production Engineers, Process Engineers, and Process Safety Engineers, Quality Control Engineers (for the food and Hign-tech Industries), Regulation Engineers and Industrial Hygiene Engineers are also in demand, and validation Engineers for the telecommunications sector.