A design engineer is a creative individual who transforms ideas into new products and services and improves manufacturing processes. Design engineers may work as mechanical engineers or across a variety of fields such as transport, automotive, oil & gas and renewable energy.
According to a 2021 report by Statista, around 84,000 design engineers are in employment today. And this makes up around 2% of the total number of engineers working in the UK manufacturing and engineering industry.
So, how do you go about becoming a design engineer? What experiences or skills do you need to find work and what does the career progression look like?
We’ll share more about this exciting career path in this blog post.
What Does a Design Engineer do?
A design engineer uses research and design skills to create or modify new products and services, test or improve processes and systems and increase efficiency and performance in manufacturing. They most often carry out extensive research and may work with CAD, CAE or similar software systems.
Depending on their sector, they may also work with machine learning or robotics and engage with a range of technological and industrial systems. Design engineers will be busy working on designs but also meeting with clients and customers and working on-site.
Other areas within a design engineer’s job description include:
Problem Solving: A design engineer needs to come up with creative solutions to problems. And this often means analysing systems, functions or component parts of machinery before creating appropriate solutions.
Analysing and Testing Data: To come up with solutions, design engineers need to conduct thorough research and analysis. This may include testing prototypes or existing products.
Researching Products and Services: A design engineer will need to research existing products, services or systems before they come up with appropriate ideas.
Creating New Systems: Any new manufacturing ideas or systems should be sustainable but also user-focused.
Project Management: Design engineers are likely to work on bids or tenders for new projects. And they’ll also need to manage them.
You can expect to earn a good salary as a design engineer. According to the national careers service, average annual salaries range from £24,000 to £60,000.
Those starting out may begin at the lower levels if they secure a place on a graduate programme. Then, after they gain a few years of experience they can expect to earn around £30,000-£40,000. Those who become Chartered may earn around £50,000.
Many people start as junior design engineers and build their skills and experiences. After a few years, they could consider mid-level engineering roles and work on their own projects.
If you do reach a senior position, you will likely train and manage colleagues. And if you become chartered, there are opportunities to move into consultancy.
What Do You Need?
So, what exactly does it take to become a design engineer? What experience, skills or education do you need?
Qualifications and Experience
If you want to become a design engineer, you’ll usually need a foundation degree, higher national diploma (HND) or degree. But employers may also accept mechanical and electrical engineering qualifications.
Useful subject areas to study may include:
Engineering design and manufacture
Computer-aided design engineering
Mechanical Design Engineering
Also, some employers offer product design and development engineer degree apprenticeships. To be eligible for these, you’ll need 5 GCSEs (9 to 4 or A-C) and 1-2 A levels.
Apprenticeships are often advertised as:
Design engineering apprenticeship
Advanced apprenticeship – design engineering
Higher level mechatronic engineering apprenticeship
Graduate design engineer
Having some work experience in a relevant sector will help to enhance your CV and boost your prospects. Also, if you’re under 21 you can build experience by becoming an Industrial Cadet. So, visit www.industrialcadets.org.uk for more information.
Skills and Interests
Before you think about becoming a design engineer, consider the types of things you can do and what you’re interested in. Some of the key attributes you’ll need include:
Creativity and imagination
Strong communication skills
Attention to detail
Good IT and computer skills
Knowledge of the engineering and manufacturing industry
Ability to work alone and in a team
A sound understanding of manufacturing and construction processes
Presentation and people-focused skills
What Opportunities are Available?
Thousands of job opportunities exist for design engineers.
Design engineers can specialise in a niche area of engineering such as product/industrial design engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering and software engineering.
But the possibilities expand with a huge list of sectors that need the skills of experienced design engineers:
Design Consultancy Firms
Engineering and Manufacturing Companies
How Can You Find Work as a Design Engineer?
Design engineer pathways are varied and interesting. And need creative thinking and good communication skills for candidates to succeed.
Whichever industry they’re working in, design engineers need to bring flair, focus and effective project management skills to each role. They may also work closely with colleagues and clients, bringing effective communication and people skills too.
Opportunities are vast and demand is high for qualified design engineers.
Specific types of work may include:
Working with CAD software to support manufacturability of designs
Liaising and nurturing relationships while meeting customer expectations
Surveying data and assessing viable solutions for mechanical installations
Installing electro-mechanical products
Giving end-users quicker access to tools and materials
Designing new products relating to the electrification of heat
You can find your next opportunity as a design engineer with Metalis.
We are specialists in the manufacturing and engineering recruitment industry and work with many clients who are seeking experienced design engineers.
Take a look at our live jobs board and see which sectors are looking for design engineers.