Manufacturing is the process of transforming base components into commercial and industrial products. It’s a huge and diverse sector consisting of a wide variety of industries. Manufacturing includes machinery and equipment production, the making of food, beverages and tobacco products, and printing, publishing and recorded media. It also includes chemical and pharmaceutical production, the making of paper and packaging products, building materials and the automotive industry.

The work

Manufacturing has a relatively low concentration of employees with university degrees. However, the sheer size of the sector means that it’s still a significant employer of graduates from certain disciplines, particularly engineering, information technology, industrial design and accounting.

In recent years, Australian manufacturing has moved into the production and export of ‘elaborately transformed manufactures’ (ETMs), partly because of increased competition from overseas producers in labour-intensive manufacturing industries (such as textiles, clothing and footwear) and also because of the higher value and profits associated with more sophisticated products. The ETMs sector includes medical, telecommunications, office and electronic equipment, along with complex, industry-specific machinery.

This shift towards complex products requires skilled workers in all facets of the manufacturing process, including design, production, engineering, information technology and management. While certain areas of manufacturing have experienced significant declines in employment, particularly in the metal and wood product manufacturing industries, other areas are expected to maintain positive employment growth in the near future, including food product manufacturing (with 5.1 per cent annual growth).

What you need

  • Degree in engineering, IT, industrial design, accounting or other relevant disciplines
  • Problem solving skills, artistic flair, a strong ability to comprehend mechanical concepts, good numeracy skills and strong verbal communication skills
  • Computer-aided design (CAD) skills
  • Willingness to work long and irregular hours
  • In some occupational areas, the availability of work may fluctuate considerably

Graduate salary ranges for selected relevant occupations

  • Industrial designer: $35,000–$50,000
  • Product/plant engineer: $50,000–$63,300
  • Production manager (Manufacturing): $48,500–$100,500
  • Science technician: $36,000–$47,000

(Figures taken from the Australian Graduate Survey 2008, GCA. Ranges refer to the middle 50 per cent of salaries for bachelor degree graduates with permanent residency, in full-time employment in Australia October 2007 to April 2008.)

Industry at a glance

  • 9% national workforce
  • Declining outlook (40,300 fewer jobs across all manufacturing, 2009)
  • 193,800 employed, 2009 (food product manufacturing)