In metallurgical engineering you might oversee large products like supporting the designs of aeroplanes (aircraft metallography), assessing what materials are best suited for the job.
Metallurgists are also known as material engineers. It’s their role to assess different types of metal and determine how their properties can be applied to manufacturing and engineering.
What is a Metallurgist?
As a metallurgist you’ll work closely with different metals to determine their properties. The exact properties you’ll be looking for depend upon your role. You could be assessing the strength of a metal to determine whether it’s the right material for a car body in automotive metallography, for example, or assessing its chemical composition to decide whether it would do a good job in different environmental conditions.
You will usually need a degree to become a metallurgist.
You could work in a variety of different industries in metallurgist jobs. In manufacturing, you would be responsible for overseeing product designs involving metals, determining if the plans are suitable for purpose. You could also work in research institutes, assessing metal compositions for things like medical devices.
Your responsibilities depend on what industry you’re in, but there are some common themes you’re likely to encounter in metallurgy jobs:
- Analyse metals using scientific techniques and computer software.
- Assess why certain structures break or aren’t functional anymore.
- Create detailed reports to summarise material properties, giving advice on the best materials for particular applications.
- Create product prototypes, combining metals with other materials and presenting these to a group of designers or engineers.
- Keep up to date with industry trends and knowledge, sharing this with your wider team.
- Prepare new metal combinations and assess their suitability for products.
- Support designers and advise on overall design plans.
- Work collaboratively within a multidisciplinary team of designers, manufacturers and researchers.
A metallurgist salary depends on how senior they are, the industry they work in, and the size of their employer. The larger and more established your employer is, the higher the potential salary. Equally, some industries pay more than others, so it’s worth doing your research.
The average metallurgist salary for the UK is £35,000. Junior metallurgy positions begin at around £25,000. Senior metallurgists can expect to earn closer to £50,000. If you take on more engineering focused roles, you could move up to £70,000 and beyond.
Much of your training in the industry will happen as part of your studies, as metallurgy is largely a graduate profession.
If you begin working in metallurgy as an apprentice, you’ll start on the apprenticeship wage. This is £4.81 per hour as of 2022 for workers over 19 and in their first year of study. In subsequent years, you’ll earn national minimum wage. Once you work as a qualified metallurgist, you’ll be able to attract significantly higher salaries.
You will usually need a degree to become a metallurgist. You could take a more generalised scientific degree, such as chemistry degrees or physics degrees (these are popular jobs for physics graduates, for example) or focus on metallurgy from the beginning. You’ll need 2 to 3 A Levels to start on your course, usually including Maths or Science. You’ll also need a minimum of 4-5 GCSEs at grades 9-4 (A*-C).
Some examples of relevant undergraduate degrees include:
- Chemical Engineering degrees
- Engineering degrees
- Materials Engineering degrees
- Mechanical Engineering degrees
- Metallurgy degrees
- Technology degrees
You could further specialise after your undergraduate degree with a postgraduate metallurgy qualification. This is particularly relevant if there is a specific area of metallurgy or metal engineering that you hope to work in.
- Manufacturing Technology
- Materials Science and Metallurgy
- Metallurgy and Corrosion
It’s worth checking whether your degree is accredited by the Engineering Council or The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) as this can help you when applying to be a Chartered Engineer later on in your career.
Alternatively, you could start a higher apprenticeship programme. This would teach you at degree level, while working within the industry. Courses include training as a Materials Technology, Material Science or Materials Engineering. You’ll usually need A Levels and GCSEs to apply for courses at this level, or a robust work experience record.
Training and development
Much of your training in the industry will happen as part of your studies, as metallurgy is largely a graduate profession. Once you’ve finished studying, further training will happen on the job. It’s worth asking to shadow experienced metallurgists to learn about the processes they use on a daily basis, and how your academic knowledge transfers to practical work.
As part of your studies, you’re likely to practice the practical applications of your knowledge.
Many metallurgists conduct regular continuous professional development with regulating bodies. Examples include the Engineering Council accreditations and IOM3, who provide webinars, conferences and ongoing training. This is particularly important if you hope to eventually become a Chartered Engineer (CEng), as you’ll need to keep up regular professional development to keep your accreditation status.
You’ll gain the majority of your skills as part of your training prior to working. These combine academic knowledge and technical skills.
- A good understanding of computer programs and equipment relevant to your industry.
- A robust knowledge of maths, chemistry and physics, to apply to your practical work.
- Ability to work independently with confidence, as you’ll spend lots of time doing independent research.
- Ability to work well in a team environment, as you could be working with colleagues in a variety of other areas of specialism.
- An ability to keep up to date with current developments in your field and summarise this information for colleagues without your technical knowledge.
- An eye for detail, as you’ll be working with metals at a molecular level.
- Awareness of relevant health and safety procedures, such as building regulations for designing architectural prototypes.
- Excellent communication both verbal and written, as you’ll be expected to pass on your research findings onto colleagues who may not have the technical expertise you do.
- Knowledge of the wider processes connected to your work, such as design, manufacturing and mass production.
As part of your studies, you’re likely to practice the practical applications of your knowledge. While this counts as work experience in some ways, it’s worth seeing if you can shadow practising metallurgists in the field. Some degree courses offer a sandwich year in industry, where you spend your third year of study working as a trainee metallurgist for a company. If this doesn’t suit you, you could ask your course tutors if there are set employers that have connections with your institution, and find out if you can apply to shadow.
As a metallurgist you’ll work closely with different metals to determine their properties.
Alternatively you can contact engineering or construction companies who have in house metallurgists, and ask to shadow. You could visit several different settings and see how metallurgists work differently across different industries, for example comparing engineering to design and manufacturing.
Metallurgy is a highly qualified career path, so your career prospects are good. As you build on your skill set you could become a senior metallurgist, overseeing junior workers and managing large scale projects. Some metallurgists even choose to use their valuable experience to set up their own consultancy or business.
If you enjoy the research and development side of metallurgy, you could choose to go down the academic route, and take on doctoral study. This could be sponsored by an employer, or you could search for funded PhD programs in metallurgy or materials science. Funded programs usually designate a specific field to research in, so it’s worth looking into the opportunities available to see if these are of interest to you. With a PhD you could go on to lecture at university level, contribute to academic research and aim for publication, and even work towards principal lecturing.