Mechanical Engineers Overview
Most entry-level jobs for mechanical engineers require a bachelor’s degree in engineering or mechanical engineering, though some research positions require a masters degree. Compared to other college graduates, mechanical engineers earn some of the highest starting salaries. The job outlook is good for mechanical engineers and employment is expected to grow at an average rate. Continuing education is critical in this career to keep up with technological advancements.
Nature of the Work for Mechanical Engineers
Mechanical engineers combine the principles of math and science to develop economical solutions to technical problems. They help to meet consumer and societal needs by link science with commercial applications.
Many mechanical engineers develop new products, considering several factors during the process. They may specify precise functional requirements, design and test components, produce a final design and evaluate the product’s reliability, effectiveness, cost and safety.
Beyond development and design, mechanical engineers often work in production, testing and maintenance. They may supervise production in factories, test products for quality or determine causes of malfunction. They must also estimate time and cost for each project. Supervisors may oversee an entire project or major component.
Mechanical engineers use computers in many ways. They produce and analyze designs, monitor quality, control efficiency, generate part specifications and simulate and test how systems operate. Also adding new principles to the design process is nanotechnology.
Mechanical engineers develop, design, research, manufacture and test machines, engines, tools and other mechanical devices. Mechanical engineers make up one of the broadest engineering disciplines, working on power-producing machines including steam and gas turbines, internal combustion engines and electric generators. Power-using machines including material-handling systems, escalators, elevators, refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment, machine tools, industrial production equipment and robots used in manufacturing also fall under the umbrella of mechanical engineers. Some even design tools that other engineers use. Also, mechanical engineers may work in agriculture or manufacturing production, technical sales or maintenance. Many go on to become managers or administrators.
Usually, mechanical engineers work in office buildings, factories or labs. Some spend time on construction sites or production sites, monitoring or directing operations or solving onsite problems. Travel is required for some who need to visit plants or worksites.
A 40-hour workweek is typical of mechanical engineers, though during deadlines, longer hours may be required.
Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Mechanical Engineers
Mechanical engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering to qualify for entry-level jobs. However, some college graduates with natural science or mathematics degrees can find jobs, especially when employees are in high demand. Even with a degree in mechanical engineering, mechanical engineers can work in another branch such as civil engineering, electrical engineering or electronics engineering. This gives mechanical engineers the flexibility to go after the best employment prospects.
Most mechanical engineers take course in math, sciences, general engineering, design, computers, laboratories, humanities and social sciences.
Beyond the typical 4-year engineering degree, many colleges and universities offer 2- and 4-year programs in engineering technology. These hands-on programs focus on the most current issues and applications in the field to prepare graduates for practical design or production work rather than those requiring theoretical or scientific knowledge. They may find jobs similar to mechanical engineers bachelor’s degree holders, though employers consider their skill levels to fall somewhere between that of an engineers and a technician.
Graduate training is a must for faculty positions and some research and development jobs. Often experienced engineers seek a masters degree to broaden education or technical knowledge.
A license is required for mechanical engineers who offer their services directly to the public. They must attend an ABET accredited program --The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits engineering and engineering technology programs – complete 4 years of relevant work experience and pass an exam. Recent graduates can begin the program right away by taking an exam to become a engineer intern. After logging suitable work experience they can take the second part of the exam. Many mechanical engineers are licensed professional engineers (PEs).
In addition to college education, mechanical engineers should be creative, detail oriented, inquisitive and analytical. Teamwork and communication skills are also important. To work for the Federal Government mechanical engineers must be US citizens and may need to hold a security clearance.
For entry-level jobs, many mechanical engineers work under more experience engineers. With experience and knowledge they’ll take on more challenging assignments and work more independently. Later mechanical engineers may become supervisors or technical specialists. Others become engineering managers or enter other sales or managerial jobs.
A variety of professional certifications are available to mechanical engineers and can be especially beneficial to those looking to advance to senior technical or managerial positions.
Top 10 Most Popular Mechanical Engineering Schools
1. Georgia Institute of Technology, Main Campus (Atlanta, Georgia)
2. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
3. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Virginia)
4. Purdue University, Main Campus (West Lafayette, Indiana)
5. Pennsylvania State University, Main Campus (University Park, Pennsylvania)
6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
7. Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa)
8. The University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas)
9. Michigan Technological University (Houghton, Michigan)
10. Texas A & M University (College Station, Texas)
See All Mechanical Engineering Schools
Employment and Job Outlook for Mechanical Engineers
Number of People in Profession
Changing Employment (2008-2018)
Employment is projected to grow more slowly than average (increase 3 - 6%).
Roughly 1.6 million engineers are working and 238,700 of them are mechanical engineers. Most engineering jobs are found in manufacturing and the professional, scientific and technical services industries. Many also work in wholesale trade, telecommunications and construction. About 12 percent of engineers work for the government and 3 percent work for themselves.
The continued globalization of engineering work along with a trend toward outsourcing will hold down employment growth. However, as companies strive to meet competitive pressures to improve and update product designs with the latest technological advancements they will look to engineers.
Over the next decade mechanical engineers should see an employment growth of about 6 percent, which is slower than average compared to all occupations. They work on the production of a variety of products and as they continue to improve these products, their work will be in demand. Some new job opportunities will be created through the effects of emerging technologies in nanotechnology, biotechnology, and materials science. Mechanical engineers may find work outside of their specialty as well because the skill acquired while earning a degree in mechanical engineering can be applied to other specialties, too.
Keeping up with the latest technology through continuing education is of top importance to mechanical engineers. They need to be able to use their up to date technical knowledge to find the best solutions and offer the greatest value to employers. Those who don’t keep current in the field will find themselves at a disadvantage for promotions, layoffs and seeking new employment.
Earnings and Salary for Mechanical Engineers
Mechanical engineers earn median annual wages of $77,020. The highest 10 percent earn above $117,550, the lowest 10 percent earn below $49,730 and the middle 50 percent earn between $61,220 and $96,740. Engineers earn some of the highest average stating salaries among graduates with bachelor’s degrees and mechanical engineers typically earn $58,766 at the entry level.
Annual Salary for Mechanical Engineers
On average, Mechanical Engineers earn $77,020 per year.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook