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Basically, anything that is powered by mechanical components — cars, elevators, airplanes, air conditioners, refrigerators, medical devices, and more — mechanical engineers had a hand in designing and developing either the machine itself or the machines that manufacture them.
From robotics to aerospace, and automotive to construction, there are a plethora of industries that utilize the expertise and skill set of a mechanical engineer.
Mechanical engineering is a broad field. Most mechanical engineers work in engineering services, research, and development, or manufacturing. They design, develop, build, and test the mechanical components that power machines. Mechanical engineers also oversee the manufacturing process to ensure that their plans are followed through to completion and that everything works as it should.
Day-to-day, here are a few tasks that a mechanical engineer might encounter:
Practically everything that is either powered by a machine or manufactured by machines has been made with the help of a mechanical engineer. This means that they can work in any industry that either utilizes machine power for their products or manufactures products using machines.
Mechanical engineering is the crux of all manufacturing processes across various industries with mechanical engineers serving as resident troubleshooters. A mechanical engineer is also the person responsible for ensuring that the sensors and controls within a manufacturing machine — regardless of what the machine is making — function properly.
While the job itself can be hands-on, most mechanical engineers work in an office and much of their work is done on a computer in the development stage. They utilize specialized software to build and manipulate virtual models, make plans for scale models that can be tested, and eventually test their fully developed mechanical components.
Most mechanical engineers will earn a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology. The majority of a mechanical engineer’s undergraduate coursework will be in mathematics, design, physics, and engineering.
Although many mechanical engineers only acquire a Bachelor’s degree before entering the workforce, some college programs offer five and six- year programs that allow students to obtain both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering simultaneously. Many of these programs also allow students to focus on internships, co-op, or studying practical theory and application.
Some employers may prefer that mechanical engineers obtain a degree from a mechanical engineering program that is accredited through the Accreditation Board of Engineering Technology (ABET). Following graduation, mechanical engineers will take a Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. Passing this exam earns the designation of Engineer in Training (EIT) or Engineer Interns (EI). They may also take a second exam called Principles and Practice of Engineering.
Following graduation and designation of EI or EIT, most mechanical engineers start entry-level work in order to gain enough experience to become a licensed Professional Engineer (PE). Requirements for licensure vary by state, but typically a Bachelor’s degree, four years of work experience, passing of the FE exam, and a PE exam are required, according to the National Society of Professional Engineers.
Most of the skills needed to become a mechanical engineer will be learned throughout undergraduate studies in courses that cover a range of engineering sciences, energy transfer and conversion, design skills, and manufacturing processes.
Mechanical engineers should expect to keep their training in new technology and skills up-to-date to stay competitive in the job market. This could include learning new computer software to design virtual simulations of products, three-dimensional printing and modeling, and more as technology continues to evolve.
Problem-solving is a critical skill for a mechanical engineer. The ability to test a model and make adjustments to reconfigure components in order to get to a final working product takes plenty of observation and critical thinking.
Mechanical engineers should also be adept at researching, be able to think creatively, and have the ability to troubleshoot complex problems. They should also possess the skills needed to work collaboratively with other professionals like architects and computer scientists.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for a mechanical engineer was $95,560 in 2020.
Mechanical engineers who work in specific sectors, however, can make much more. In the pipeline transportation industry, mechanical engineers make an average salary of $117,170 and mechanical engineers in waste treatment and disposal make an average salary of $122,400.
The average salary for mechanical engineers also varies by geographic location. In the US, the state with the highest average salary for mechanical engineers is New Mexico at $117,180 annually.
The typical career path for a mechanical engineer will vary depending on which type of industry or area of expertise a mechanical engineer decides to work within. Once a mechanical engineer earns their undergraduate degree, they generally look for work within the industry of their choice — this can be anything from automotive research and development to designing air conditioning and heating systems, and many of the other industries mentioned above.
Once they land their first role, mechanical engineers then typically work at entry-level for several years to gain experience in their niche. Most entry-level mechanical engineering jobs do not require licensure, but a Bachelor’s degree and designation as an EIT or EI.
Mechanical Engineers who want to advance their careers may choose to acquire a Professional Engineer license to prove competency and apply for higher-level jobs. This process allows mechanical engineers just starting out to work their way up into more senior roles after learning the ins and outs of their chosen industry.
Where to find mechanical engineer jobs?
The BLS expects the field of mechanical engineering to grow on par with the national average expected across all industries — about 4% from 2019 to 2029. This means steady job prospects for those entering the workforce and looking for mechanical engineering roles across the board.
Take a look at some of the current job openings for mechanical engineers and apply today on Ladders.