Mechanical engineering covers a broad field of interdisciplinary studies, encompassing major aspects of transportation, power generation, construction and aerospace technology. Pursuing a career in mechanical engineering offers many benefits, including excellent employment prospects, job security, opportunity for advancement, challenging tasks and work environments, and higher pay. Still, mechanical engineers deal with a number of disadvantages in their field of work.
Although mechanical engineers do receive favorable advancement opportunities, these don’t come easy. With the exception of self-employed mechanical engineers, the best-paying jobs in the field often come from large or multinational corporations, whose working environments have become increasingly competitive due to recent economic conditions. Fresh graduates start out as low-level associate engineers and undergo thorough training and evaluation for a year or two, after which a few get promoted. Promotions are heavily performance-based, and as an engineer gets bumped up to a higher level, competition gets more serious.
The minimum requirement for entering the field is a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering or a closely-related course. Undergraduate studies must cover math, physics, chemistry, solid and fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, materials science, process control and equipment design. These would help a fresh graduate get a job, but may not be sufficient to guarantee a career. Companies encourage their engineers to take graduate studies, often offering tuition subsidies and promotion opportunities as incentives. This is done over and above the necessary short courses and development classes required to keep engineers current.
Workload and Hours
Another downside a mechanical engineer faces is the unpredictability of his workload. Engineering work usually varies from week to week. For instance, in a manufacturing plant, a mechanical engineer does routine maintenance and process control work in one week, while the next week sees him working on another project. A more dynamic person may find this interesting, but for someone who prefers a routine workload may find it difficult to handle.
Added to this unpredictability of workload are team or staff meetings, reviews and evaluations, research and presentations, and other administrative tasks. Mechanical engineers normally work about 40 to 45 hours per week, though in some private industries or during certain project phases, weekly work can take up to 80 hours or more.
Finally, mechanical engineers have to take on a number of team assignments over the course of their career. While this gives them an opportunity to interact with their colleagues, team projects tend to be more time-consuming than individual assignments and require a fair amount of people skills. This is a downside to the job, as the average mechanical engineer’s undergraduate training gives little allowance for communications classes, even as electives. The trend, however, is an increasing emphasis on these “soft” skills to better prepare students for real-world work.