Mechanical engineers design, develop, test and supervise the manufacture of machinery and tools. The devices a mechanical engineer works on may range from car engines or air conditioners to precision devices, robots and electric generators. Engineers need to be creative, good at problem-solving, and know how to communicate with clients and colleagues.
Step one for getting a job in the mechanical engineering field is to earn a bachelor’s degree in the field from a university accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. An undergraduate degree typically takes four to five years. You’ll take courses in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology, plus topics such as engineering design, analysis and statistics. Prospective mechanical engineers may also participate in internships or cooperative programs to gain practical experience. Some mechanical engineering programs are structured so that you earn a master’s degree as well. These extended programs take five to six years.
You can get an entry-level job in mechanical engineering once you have your undergraduate degree, but all 50 states require that you have a professional engineering (PE) license before you can offer your services independently. This is required for advancement into research or management positions. You must first pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Examination administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. Once you have four years work experience, you are eligible to take the Principles and Practices of Engineering examination for mechanical engineers. Some states require continuing education to maintain your PE license.
Employment and Pay
The median salary for mechanical engineers as of 2010 was $78,160. The top 10 percent earned over $119,480 annually. The lowest paid 10 percent earned under $50,550. Mechanical engineers employed by the federal government had the highest median salaries at $91,910. Other above-average job categories include research and development jobs and employers in the aerospace and architectural-engineering industries, plus manufacturers of precision equipment such as control devices and measuring instruments.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that there were about 243,200 mechanical engineering jobs in 2010 and expects a 9 percent increase by 2020. Keeping on top of changing technology is key to getting the best jobs. Demand is likely to be strong for engineers to design and develop hybrid and electric vehicles, solar and other alternative energy production systemsm and robotics. Nanotechnology is also expected to be important as its use in manufacturing processes grows.