What it takes to be a mechanical engineer

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Building tools on a background of the drawing.Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers design, develop, build and test mechanical devices, including tools, engines and machines.

Though exact responsibilities will vary, mechanical engineers typically do the following:

  • Analyze problems to see how a mechanical device might help solve the problem
  • Design or redesign mechanical devices, creating blueprints so the device can be built
  • Develop a prototype of the device and test the prototype
  • Analyze the test results and change the design as needed
  • Oversee the manufacturing process for the device

This role is a perfect fit for people who are analytical, creative and can solve problems. And those with the right skills are in luck: Mechanical engineers are one of the most in-demand careers in 2013. In fact, the occupation has experienced 6 percent growth since 2010. Employers are in need of qualified mechanical engineers, and there are only 19 active candidates for every 100 jobs posted.* What’s more, an attractive paycheck comes along with this job: The median annual pay of mechanical engineers is $79,500.

While education levels may vary, 52 percent of mechanical engineers have a bachelor’s degree and 19 percent have a master’s degree. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics says, “Nearly all entry-level mechanical engineering jobs require a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering,” there are exceptions: 11 percent of mechanical engineers have an associate degree and 10 percent have completed some college.

If you’re interested in becoming a mechanical engineer, or just want to keep your skills current, there are some educational courses commonly completed by mechanical engineers. Those programs include mechanical engineering and electromechanical engineering.

Skills and experience
While many employers are struggling to find enough applicants for their open positions, they do have a clear picture of what their ideal candidate looks like. Some of the top skills wanted in a mechanical engineer are expertise in design, science, physics, reading comprehension, mathematics and complex problem solving.

Eight percent of mechanical engineers have one to two years of experience, 14 percent have three to five years’ experience, 17 percent have six to 10 years’ experience and 15 percent have 11 to 15 years’ experience.

Where the jobs are
Mechanical engineers are in demand, though more so in some areas of the country. Some of the top cities to find mechanical engineer jobs include Detroit; Hartford, Conn.; and San Jose, Calif.

In terms of the types of jobs companies are hiring for, the BLS says, “Mechanical engineers should experience demand in architectural, engineering and related services as companies continue to hire temporary engineering services as a cost-cutting measure rather than keeping engineers on staff. Mechanical engineers will also be involved in various manufacturing industries — specifically, transportation equipment and machinery manufacturing. They will be needed to design the next generation of vehicles and vehicle systems, such as hybrid-electric cars and clean diesel automobiles. Machinery will continue to be in demand as machines replace more expensive human labor in various industries. This phenomenon in turn should drive demand for mechanical engineers who design industrial machinery.”

What to look for
During your job search, you may notice that different companies may use alternative titles for mechanical engineer jobs. Some of those alternative titles include aerospace engineer, chemical engineer and materials engineer.

Working as a mechanical engineer means you’ll have an influence on the mechanical devices, tools, engines and machines of tomorrow. If this sounds like a dream job to you, consider a career as a mechanical engineer today.

Check out this infographic and video for more information on mechanical engineers

*All data from Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. unless otherwise specified.

One Comment
  1. This article is informative, but I think most who are considering a career in ME might be more interested in the demographics of those with more than 15 years of experience, i.e. those who will soon be retiring and who will need to be replaced.  The generation of engineers spawned by Sputnik and the space race of the 60s formed somewhat of an “engineer boom” that led to major advances in aerospace, automotive, and computer technologies.  That large group of engineers are now retiring and must be replaced by a new generation of engineers whose numbers from this country have not been impressive.  It is important that many ME students realize the importance of their contributions, even if it is designing a new clothes washer or a new air conditioning system.  While the sexy fields of aerospace and automotive industries may attract many students into ME, some of the apparent mundane ME careers are what have really been responsible for the improvement of the quality of life in America.   Without our local supply of engineering talent for the many consumer products that we desire to support our lifestyles, these products will increasingly be made overseas where both the engineering talent is abundant and the assembly labor is cheap.

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