This guide is all about mechanical engineering jobs, including an overview of the job market and the best places to look for mechanical engineering jobs.
Mechanical engineering touches every aspect of the modern world. In technical terms, the mechanical engineering profession manipulates the generation and application of heat and mechanical power through elements of design, production, and control of machines. Mechanical engineers are experts at studying, designing, and managing the mechanical objects in our world. This guide will describe the mechanical engineering career, including education requirements, typical jobs, salary ranges, job searching, and remote work capabilities.
Overview of Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineering continues to be a growing field within the broad engineering discipline. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mechanical engineering jobs will grow 7 percent year-over-year through 2030. Pursuing a career in mechanical engineering can be a very professionally and financially rewarding path. Mechanical engineers’ efforts shape every physical aspect of human life. Great mechanical engineers are natural problem solvers and innovators, and it certainly helps to be an analytical thinker with a talent for math and science.
Mechanical engineers work in offices to design, analyze, and develop mechanical and thermal devices. Occasionally, mechanical engineers visit worksites like labs or manufacturing plants, but typically their work is conducted on a computer. As the global workforce has shifted to remote work, many mechanical engineering positions followed suit. According to a survey performed by Andela, the percentage of remote engineering teams across the country rose to 74 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic. The remote workforce trend is here to stay, as 65 percent of engineering managers believe their teams will remain remote after the pandemic.
Mechanical Engineering Degree
Mechanical engineering is regarded as a highly technical and challenging profession. Mechanical engineers need to earn a four-year Bachelor of Science degree from an accredited college or university. In some instances, the relevant and extensive experience can be substituted for a degree. However, this is rare in the mechanical engineering profession.
Most colleges have an engineering department to pursue a four-year degree in mechanical engineering. The prestige and reputation of your school can make it easier to secure a good job right after college. When evaluating your school options, it’s important to consider each school’s national ranking and prestige using tools like US News Best Colleges Ranking. In your college studies, expect a heavy load of math and science courses and mechanical engineering courses that will teach you about professional engineers’ thermal and mechanical theory and techniques.
Some colleges and universities offer two-year associate degrees and four-year bachelor’s degrees in engineering technology. These degrees provide an alternative path to entering the mechanical engineering profession and lead to roles that assist degreed mechanical engineers with machinery and design.
Universities also offer graduate degrees in mechanical engineering. These degrees aren’t necessary for entry-level positions, but they can unlock more senior engineering positions. Graduate mechanical engineering programs are typically two years in length, and they require students to have a bachelor’s degree in engineering to apply.
How to Become a Licensed Mechanical Engineer
Mechanical engineers with a four-year degree are qualified as trained and educated mechanical engineers, but there is more to engineering than just holding a diploma. Mechanical engineers are disciplined professionals who adhere to ethical standards and commit to competence and promote the public good. Mechanical engineering provides an essential service to the public, and so just like medical doctors, the profession is regulated with licensing requirements. Mechanical engineers become licensed through a national certification program managed by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).
The NCEES manages the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and the Professional Licensed Engineer exam (PE) and issues these credentials to engineers who meet the strict standards. Both credentials enhance the stature of a mechanical engineer by showing their commitment to the profession and a heightened level of knowledge. Licensure enables engineers to approve projects for public use. FEs and PEs work on critical projects like automobiles, HVAC systems, and airplanes that support the everyday lives of millions of people.
What Does a Mechanical Engineer Do?
FE and PE-certified mechanical engineers fill important roles at engineering firms and businesses. These roles span numerous industries and applications but often fall under engineering services, research and development, and manufacturing. Because of the technical nature of a mechanical engineer’s job and the significant amount of education and training required for licensure, mechanical engineering is considered a very stable career with significant compensation potential.
As a mechanical engineer, you will most likely work in an office or remotely where you prepare, review, or approve engineering documents for things like designs, applications, and studies. Engineers may occasionally visit worksites where a problem or piece of equipment needs their attention, but these visits may be rare depending on the role. The following are a few examples of an engineering firm where a mechanical engineer might work.
In a design engineering role, a mechanical engineer works as part of a design team to create new tools, parts, or machinery sold by the company. A hardware manufacturing company is an example of a business that would employ design engineers. Design engineers use computer-aided design software to create, analyze, and test parts before manufacturing.
Test engineers work closely with design engineers to analyze and test the performance capabilities of parts and machinery. After the design engineer creates and produces the prototype, test engineers take over to try the part through procedures and studies.
Quality engineers ensure that parts and manufacturing processes meet required specifications. In a manufacturing process, thousands of parts can be manufactured daily. The quality engineers’ job is to ensure that the machinery operates and produces parts within the necessary tolerances.
Mechanical engineers often design, install and manage HVAC systems. HVAC systems provide heating, cooling, and ventilation for buildings. These systems are essential in making interior spaces livable for occupants.
Mechanical Engineer Salary
Overall, the mechanical engineering profession is a well-regarded pursuit. A significant amount of professional dedication and study is required to reach the highest levels of responsibility and compensation. As a mechanical engineer, you will solve real problems with real implications for the lives of ordinary people. This responsibility is not for everyone but for those who want to take on challenging and important work. Mechanical engineers are compensated well for their expertise and training. At most engineering firms, the salary range for mechanical engineers is tied to years of experience and education levels.
Entry Level Engineer Salary
Entry-level engineers work as a team on a specific engineering task or process. It is rare for junior engineers to work alone or without oversight. Senior Engineers and Managers guide entry-level engineers in their entire technical work area. The average entry-level salary for a mechanical engineer is $50,000 to $90,000. Salary ranges vary significantly by state. According to ZipRecruiter, the states that pay the most on average for mechanical engineers are New York ($90,850), New Hampshire ($88,070), and Vermont ($83,250), while the lowest paying is North Carolina ($59,393).
As an entry-level mechanical engineer, the best way to increase your salary is to outperform your peers. Entry-level mechanical engineers are essentially at the same level of experience and responsibility when they start working. Standing out amongst your peers with a strong work ethic and intelligent understanding of mechanical engineering is the best method to increase your salary. Top performers earn performance-based promotions and raises. The national average salary increase for a performance-based promotion in 2020 was 3.0 percent. This may seem small; however, it is a national average across all industries. It would be safe to assume that a performance-based promotion within a mechanical engineering role would be higher.
Entry-level engineers need to move around within a company and experience different processes and engineering tasks. This broadens experience and expertise and demonstrates to employers that you have the knowledge and expertise to excel at senior-level requirements.
Senior Engineer Salary
Senior engineers have experience in multiple aspects of the technical business. They often work with entry-level engineers to complete technical tasks and projects. Senior engineers are placed in small, informal leadership positions to mentor and train entry-level engineers. This is for the benefit of both the entry-level engineer and the Senior Engineer, who is being evaluated for their leadership ability.
A senior mechanical engineer’s national annual salary range is from $75,000 to $120,000. The salary potential for senior engineers also varies significantly between states. According to the recruiting site Zippia.com, Washington and California provide the best salary opportunity for senior mechanical engineers, with an average annual salary of $115,000 and the highest 10 percent of earners receiving $164,000 annually.
Leadership potential and education levels significantly impact advancement within senior engineering positions. The fastest way to advance and earn a higher salary is to demonstrate strong leadership abilities. Engineering firms search for managers out of their senior engineering talent pool. Dependent on your firm and the advancement opportunities available, a promotion could happen within 3-5 years. Earning advanced degrees and credentials also is a viable route to securing higher pay. Advanced degrees like master’s and PhDs in mechanical engineering, or an advanced certification like the PE certification, are difficult to achieve but can increase your salary by approximately 5 percent.
Engineering Manager Salary
Senior mechanical engineers are promoted to engineering management positions where they lead entry-level and senior engineers groups. In a management role, mechanical engineers track the progress of their teams, advise on technical problems, and report to higher management on their responsible engineering processes. The average salary range for an engineering manager ranges between $125,000 and $175,000.
In business, there is a saying, “Who you know is much more important than what you know.” This adage is true for mechanical engineers once they reach the upper management level. Managers typically already have extensive experience, degrees, and certifications to justify their leadership roles at the highest mechanical engineering levels. Networking and mechanical engineers’ ability to shape their career advancement through relationships enable advancement in these positions.
After management levels, mechanical engineer career progression moves into executive and organizational leadership positions. Executive mechanical engineers are responsible for entire engineering projects or groups of projects within a portfolio. Executive engineers do not directly perform many engineering functions, unlike where they started.
Advancement to this level of mechanical engineering can take many years to achieve. The average salary for an executive-level mechanical engineer ranges between $226,099 and $305,406 annually.
How to Get Hired as a Mechanical Engineer
If you are a qualified mechanical engineer looking for employment, there are a few resources where your time can be best spent searching for opportunities.
University career offices are an excellent and often overlooked resource for finding employment. Most colleges and universities have career offices to get their graduates hired into quality jobs. National polls like USA Today’s best college rankings evaluate colleges based on multiple factors. Career placement and salary are two of the most important aspects of these rankings. These polls incentivize colleges to help their graduates land good jobs after school. The career office at your university has connections to engineering firms looking for qualified graduates with engineering degrees. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) is an organization that promotes the art, science, and practice of multidisciplinary engineering and allied sciences around the globe. Most engineers are familiar with this organization, but many are unaware that ASME hosts career fairs and a digital career portal that helps mechanical engineers reach potential employers.