Learn About Being a Mechanical Engineer

By Indeed Editorial Team

December 10, 2019

What does a mechanical engineer do?

A mechanical engineer’s main role is to design, build and test thermal and mechanical devices. Their services are very diverse and are typically related to all parts of the planning and execution processes. Other tasks a mechanical engineer may perform include:

  • Studying various issues and determining how mechanical and thermal devices can act as solutions for those issues

  • Analyzing equipment malfunctions, identifying the faulty operations and recommending solutions

  • Designing mechanical and thermal devices that are suitable for particular tasks, using computer design software

  • Using the created designs to develop prototypes

  • Continuously testing mechanical and thermal devices and adjusting their parameters according to the test results

  • Supervising the entire manufacturing process of any thermal or mechanical device, from early planning to full functionality

Average salary

Most mechanical engineers work in full-time positions in either private or state organizations. Salaries for mechanical engineers can depend on several factors, such as their level of education, the size of the employing company, their specialization, geographical location and work experience. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $94,924 per year

  • Some salaries range from $28,000 to $164,000 per year.

Mechanical engineer requirements

A successful mechanical engineer needs certain education, experience, training and advanced skills:

Education

Becoming a mechanical engineer typically requires a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology, followed by earning a state engineering license. Master’s and doctorate programs are also available for those who wish to become experts in a particular area of mechanical engineering. Here are the degrees to obtain to become a mechanical engineer:

Bachelor’s degree

After high school graduation, the first step in becoming a mechanical engineer is earning a four-year bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology. Most aspiring mechanical engineers choose to pursue a bachelor’s program that is sanctioned by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Courses include mathematics, engineering, design, and life and physical sciences, focusing less on theory and more on practical applications. Graduates who pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam at the end of their undergraduate program can seek jobs as entry-level engineers.

Master’s degree

Students who want to specialize in a specific area of mechanical engineering — such as automotive technology, robotics or nuclear energy — need to pursue a master’s degree program. The master’s program typically helps aspiring mechanical engineers gain a deeper knowledge of the principles they learned while earning their bachelor’s degree.

Doctoral degree

Mechanical engineers who want to pursue careers in teaching or in conducting research will typically pursue a doctoral degree. Mechanical engineering doctoral programs focus on theory and research, with graduates usually becoming either college professors or researchers in a particular industry.

Training

Practical training is a significant part of becoming a mechanical engineer. Before attempting to obtain a Professional Engineering license, applicants need at least four years of relevant professional experience. Besides giving them the chance to pursue high-level mechanical engineering roles, professional experience trains engineers in important aspects of the job, such as using modern software tools and learning how to deal with setbacks.

Certifications

Mechanical engineers need a Professional Engineer certification to access high-level jobs, as well as specific certifications related to the area of engineering in which they wish to work. These are the certification courses for being licensed as a professional engineer and for some possible specializations:

Professional Engineer

Mechanical engineers can earn this certification after earning a bachelor’s degree, passing the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, gaining experience and passing the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. A PE certification allows them to pursue high-level engineering jobs.

Certification in manufacturing engineer

Licensed professional engineers can specialize in manufacturing engineering and gain a better insight into designing, building, managing and operating highly complex production systems.

Certified Systems Engineering Professional

Earning this certification acts as proof that a mechanical engineer is capable of independently handling various systems engineering tasks. Later in their career, typically after at least 20 years of systems engineering experience, mechanical engineers can further their knowledge by earning an Expert Systems Engineering Professional certification.

Skills

A mechanical engineer needs a variety of hard and soft skills to perform this role successfully, including:

Mathematical skills

Mechanical engineers typically have to use advanced calculus, statistics and other math subjects regularly in designing, analyzing and correcting their work.

Communication skills

A typical engineering project consists of large teams of specialists, such as architects, computer scientists and fellow engineers. Mechanical engineers must be able to communicate their ideas to everyone involved in the project. At the same time, they need excellent listening skills as their work is based on receiving and analyzing information from other experts involved in the project.

Teamwork skills

Mechanical engineers need to be able to communicate with other parties involved in their projects. They also need to successfully collaborate with other professionals to develop technologies and solve issues. Those professionals may be fellow mechanical engineers or in other professions, like architects or computer scientists.

Problem-solving skills

Setbacks can be common when undertaking a highly complex project, and they occur anywhere from the design phase to after the project is completed. A mechanical engineer must have the technical and mental skills to understand the issues that arise and find effective solutions.

Creativity

Creating and designing various products requires a high degree of creativity in multiple aspects. Mechanical engineers have to be creative enough to invent the product itself and also to create ways in which it’s finished in due time and within the allocated budget.

Mechanical engineer work environment

Mechanical engineers typically work in engineering services, research and development, and manufacturing departments. They spend most of their professional time indoors, working in offices. They occasionally visit project sites when an issue that needs on-site analysis occurs. The job typically implies collaborating with different professionals, such as other engineers, engineering technicians, architects, computer scientists and other professionals. Although working as a construction engineer is typically a full-time position with set hours, it is common for construction engineers to work overtime, sometimes more than 50 hours per week.

How to become a mechanical engineer

Here are the steps you can take to become a mechanical engineer:

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree.

The first step to becoming a mechanical engineer is enrolling in a four-year bachelor’s program after graduating high school. The degree typically needs to be in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology. At the end of the four-year program, you can pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam and become a licensed entry-level engineer. Some colleges and universities offer five or six-year programs that combine the bachelor’s and master’s degrees and also allow students to gain practical experience.

2. Gain at least four years of relevant experience.

Aside from educational requirements, aspiring mechanical engineers must also work for at least four years in an entry-level engineering job under the supervision of a professional engineer.

3. Take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.

Passing this eight-hour exam is the final requirement before attempting to earn a Professional Engineer license.

4. Earn a Professional Engineer license.

After completing the four-year bachelor’s program, passing the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, gaining four years of relevant work experience and passing the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, aspiring mechanical engineers can be licensed as professional engineers by passing a state-specific exam. Gaining a Professional Engineer license offers access to many more professional opportunities, acting as evidence of the mechanical engineer’s knowledge and ability.

5. Consider a master’s degree.

Mechanical engineering is a vast field and it is recommended that aspiring mechanical engineers choose a specialization. Master’s degree courses typically take two years and enable students to pursue a specialization in various fields, such as automotive technology, biomechanics, robotics, manufacturing and energy.

Mechanical engineer job description example

Our construction company is looking for an experienced mechanical engineer to oversee the design and implementation of various technological systems in the office buildings we are currently constructing. Additionally, the mechanical engineer will supervise the work of junior engineers and work on creating a strong team unit and an efficient work environment. Minimum requirements for the position are:

  • Professional Engineer license

  • Master’s degree in construction management or related field

  • 5+ years of experience working in mechanical engineering

  • Advanced computer software skills, with strong knowledge of CAD/CAM software

Related careers

  • Systems engineer

  • Project engineer

  • Design engineer

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