Mechanical Engineer: Job Description, Duties, Salary, and Other Requirements

FT Contributor
An image of a mechanical engineer in a factory.
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They’re huddling together with a team of co-workers over a computer screen to redesign a hybrid car engine. They’re observing manufacturing equipment in a warehouse to create a more efficient production process for a line of office printers. They’re tinkering with a wind turbine to design upgraded components and improve efficiency. They’re mechanical engineers and their jobs are no short of interesting, tech-savvy, and creative.

Mechanical engineers may be tasked with different duties, depending on the industry in which they’re employed. Education and a passion for math and science is crucial to entering this engineering field. If you’ve ever considered becoming a mechanical engineer, it’s important to review the education requirements, job outlook, median salary, and job description to find out if this career path is right for you.

What Does a Mechanical Engineer Do?

The specific duties that a mechanical engineer is responsible for performing depend on the industry they work in. For the most part, mechanical engineers are tasked with developing, designing, researching, building, and testing mechanical and thermal devices. These devices may include tools, engines, or machines. On a typical day, a mechanical engineer may:

  • Look into equipment failures to diagnose problems and design solutions for efficiency.
  • Analyze issues to figure out how a thermal or mechanical system could help solve problems.
  • Redesign or design thermal and mechanical systems or devices using computer systems.
  • Test prototypes of newly designed devices.
  • Supervise and tweak the manufacturing process for mechanical and thermal systems and components.

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest job categories in the engineering field. A person in this position may work on car or aircraft engines, escalators, elevators, robotic systems, heating and cooling systems, or electric generators.

Average Mechanical Engineer Salary

While mechanical engineering isn’t necessarily one of the highest-paying engineering jobs, it’s a position that is well compensated. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2018, the average median salary for a mechanical engineer was $87,370. The salary you earn in this position depends on your education, training, years of experience in the field, and the specific industry you choose to work in.

The highest-paying jobs in mechanical engineering are in scientific research and development services and computer or electronic product manufacturing. Since education is a requirement to obtain a role as a mechanical engineer, snagging a high-paying position can help you to pay off your student loans more quickly.

Mechanical Engineer Education, Licenses, Certifications, and Training

You must earn a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology to obtain a position in this field. Most colleges offer mechanical engineering programs, which focus on mathematics, physical sciences, engineering, and design. Most employers only hire mechanical engineers who have obtained their degrees through universities that are accredited with the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET).

Earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering can be expensive, especially if students enter internship programs or decide to continue on to earn their master’s degrees before joining the workforce. Mechanical engineering students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to learn about financial aid opportunities they may qualify for while earning their degrees.

Entry-level mechanical engineering positions do not require any type of licensure or certification. However, to move up into a supervisory or managerial mechanical engineering role — or to work independently — you must earn a Professional Engineering (PE) license.

To earn this license, you must have your accredited bachelor’s degree, complete at least four years of relevant work experience, and pass two exams. To keep your license active, you may also need to complete continuing education, but these requirements are set on a state-by-state basis.

Mechanical Engineer Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 4% growth in the mechanical engineering field from 2018 to 2028, which is the average rate of growth over all occupations. The rate of growth for mechanical engineers depends on the industry in which they work. Automotive manufacturing is a growing industry and more mechanical engineering positions are expected in this field, especially in the creation of hybrid and electric cars.

To keep up with a changing industry, mechanical engineers must stay abreast of the latest computer programs and applications. These tools are used extensively to design and build thermal and mechanical components, systems, and devices. Experience with three-dimensional printing can also help mechanical engineers to better perform tasks and move up to superior roles within a company.

Should I Become a Mechanical Engineer?

To be successful in a career as a mechanical engineer, you must possess certain qualities and skills, and have a passion for creativity, creation, design, math, and sciences. While this career isn’t for everyone, if you have strong problem-solving skills and mechanical skills and enjoy working with thermal or mechanical components, you may thrive in this position.

Some mechanical engineers may be tasked with working on projects with other engineers, architects, or scientists. To be successful, you must have sharp listening, collaboration, and teamwork skills. If you enjoy analyzing problems and creating solutions using mechanical or thermal components, a job as a mechanical engineer may be the right role for you.

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