Mechanical Engineers

Summary

mechanical engineers image
Mechanical engineers generally work in office settings to test designs of architects.
Quick Facts: Mechanical Engineers
2012 Median Pay $80,580 per year
$38.74 per hour
Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 258,100
Job Outlook, 2012-22 5% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 11,600

What Mechanical Engineers Do

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, engines, and machines.

Work Environment

Mechanical engineers generally work in professional office settings. They may occasionally visit worksites where a problem or piece of equipment needs their personal attention. Mechanical engineers work mostly in engineering services, research and development, manufacturing industries, and the federal government.

How to Become a Mechanical Engineer

Mechanical engineers need a bachelor’s degree. A graduate degree is typically needed for promotion into managerial positions. Mechanical engineers who sell services publicly must be licensed in all states and the District of Columbia.

Pay

The median annual wage for mechanical engineers was $80,580 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of mechanical engineers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Job prospects may be best for those who stay abreast of the most recent advances in technology.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of mechanical engineers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about mechanical engineers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Mechanical Engineers Do About this section

Mechanical engineers
Mechanical engineers develop and build mechanical devices for use in industrial processes.

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers research, design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, engines, and machines.

Duties

Mechanical engineers typically do the following:

  • Analyze problems to see how mechanical and thermal devices might help solve the problem
  • Design or redesign mechanical and thermal devices using analysis and computer-aided design
  • Develop and test prototypes of devices they design
  • Analyze the test results and change the design as needed
  • Oversee the manufacturing process for the device

Mechanical engineers design and oversee the manufacturing of many products ranging from medical devices to new batteries.

Mechanical engineers design power-producing machines such as electric generators, internal combustion engines, and steam and gas turbines as well as power-using machines, such as refrigeration and air-conditioning systems.

Mechanical engineers design other machines inside buildings, such as elevators and escalators. They also design material-handling systems, such as conveyor systems and automated transfer stations.

Like other engineers, mechanical engineers use computers extensively. Computers help mechanical engineers create and analyze designs, run simulations and test how a machine is likely to work, and generate specifications for parts.

Work Environment About this section

Mechanical engineers
Although they do most of their work in an office setting, mechanical engineers also visit worksites to gain firsthand knowledge of their designs.

Mechanical engineers held about 258,100 jobs in 2012. They work mostly in manufacturing industries, architectural and engineering services, and research and development. 

The industries employing the most mechanical engineers in 2012 were as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services22%
Machinery manufacturing14
Transportation equipment manufacturing13
Computer and electronic product manufacturing8
Fabricated metal product manufacturing6

The rest are employed in general-purpose machinery manufacturing, automotive parts manufacturing, and testing laboratories. 

Mechanical engineers generally work in professional office settings. They may occasionally visit worksites where a problem or piece of equipment needs their personal attention. In most settings, they work with other engineers, engineering technicians, and other professionals as part of a team.

Work Schedules

Most mechanical engineers work full time, and about one-third worked more than 40 hours a week in 2012.

How to Become a Mechanical Engineer About this section

Mechanical engineers
Mechanical engineers analyze problems to see how a mechanical device might help to solve them.

Mechanical engineers need a bachelor’s degree. A graduate degree is typically needed to conduct research. Mechanical engineers who sell services publicly must be licensed in all states and the District of Columbia.

Education

Nearly all entry-level mechanical engineering jobs require a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology.

Mechanical engineering degree programs usually include courses in mathematics and life and physical sciences, as well as engineering and design courses. Mechanical engineering technology programs focus less on theory and more on the practical application of engineering principles. Programs typically last 4 years, but many students take between 4 and 5 years to earn a degree. Mechanical engineering degree programs may emphasize internships and co-ops to prepare students for work in industry.

Some colleges and universities offer 5-year programs that allow students to obtain both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Some 5-year or even 6-year cooperative plans combine classroom study with practical work, enabling students to gain valuable experience and earn money to finance part of their education.

ABET accredits programs in mechanical engineering and mechanical engineering technology. Most employers prefer to hire students from an accredited program. A degree from an ABET-accredited program is usually necessary to become a licensed professional engineer.

Important Qualities

Creativity. Mechanical engineers design and build complex pieces of equipment and machinery. A creative mind is essential for this kind of work.

Listening skills. Mechanical engineers often work on projects with other engineers and professionals, such as architects. They must listen to and analyze different approaches to the task at hand.

Math skills. Mechanical engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Mechanical skills. Mechanical skills allow engineers to apply basic engineering concepts and mechanical processes to the design of new devices.

Problem-solving skills. Mechanical engineers take scientific discoveries and seek to make them into products that would be useful to people, companies, and governments. Experience gained through laboratory courses at university or a cooperative education program in college helps mechanical engineers develop skills that are useful in solving real-world problems.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require licensure for engineers who offer their services directly to the public. Licensed mechanical engineers are designated as professional engineers (PEs). The PE license generally requires a degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program, 4 years of relevant work experience, and passing a state exam.

Recent graduates can start the licensing process by taking the exam in two stages. They can take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam prior to or right after graduation. Engineers who pass this exam commonly are called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After gaining experience, EITs can take a second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, for full licensure as a PE.

Several states require engineers to take continuing education to renew their licenses every year. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the other state’s licensing requirements meet or exceed their own licensing requirements.

Professional organizations, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, offer a variety of certification programs for engineers to demonstrate competency in specific fields of mechanical engineering.

Advancement

Graduate education is essential for engineering faculty positions in higher education, as well as for some research and development programs. Many experienced mechanical engineers earn graduate degrees in engineering or business administration to learn new technology and broaden their education and enhance their project management skills. Many become administrators or managers after obtaining a graduate degree.

Pay About this section

Mechanical Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2012

Engineers

$86,200

Mechanical engineers

$80,580

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for mechanical engineers was $80,580 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $52,030, and the top 10 percent earned more than $121,530.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for mechanical engineers in the top five industries employing these engineers were as follows:

Computer and electronic product manufacturing$84,860
Architectural, engineering, and related services84,030
Transportation equipment manufacturing83,540
Machinery manufacturing72,270
Fabricated metal product manufacturing69,890

Most mechanical engineers work full time, and about one-third worked more than 40 hours a week in 2012.

Job Outlook About this section

Mechanical Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Engineers

9%

Mechanical engineers

5%

 

Employment of mechanical engineers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Job prospects may be best for those who stay informed regarding the most recent advances in technology. Mechanical engineers can work in many industries and on many types of projects. As a result, their growth rate will differ by the industries that employ them.

Mechanical engineers should experience faster than average growth in architectural, engineering, and related services as companies continue to contract work from these firms. Mechanical engineers will also remain 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.

Mechanical engineers are projected to experience faster than average growth in oil and gas extraction because of their knowledge and skills regarding thermal energy.

Mechanical engineers often work on the newest industrial pursuits. The fields of alternative energies, remanufacturing, and nanotechnology may offer new opportunities for occupational growth. Remanufacturing—rebuilding goods for use in a second life—holds promise because it reduces the cost of waste disposal. Training in remanufacturing may become common in mechanical engineering programs at colleges and universities.

Nanotechnology, which involves manipulating matter at the tiniest levels, may affect employment for mechanical engineers because they will be needed to design production projects based on this technology. Nanotechnology will be useful in areas such as designing more powerful computer chips and in healthcare.

Job Prospects

Although prospects for mechanical engineers overall are expected to be good, they will be best for those with training in the latest software tools, particularly for computational design and simulation. Such tools allow engineers and designers to take a project from the conceptual phase directly to a finished product, eliminating the need for prototypes. Along those lines, students who can take courses in 3-D printing will also improve their job prospects.

Employment projections data for mechanical engineers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Mechanical engineers

17-2141 258,100 269,700 5 11,600 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of mechanical engineers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Architectural and engineering managers

Architectural and Engineering Managers

Architectural and engineering managers plan, coordinate, and direct activities in architectural and engineering companies.

Bachelor’s degree $124,870
Drafters

Drafters

Drafters use software to convert the designs of engineers and architects into technical drawings and plans. Workers specialize in architectural, civil, electrical, or mechanical drafting and use technical drawings to help design everything from microchips to skyscrapers.

Associate’s degree $49,630
Materials engineers

Materials Engineers

Materials engineers develop, process, and test materials used to create a range of products, from computer chips and aircraft wings to golf clubs and snow skis. They work with metals, ceramics, plastics, composites, and other substances to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements.

Bachelor’s degree $85,150
Mathematicians

Mathematicians

Mathematicians use advanced mathematics to develop and understand mathematical principles, analyze data, and solve real-world problems.

Master’s degree $101,360
Mechanical engineering technicians

Mechanical Engineering Technicians

Mechanical engineering technicians help mechanical engineers design, develop, test, and manufacture mechanical devices, including tools, engines, and machines. They may make sketches and rough layouts, record and analyze data, make calculations and estimates, and report their findings.

Associate’s degree $51,980
Natural sciences managers

Natural Sciences Managers

Natural sciences managers supervise the work of scientists, including chemists, physicists, and biologists. They direct activities related to research and development, and coordinate activities such as testing, quality control, and production.

Bachelor’s degree $115,730
Petroleum engineers

Petroleum Engineers

Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the earth’s surface. Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells.

Bachelor’s degree $130,280
Physicists and astronomers

Physicists and Astronomers

Physicists and astronomers study the ways in which various forms of matter and energy interact. Theoretical physicists and astronomers may study the nature of time or the origin of the universe. Physicists and astronomers in applied fields may develop new military technologies or new sources of energy, or monitor space debris that could endanger satellites.

Doctoral or professional degree $106,360
Sales engineers

Sales Engineers

Sales engineers sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses. They must have extensive knowledge of the products’ parts and functions and must understand the scientific processes that make these products work.

Bachelor’s degree $91,830

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about general engineering education and mechanical engineering career resources, visit

American Society of Mechanical Engineers

American Society for Engineering Education

Technology Student Association

For more information about accredited engineering programs, visit

ABET

For more information about licensure as a mechanical engineer, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Engineers

O*NET

Automotive Engineers

Fuel Cell Engineers

Mechanical Engineers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Mechanical Engineers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/mechanical-engineers.htm (visited October 25, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014