Engineers research and develop solutions to technical needs in society. They design products, materials, machinery, factories, systems, structures, and much more. Their main work lies in ensuring efficiency, and working to constantly improve the quality of all aspects of life. They also analyze the impact their projects have had on the environment and society.
Most engineers specialize in a certain area, there are more than 25 specialties recognized by professional engineering societies and each area has many divisions. Engineers will also sometimes choose to specialize in a specific industry or technology.
Top four engineering career tracks
Electrical engineers develop electrical equipment involved in power generation, controlling, and transmission. They must have in-depth scientific understanding about electricity and technology in various products and services. Electrical engineering encompasses such areas as power systems, communication, and several subspecialties such as industrial robot control, aviation, microprocessors and digital broadcasting. They often work in areas closely related to computers.
Mechanical engineers design, develop, and manufacture tools, machines, manufacturing systems, engines and other mechanical devices. Mechanical engineers focus on how things work and ways in which to improve old devices and systems so that they run at an optimal level of efficiency and safety. Mechanical engineering is the broadest of the engineering specialties, in that they work in a variety of areas including production operations, manufacturing and agriculture, maintenance, sales, or even administration and management.
Civil engineers design and improve roads, buildings, airports, bridges, dams and irrigation systems, water treatment processes, erosion control techniques, tunnels and transportation systems. Civil engineering is one of the oldest engineering disciplines, and includes many specialties. The main ones being structural, water resources, environmental, construction, transportation, and geotechnical engineering. Civil engineers often hold supervisor or administrator roles, from supervising a construction site to working as a city engineer or planner.
Industrial (Management) Engineer
Industrial engineers design and evaluate a variety of operations, such as assembly lines and automated factories. They work as high-level managers, and are responsible for maintaining efficient operations and discovering areas that may need improvement, such as cost-efficiency, quality, or safety. Usually they work for larger manufacturers who mass-produce non-durable and durable items.
A day in the life…
Engineers mostly work in labs, factories, building sites, plants and offices. Some often work outdoors at construction sites, and exploration and production sites, monitoring operations and working to fix onsite problems. Some engineers will need to travel extensively to different sites. Most engineers work a standard 40-hour week. However, demanding design standards and strict deadlines will at times add a lot of pressure to the job, and extend work hours considerably.
While entry-level jobs in engineering often involve working under close supervision and focus on the more routine processes in the field, experienced engineers enjoy a high degree of independence and complex problem solving. Higher-level engineers are assigned projects requiring innovative thinking, and that may result in the discovery of significant scientific and technological findings. In addition, experienced engineers will not only manage complex projects but complex teams of specialists and other engineers.
Education and training
A bachelor’s degree in engineering from an institution accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is required for almost all engineering jobs, although graduates with physical science or mathematics degrees will occasionally qualify for some engineering jobs. In addition, engineers are usually required to choose a concentration on which their course study will be centered around. Admissions at undergraduate engineering schools are fairly competitive, with strong performance in math and sciences being the main focus. Bachelor programs in engineering generally run four years, although many students will take five years to complete their degree. The first year is comprised mostly of core engineering courses and the following three years of classes are focused on the student’s specific area.
Graduate school is necessary for engineers looking to teach or hold research and development roles. Many engineers choose to obtain graduate degrees in business. All 50 states and the District of Columbia require that engineers hold a license if they offer services directly to the public. This designation is called Professional Engineer (PE) and usually requires a degree from an accredited engineering program, four years of relevant work experience, and completion of an examination. Recent graduates can take the first part of the exam (Fundamentals of Engineering) immediately following their graduation, and are given the designation of Engineer in Training (EIT) or Engineer Intern (EI). They can take the second part of the exam (the Principles and Practice of Engineering) once they have worked for the required amount of time. In addition, many states have mandatory continuing education requirements for the renewal of engineering licenses.
The number of jobs in engineering fields is expected to increase more slowly than the average. Prospects will however be relatively good through the year 2010. This is because, although there will not be a huge demand for engineers, the number of people entering engineering school is not expected to see a significant increase.
Hot job areas for engineers are in the environmental, electrical, biomedical, and computer hardware engineering specialties, with software engineering expected to see the fastest growth in the entire economy. Continuing education is extremely important in engineering, as engineers must stay up to date on the latest technology and tools in their field. Engineers risk losing their job or missing out on opportunities if they do not participate in continual learning throughout their career.
Engineers usually advance to become technical specialists or supervisors, while others branch off into management or sales positions. Related occupations, which include the use of science and math, include architects, mathematicians, drafters, engineering technicians, physical and life scientists, physicists, astronomers, geoscientists, environmental scientists, science technicians, and computer and information systems managers.