- Types of mechanical engineer
- What do mechanical engineers do?
- Mechanical engineer career path
- Mechanical engineer salaries
- Qualifications and training
- Mechanical engineer skills
- Pros and cons of being a mechanical engineer
- Mechanical engineer employers
- Related jobs
- More information
Are you a creative thinker with a gift for numbers? Do you want to solve real-world problems using the latest technology? If you have an interest in building up a project from design to delivery with a team of fellow specialists, then a career in mechanical engineering could be for you.
Interested in a career as a mechanical engineer? Explore current opportunities in engineering and take your first step into this dynamic and impactful field.
Types of mechanical engineer
Aerospace engineers are responsible for the creation and maintenance of air- and spacecraft. A typical day involves anything from fabricating new aerodynamic materials to testing propulsion systems used for transporting astronauts on space missions.
In robotics engineering, you design and test machines that automate tedious or dangerous tasks. Robots are now commonly deployed across a wide range of sectors, such as defence and agriculture.
Manufacturing engineers work to enhance the processes by which almost all products – from food to medicine – are made. From product development to distribution, you could be responsible for providing factories with creative solutions to meet their profit and environmental sustainability goals.
As an automotive engineer, you develop, road-test, and ultimately manufacture vehicles like cars and motorbikes. Automotive engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) software to create detailed 3D prototypes, which they later build and test before a model can be approved for production.
What do mechanical engineers do?
Mechanical engineers design and manufacture two main types of machines: those which are power-producing, such as steam turbines, and those which are power-using, like refrigerators and air conditioners. This can involve:
- Designing 3D models in computer-aided design (CAD) software
- Analysing numerical data to help write reports
- Testing and troubleshooting errors in machinery
- Delivering presentations to clients
- Visiting sites to evaluate how designs are put into practice
- Building and maintaining machinery
- Keeping up to date with advancements in the industry
- Developing technical and managerial skills
Mechanical engineer career path
As a junior mechanical engineer, you are likely to be supporting project teams rather than leading them. Many graduate schemes offer a mix of class-based learning which develops your soft and technical skills, as well as practical job training. While you won’t be expected to know everything right from the start, your degree will have equipped you with the mathematical and computer-aided design (CAD) skills necessary to take on an entry-level role.
You can expect to research and analyse data, assist in the development of reports and models and troubleshoot technical issues under the supervision of senior mechanical engineers. Duties will vary by sector, but you can expect a diverse workday while assisting on large-scale projects.
You may be expected to be geographically flexible, as firms can undertake projects anywhere across the country.
After acquiring experience in the analysis, design, and manufacture of mechanical systems, you may progress to the position of mid-level engineer.
You may be given more responsibility for the delivery of a project. This can involve leading a small team, delivering presentations to clients and having greater authority over design choices. You will have a greater understanding of not only the technical side of mechanical engineering but also of project delivery as you work to optimise processes on time and under budget.
At this stage, you may have the chance to take on your own projects and develop your personal interests in the field while still receiving support from both junior and senior colleagues.
As your career progresses, you are likely to take on more managerial responsibilities as a senior engineer. This can draw heavily upon your teamwork, leadership and communication skills, as you personally oversee the deadlines for large engineering projects. You may delegate more technical work to junior mechanical engineers but you are still likely to read through any research or reports they produce.
Due to the excellent technical and people skills involved in becoming a top mechanical engineer, your knowledge is highly transferable to other careers. You may decide to pursue more advanced mathematical and theoretical knowledge as a researcher for a university or branch out into consulting as you build a track record of successful project delivery. These skills are also well-suited to roles in business or corporate finance, which value people who can combine technical and practical knowledge to deliver a project under pressure.
Mechanical engineer salaries
Your salary as a mechanical engineer depends on your level of experience, the firm you work for, and your specific role within the organisation. Here’s what you can expect to earn at different levels as a mechanical engineer:
- As an entry-level or graduate mechanical engineer you can expect to earn between £25,000 to £30,000 per year with a possible starting bonus.
- As you progress to mid-level, this rises to just over £40,000 per year.
- At senior levels, your salary can rise to anywhere between £50,000 and over £100,000 per year, depending on your level of responsibility for a project.
Qualifications and training
The right combination of higher education and work experience is critical to your success as a mechanical engineer. Here’s what you need to work in this field:
Most roles in mechanical engineering require you to have a directly relevant degree that has been accredited by a professional body such as IMechE. A three-year BEng in mechanical or other types of engineering is ideal, but STEM subjects like maths and physics are also frequently considered.
Some institutions offer an Integrated Masters or MEng, which continues directly from a BEng and confers additional employability benefits like Chartered Engineer (CEng) status and work placement opportunities.
While universities prefer a strong A-level grounding in maths and science, you may have the alternative option of completing a foundation year in science before enrolling in your chosen degree course.
Those who prefer to work as they learn can enrol in a degree-level apprenticeship, which may be provided by an employer themselves, or in conjunction with a university.
Having relevant work experience can be a major boost to any mechanical engineering job application. Many universities provide the option of a placement year, which allows you to gain practical, paid experience in a real-life work environment during your degree.
Summer internships can be another way to acquire work experience as a student. If you’re interested, you can browse available engineering internships.
While having a relevant degree is the only essential qualification for mechanical engineering, getting an additional professional certification can help you stand out in the job market and pursue more specialised roles.
Some of the most recognised qualifications include the Certified SolidWorks Associate (CSWA), which develops your CAD skills, or Certified Sigma Six Green Belt, which is useful for those looking to go into a project management role.
Mechanical engineer skills
Being a highly qualified and technical job, mechanical engineers need many hard and soft skills to succeed in their work. Here are some of the most important ones:
- Computer-aided design (CAD). You will develop essential skills for the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software like AutoCAD and SolidWorks during your degree and career. These are used to generate 3D computer models in order to prototype and refine the look of a product.
- Maths. Strong mathematical skills are necessary for a mechanical engineer. You may need to use algebraic formulae to calculate energy output, or trigonometry to map out the dimensions of a design.
- Problem-solving. A mechanical engineer’s job revolves around finding creative solutions to a wide range of practical problems. You will thrive in this career if you love being at the forefront of new technology and research! Learn more about creative problem-solving with this Bright Network Academy module.
- Attention to detail. Minor details can have a huge impact on the work of a mechanical engineer. Being observant of changes in mathematical variables and physical conditions will help you to troubleshoot errors and find the right solution to any problem.
- Project management. Many jobs in mechanical engineering involve working with complex processes, such as large production lines at factories. Mechanical engineers need to know how each component fits together, and how to keep a large project on time and under budget.
- Teamwork. Working on an industrial project involves a large and diverse team of specialists. A good mechanical engineer can communicate their needs effectively and accept constructive feedback on their designs. Learn how to respond effectively to feedback with this Bright Network Academy course on resilience and taking feedback.
Pros and cons of being a mechanical engineer
Here are some things to consider before working as a mechanical engineer:
- You can work on a wide variety of projects across many sectors
- Your workday can be diverse and flexible
- You can earn a well-above-average salary and benefits depending on your company
- You are at the forefront of new technology and innovation
- You can travel all over the world
- Your job is at little risk of automation
- There are many specialisations to choose from
- You need to be highly qualified to become a mechanical engineer
- Jobs at top engineering companies are highly competitive
- You may have to stay up to date with the latest research on top of your work hours
- You may have to spend long hours on site
- You may need to travel abroad for some projects
Mechanical engineer employers
Many firms are looking to hire ambitious graduates in mechanical engineering. Here are some of the top companies you may want to consider:
- Civil engineer
- Project manager
- Marine engineer
- Electrical engineer
- Environmental engineer
- Manufacturing engineer
Unsure about where to start your career in mechanical engineering? Read about how Edward got his job as a Graduate Mechanical Engineer for Babcock International Group.