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MECHANICAL ENGINEER

Were you the type of kid who wanted to know how everything worked? Then a career as a mechanical engineer might be right up your alley.

Mechanical Engineer

Mechanical engineering can be a great career for people fascinated by the way things work. If you love assembling and fixing the machines in your life, a career designing them might be the perfect step professionally -- no matter what machines interest you.

The world of mechanical engineering is broad, and professionals in the field may focus on one of the following duties or have a job that requires them to perform all these tasks.

  • Analyzing problems to determine if and how a mechanical device could be useful in solving it.
  • Designing mechanical devices using computer software and other tools.
  • Building prototypes to test designs.
  • Reviewing test results and making design changes as needed.
  • Overseeing the production of a device once it has been tested and approved.

It's a dynamic job that can allow workers the opportunity to specialize in specific areas, such as thermal devices, power-producing systems and building-related design. Like other engineers, mechanical engineers are well compensated for their skills, and they don't even need an advanced degree to begin working.

College iconHow Much do Mechanical Engineers Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a nationwide mean annual salary of $87,140 among mechanical engineers working in 2014. The top 10 percent of earners took home $126,430 or more for the year, and the bottom 10 percent earned up to $53,210. Here's a list of the five highest-paying industries for mechanical engineers in 2014, according to BLS data:

  • Oil and gas extraction: $153,940
  • Information services: $138,510
  • Waste treatment and disposal: $110,000
  • Remediation and other waste management services: $106,640
  • Support activities for air transportation: $103,630

Different areas of the country reported different average yearly salaries for mechanical engineers, as well, and questions of geography and salary can always be accompanied by data about the general living expense in an area. Here are a few metro areas that reported better-than-average mechanical engineer salaries to the BLS in 2014 and also turned up on the affordable side of the Center for Community and Economic Research's Cost of Living Index (COLI) for the first quarter of 2015:

  • Idaho Falls, Idaho: $98,180 mean annual salary; state ranked 2nd in affordability
  • Jackson, Tennessee: $95,930 mean annual salary; state ranked 6th in affordability
  • Gulfport, Mississippi: $89,700 mean annual salary; state ranked 1st in affordability
  • Lafayette, Indiana: $89,640 mean annual salary; state ranked 4th in affordability

Mechanical engineers in Anchorage, Alaska, earned the highest wages in the field in 2014, reporting reported mean annual salary of $125,260 to the BLS, but living expenses in the state ranked among the top five least affordable on the recent COLI.

Checkmark iconOccupational Requirements and Job Types for Mechanical Engineers

Employers typically require candidates for mechanical engineering jobs to have at least a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, as well as strong computer skills and mathematical abilities.

Mechanical engineers tend to be able to find industry jobs and get to work without first earning any special licenses, but engineers who offer services directly to the public must be licensed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Some states may enforce continuing education requirements on their licensed engineers, and applicants for licensure are usually required to have received their education from a program recognized by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

Engineers who want to get certified to show their expertise in a specific area of the discipline can seek credentialing programs at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. In addition, engineering schools may offer certificates that can help workers focus on certain mechanical engineering careers. The following are examples of available certificates.

  • Mechanics and materials
  • Machinery dynamics
  • Systems engineering

Certificates are usually not required for employment, but they can be a helpful career boost.

What's the Job Outlook Like for Mechanical Engineers?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 5 percent employment growth nationwide among mechanical engineer jobs between 2012 and 2022, which is slower than the average for all occupations but should still lead to nearly 12,000 new positions in the field. Growth is likely to be concentrated somewhat in the nanotechnology and alternative energy industries, although a growing return to domestically available manufacturing services may drive some growth in more traditional sectors as well.

Job growth for mechanical engineers is projected to be more robust in some states than others, according to statistics collected by employment data portal Career InfoNet. These states are among those where growth projections for mechanical engineering jobs are more encouraging than the national figure:

  • Colorado: 23.9 percent
  • Montana: 22.6 percent
  • Utah: 21.7 percent
  • North Dakota: 20.4 percent
  • Texas: 20.0 percent

According to the BLS, mechanical engineers with in-depth training in the latest software tools should have the best job prospects, which means it's crucial that current and aspiring engineers stay up to date on the latest technology in their industry.

If making your living designing and building machines sounds appealing to you, start by looking at online engineering schools to see what programs are offered on campuses and at online schools in mechanical engineering. You can also contact admissions departments and schools that interest you to find out more about individual programs.

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Sources

1. Employment Trends by Occupation Across States, Mechanical Engineers, CareerOneStop, http://www.careerinfonet.org/carout3.asp?optstatus=001000000&id=1&nodeid=2&soccode=172141&stfips=01&jobfam=17&menuMode=&order=Percent
2. Cost of Living Data Series: First Quarter 2015, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Missouri Department of Economic Development, http://www.missourieconomy.org/indicators/cost_of_living/index.stm
3. Occupational Employment and Wages: Mechanical Engineers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes172141.htm
4. Mechanical Engineers, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/mechanical-engineers.htm