Mechanical engineering applications have an impact on most, if not all, areas of our lives. Consequently, mechanical engineers are pretty darn important! These technical maestros research, design, develop and build the useful mechanical products, devices, vehicles and machines that make our world go round.
If you enter this line of work, you will focus your efforts on mechanical engineering projects from start to finish. Once you have been given the project brief, you will play an integral role in the research, design, development, testing, tweaking and production of a mechanical solution which meets the project requirements and fits in with time and budget constraints.
As a mechanical engineer, you could utilise your expert technical skills across a wide range of industries, focusing on anything from aeronautical, transport, construction and defence engineering to manufacturing, medical, energy and telecommunications engineering.
Incidentally, these guys’ working environments can vary massively. If you pursue this career path, you could find yourself working in an office, a laboratory, a workshop, a factory or on an offshore rig.
Mechanical engineering is not just about hands-on technical work though – senior engineers usually have project management and budget control responsibilities too.
Salary & benefits
Annual salaries for mechanical engineers in the early stages of their careers range between £22,000 and £30,000, while mechanical engineers with more than five years’ experience, managerial responsibilities and specialist expertise can earn between £35,000 and £65,000 per annum.
Most employers also offer attractive benefits packages, such as hazardous duty pay for field work and additional allowances to manage higher costs of living and travel expenses. In some cases, a domestic travel allowance is substituted for a company car.
Large companies that conduct annual graduate development programmes also offer financial and mentoring support for junior engineers, who are required to study for professional qualifications which lead to incorporated or chartered engineer status.
Ordinarily, mechanical engineers work around eight to ten hours a day, with regular start and finish times. However, when project deadlines are looming or you’re doing field-based work, you may be required to work additional hours on weekends and national holidays. The amount of travel required also depends on the type of project you’re assigned to.
The basic entry requirement for most mechanical engineering jobs is an undergraduate degree (BEng) in mechanical engineering or another related engineering discipline, such as aeronautical engineering or manufacturing engineering.
Some companies will only recruit graduates, though other organisations will take on candidates with HNDs (or equivalent qualifications) in lower-level technician roles.
Degrees should be accredited by one of several professional bodies, namely the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) or the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).
Candidates with relevant postgraduate degrees (MEng, MSc or PhD) may be preferred by certain employers. It’s also a good idea to gain work experience through vacation schemes or industrial training placements whilst you’re at university.
Training & progression
Structured graduate development programmes are offered by many companies. These training schemes involve doing several placements across different departments of the organisation, where you will gain hands-on experience. You’re also likely to receive in-house training, mentoring and financial support as you work towards gaining incorporated or chartered status as a mechanical engineer.
Training schemes typically run for between two and three years, depending on company policy and the category of professional accreditation you are aiming for.
As you progress in your career, you can aim for managerial roles within the same company, join an engineering consultancy as a specialist expert, start your own business or offer professional services as an independent freelancer.