Mechanical Engineer

The Job and What's Involved

Mechanical engineering is concerned with the design, development, installation, operation and maintenance of just about anything that has moveable parts. If an object is manufactured, mechanical engineering skills will have been involved at some stage during its development and production. Mechanical engineers may be involved in:

Design - turning plans into new products or revising existing ones.

Research and Development - continually trying to find solutions to engineering problems, using new technologies when they become available.

Production - planning and designing new production processes.

Mechanical engineers use their wide range of skills to think of ways to improve the way we live. They work in all kinds of industries, including:

Manufacturing: This is a diverse area ranging from pharmaceuticals, electronics and cars, to food and high-tech products. Mechanical engineers maintain, install and commission new machinery for production units, and are also employed in the equipment supply industry.

Aerospace: Carrying out research on new designs and applying the principles of aerodynamics, electronics and mechanical engineering to new or existing products. Aerospace also involves investigating the use of new materials, or improving existing ones, and modifying designs to improve safety or to reduce fuel consumption or pollution.

Renewable energy: Finding new ways of converting wind, wave and solar energy into electricity for our homes and businesses. Some renewable technologies rely very heavily on specialist areas of mechanical engineering such as control and fluid dynamics. Others are based on more traditional mechanical engineering products, such as gearboxes and hydraulic pistons.

Railways: Mechanical engineers work on trains as well as installing and maintaining signals and track. They are also designing faster, safer and more comfortable trains which run on a more efficient infrastructure.

Automotive: Mechanical engineers are increasingly involved in the design and build of vehicles and engines which can run on environmentally friendly and sustainable sources of power such as hydrogen fuel. Others are building Formula 1 cars using new materials such as advanced plastics composites.

Medical: Engineers work with healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, therapists and technicians. They design instruments, devices and software.

Sports: Engineers research composite materials and titanium, replacing natural materials in sports equipment to improve performance.

The normal working hours are 37 to 40 hours a week, although the actual number of hours may be considerably longer, depending on the project.

Work environments may range from quiet, modern, open-plan offices to factory production areas, which may be noisy. At times, engineers may have to visit outdoor sites.

Mechanical engineers often work for multinational organisations, and this frequently involves travel and short periods away from home. The dress required varies from suits and ties for office work, to overalls, hard hats and even specialist equipment when working on installations.

Starting salaries may be around £16,500 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Mechanical engineers are found in almost every area of engineering activity. Around 75,000 engineers worldwide are members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).

Employers include:

  • Aerospace and automotive industries.
  • Gas, electricity and nuclear companies.
  • Engineering construction companies.
  • Government agencies.
  • Manufacturing industries.
  • Oil and gas industries, including petrochemical industries.
  • Process industries, pharmaceuticals, food and cosmetics.
  • The Civil Service, local councils, hospitals and educational institutions.
  • Transport, including road and railways.
  • The water industry.

Jobs are advertised in the national press and on the websites of the employing organisations. There are also many specialist engineering websites where positions are advertised.

Education and Training

The typical way to train as an engineer is to study full time at university or college for a first degree. There is a wide choice of courses and qualifications offered across the UK. It is possible to follow a pure mechanical engineering course or a combined course.

Generally the minimum qualifications for a degree course in mechanical engineering are two A levels/four H grades, including maths and physics, and three other subjects at GCSE/S grade (A-C/1-3). Alternative qualifications may include BTEC/SQA national awards in mechanical engineering or a related subject.

It is possible to begin training for craft or technician-level jobs straight from school with GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) in English, maths and science. A work-based apprenticeship leading to technician status through an NVQ/SVQ, an HNC/HND, or a foundation degree in engineering or technology are other possible routes. It is then possible to progress to degree-level, and incorporated and chartered status.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Following the award of a degree or an HNC/HND, and after further training with an employer, engineers can go on to register with the Engineering Council (ECUK) as a professional engineer - either Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng).

Mechanical engineers are expected to undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD). This can include attending courses, meetings, workshops and seminars.

Further details on becoming professionally qualified and enhancing career prospects in civil engineering are available on the IMechE website.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Mechanical engineers need:

  • To be good at maths, science and technology.
  • To be good at IT, particularly computer-aided design (CAD).
  • A logical, inventive and inquiring mind.
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills.
  • To be good at planning and organisation.
  • To be able to work under pressure.
  • To be good team workers.

Your Long Term Prospects

Mechanical engineers have good prospects for promotion, particularly if they combine engineering skills with managerial aptitude. Some mechanical engineers work independently as consultants.

There are good opportunities overseas. This could be with UK firms of consulting or contracting engineers working for foreign governments, with oil and mining companies, or with international companies based in other countries.

Get Further Information

The Institution of Engineering
and Technology (IET),
Savoy Place, London WC2R 0BL
Tel: 020 7240 1871
Website: www.theiet.org.uk

The Institute of Marine Engineering,
Science and Technology (IMarEST),
80 Coleman Street, London EC2R 5BJ
Tel: 020 7382 2600
Website: www.imarest.org

Scottish Engineering,
105 West George Street, Glasgow G2 1QL
Tel: 0141 221 3181
Website: www.scottishengineering.org.uk

SEMTA (Science, Engineering
and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance),
14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 0800 282167
Website: www.semta.org.uk

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