Entry-Level Mechanical Engineer Job Description
From Boston to Seattle and many cities in between, industries of all kinds are looking to hire talented mechanical engineers. For people just starting their careers, mechanical engineering is a good place to begin because it is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. And once you've earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering and have some experience under your belt, you can apply your skills and training to other engineering specialties.
Mechanical engineers use science and mathematics to plan and design tools, engines and machines. They may work for traditional manufacturers, agricultural producers or emerging companies involved in biotechnology, nanotechnology and materials science. Their daily duties involve overseeing the installation, operation and repair of heat, gas, water, and steam systems. They also work on power-producing machines such as electric generators, internal combustion engines, elevators and robots used in manufacturing.
If you think that's the career for you, here's what you should expect as an entry-level mechanical engineer:
Decent job prospects. Because of their expertise in finding economically efficient solutions to technical problems, mechanical engineers are in demand -- especially if they work in the right kind of growth industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says mechanical engineers are expected to have employment growth of 6 percent over the next decade, which is slower than average for all occupations, since engineers tend to be concentrated in slower growing or declining manufacturing industries. On the bright side, overall engineering employment is expected to grow by 11 percent over the 2008-'18 decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations, because jobs are growing in the areas of consulting services and research and development.
Good pay. Even though the economy is struggling, engineering graduates saw modest increases in salary offers in 2010, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Starting annual pay for mechanical engineers comes to $58,881 on average.
Challenging work. Typically, junior engineers have a wide range of technical job responsibilities. They must prepare analysis reports, conduct testing, develop and maintain 3D models, coordinate projects with designers, create and update drawings, and maintain documentation. In addition to having a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, they're expected to have a knowledge of tools such as Solid Edge, Insight and CFDesign. Plus, entry-level jobs often involve managerial tasks that include project level scheduling, updating milestone status and managing vendor costs and schedules.
Competition from abroad. "The continued globalization of engineering work will likely dampen domestic employment growth to some degree," says the BLS. "There are many well-trained, often English-speaking, engineers available around the world who are willing to work at much lower salaries than U.S. engineers. The rise of the Internet has made it relatively easy for part of the engineering work previously done by engineers in this country to be done by engineers in other countries, a factor that will tend to hold down employment growth."
That said, the need for on-site engineers who can interact with other employees and clients continues. And competitive pressures along with advances in technology will force companies to update product designs and manufacturing processes. That means more jobs for mechanical engineers as employers rely on them to expand output of goods and services. "Unlike the situation in some other occupations," the BLS says, "technological advances are not expected to substantially limit employment opportunities in engineering, because engineers are needed to provide the ideas that lead to improved products and more productive processes."
Opportunities for career growth. Once you've proved your worth as an entry-level mechanical engineer, you may look to more certification and career advancement. That may mean more independence to develop designs and solve problems, more difficult projects and a more focused career path in a specialized field. Or, it could lead you to move into a management position that involves sales or supervising a team of engineers and technicians.
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Joyce Hanson is a Brooklyn, New York-based writer, editor and long-time blogger who has written about small business and careers for Crain's New York Business.