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mechanical engineering career

Mechanical Engineer

Mechanical engineering is concerned with the design, development, installation, operation and maintenance of a wide range of products that contain movable parts. Mechanical engineers may be involved in design, turning plans into new products or revising existing ones. They may work in research and development, trying to find solutions to engineering problems, using new technologies when they become available, or in production where they plan and design new production processes. They work in a diverse range of industries, including manufacturing, aerospace, energy, railways, automotive and medical. In the sports industry, engineers may be involved in researching composite materials and titanium, replacing natural materials in equipment to improve performance.

Mechanical engineers are normally required to work a standard number of hours each week. 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 are employed throughout the UK in a wide spectrum of engineering activity.

Salaries range from £16,500 a year to £50,000, or considerably more.

Mechanical engineers need:

  • to be good at maths, science and technology
  • to be good at ICT, particularly computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) and computer-aided engineering (CAE)
  • excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • to be good at planning and organisation
  • to be good team workers.

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, and engineering construction companies. They also work in manufacturing, oil and gas industries, pharmaceuticals, food and cosmetics, hospitals and educational institutions, road, railways and the water industry.

Many engineers begin by studying full time at university or college for a first degree and there is a wide choice of courses and qualifications available. It is possible to begin training for craft or technician-level jobs straight from school with GCSEs (A*-C) in English, maths and science followed by full-time study at college, or a work-based Apprenticeship. The Diploma in engineering may be relevant for this area of work.

A BTEC Higher National Diploma/Certificate or a foundation degree in engineering or technology provide alternative routes.

Engineers can go on to register with the Engineering Council (ECUK) as a professional engineer, either Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng). There are good prospects for promotion, particularly if they combine engineering skills with an aptitude for manag

What is the work like?

Mechanical engineering is concerned with the design, development, installation, operation and maintenance of a wide range of products that contain movable parts. Mechanical engineers may be involved in:

  • design - producing or revising plans to create new products
  • research and development - investigating ways of solving engineering problems, using new technologies as and when they become available
  • production - planning and implementing a range of production processes.

Mechanical engineers use a wide range of skills to devise ways of improving the way we live. They work in a diverse range of industries, including:

  • Manufacturing - including pharmaceuticals, electronics and cars, food and high-tech products. Mechanical engineers install, maintain, and commission new machinery for production units.
  • Aerospace - carrying out research, designing and applying the principles of aerodynamics, electronics and mechanical engineering to new or existing products. The work may involve investigating the use of new materials, improving existing ones, and modifying designs to improve aspects such as safety, fuel consumption or pollution.
  • Energy, renewable energy and climate change. In addition to traditional power stations and water supply, mechanical engineers may be involved in developing new ways of converting wind, wave and solar energy into electricity for our homes and businesses.
  • Railways. Mechanical engineers may be involved in designing faster, safer and more comfortable trains as well as installing and maintaining signals and track.
  • Automotive. Mechanical engineers may be involved in the design and manufacture of vehicles and engines that run on environmentally friendly and sustainable sources of power, such as hydrogen fuel. Others may build high-performance racing cars using new materials such as advanced plastics composites.
  • Medical - working with healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, therapists and technicians. They design instruments, artificial limbs and mobility equipment.
  • Sports - researching the use of composite materials and titanium, replacing natural materials in sports equipment to help improve performance.

Engineering projects, such as the Millenium Bridge on the Tyne, Crossrail and the vast stadiums being constructed for the Olympics, involve engineers of all disciplines. Mechanical engineers need to be able to work alongside electrical, civil and construction engineers as well as those in the nuclear and medical fields.

Hours and environment

Mechanical engineers are normally required to work a standard number of hours each week, although the actual number of hours may be considerably longer, depending on the type of work.

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.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Graduate salaries may start at around £16,500 a year.
  • Experienced mechanical engineers may earn around £35,000.
  • A qualified chartered mechanical engineer may earn £50,000 or considerably more.

Skills and personal qualities

Mechanical engineers need:

  • to be good at maths, science and technology
  • to be good at ICT, particularly computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) and computer-aided engineering (CAE)
  • 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.

Interests

It helps to have an interest in:

  • science and technology
  • how things work.

Getting in

Mechanical engineers are employed across the UK 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 a number of specialist engineering websites where positions are advertised.

Entry routes

A major route into mechanical engineering is through studying full time at university or college for a first degree, and a wide choice of courses and qualifications are available. It is possible to follow a specific mechanical engineering course or a combined course.

The minimum qualifications for a degree course in mechanical engineering are normally five GCSEs (A*-C) and two A levels, including maths and physics. Alternative qualifications may include BTEC National Awards in mechanical engineering or a related subject. The Diploma in engineering may be relevant for this area of work.

It is possible to begin training for craft or technician-level jobs straight from school with GCSEs (A*-C) in English, maths and science. This may involve a work-based Apprenticeship or a full-time course at college, leading to Technician status (EngTech) through the achievement of a relevant NVQ. Examples include:

  • NVQ Levels 1 and 2 in performing engineering operations
  • NVQ Level 2 in mechanical manufacturing engineering
  • NVQ Level 2 in fabrication and welding engineering
  • NVQ Levels 2 and 3 in technical services
  • NVQ Level 3 in mechanical manufacturing engineering
  • NVQ Level 3 in fabrication and welding engineering.

Further study is available leading to:

  • NVQ Levels 4 and 5 in engineering management
  • BTEC Higher National Diploma/Certificate
  • a foundation degree in engineering or technology.

It is then possible to progress to degree level, and subsequently Incorporated and Chartered status.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer and, from August 2009, pay at least £95 per week. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. 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 on the Apprenticeship page on this website, from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk

Training

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

For professional registration as a Chartered Engineer, candidates should be members of a professional engineering institution such as the IMechE and register with the Engineering Council. The IMechE also provides a route to registration for experienced candidates. An applicant's career history and any qualifications obtained are reviewed and any shortfall is addressed. A Technical Report may be required, depending on the specifications required by the IMechE.

Mechanical engineers are expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD). This can include attending courses, meetings, workshops and seminars.

Getting on

Mechanical engineers have good prospects for promotion, particularly if they combine engineering skills with an aptitude for management. Some mechanical engineers work independently as consultants. There are good opportunities overseas.

Further information

Diploma website: http://yp.direct.gov.uk/diplomas

Engineering and Technology Board (ETB). 020 3206 0400. Website: www.etechb.co.uk

Engineering Council (ECUK), 246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX. 020 3206 0500. Website: www.engc.org.uk

Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST). 020 7382 2600. Website: www.imarest.org

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). 01438 313311. Website: www.theiet.org

Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). 020 7222 7899. Website: http://www.imeche.org/Home

SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies), 01923 238441. Learning helpline 0800 282167. Website: www.semta.org.uk

UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology. 01274 436485. Website: www.setwomenresource.org.uk

 

 

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