Career and Job Search Guide

Engineering Careers

Engineers solve problematic technical issues by using the fundamentals of math and science to develop cost effective solutions. They use scientific discoveries to improve consumer products and services. Many engineers work in new product production and development. They must consider several elements when developing new products. For example, if engineers were to develop a new industrial robot, they would detail the requirements necessary for the robot to function, develop, test, and combine its' parts, and determine whether developing the robot is cost effective and safe. The process is used in the production of chemicals, computers, power plants, toys, and helicopters.

Engineers not only work in the development and design of new products, they also work in the testing, production, and maintenance of new products. Engineers oversee production assembly lines, determine why products break down, and administer tests to improve product quality. They also determine how much money and time is necessary to finish projects. Supervisory engineers oversee entire projects.

Engineers rely completely on computers to develop and analyze production designs. They use computers to monitor product quality, develop part specifications, and test how a machine or system will operate. Nanotechnology, the combination of atoms and molecules to create state of the art technology, is creating new processes for product design.

The majority of engineers are specialists. There are 17 engineering specialties listed in the Federal Government's Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. Professional societies recognize other specialties with numerous sub-specialties. Civil engineering can include such sub-specialties as transportation and structural engineering, and materials engineering sub-specialties might include polymer, metallurgical, and ceramic engineering. Engineers may also specialize in one field, for example, internal combustion engines, or one specific technology, for example, turbine technology. Aerospace engineers design and develop airplanes, space shuttles, or missiles and supervise the manufacturing and testing processes. Engineers who design airplanes are known as aeronautical engineers. Engineers specializing in space shuttle development are known as astronautical engineers. Aerospace engineers design new technologies used in aviation, space exploration, and the military while some engineers specialize in structural design, guidance, navigation, and communications. Certain aerospace engineers specialize in commercial planes, fighter jets, helicopters, space shuttles, and missiles. Aerospace engineers are usually experts in acoustics, propulsion, celestial mechanics, aerodynamics, thermodynamics, and guidance systems. Agricultural engineers, also known as biological or agricultural engineers, apply scientific discoveries to improve agricultural production and efficiency. Agricultural engineers design agricultural equipment and power systems and develop processes for improved agricultural production and efficiency. They also specialize in environmental, food, and bioprocess engineering. Engineers also coordinate strategies to improve soil and water conservation. Agricultural engineers are involved with production, sales, and management. Other types of engineers include the following:

Work environment. Engineers usually work in factories, labs, or office buildings. Some monitor or coordinate operations at construction sites, gas exploration facilities, or industrial production facilities. Certain engineers frequently travel to worksites in the United States and around the world. Most engineers work 40 hour weeks. However, deadlines may require engineers to work longer hours.

Training, Qualifications, and Advancement

Engineers must earn a bachelor's degree in an engineering specialty before getting a job, but some research jobs require candidates with master's degrees. Private practice engineers must be licensed. Because technology is constantly evolving, continuing education is important.

Education and training. A bachelor's degree in engineering is necessary for almost all entry-level positions. Some candidates with degrees in science or math may qualify for entry-level positions. The most popular programs are civil engineering, mechanical, electrical, and electronics, but engineers trained in one field can work in related ones. This way, employers can meet staffing needs when qualified candidates are scarce. As a result, engineers can move to a specialty that interests them or has better job prospects. Most engineering programs have a concentration of engineering courses with additional courses in math and the biological and physical sciences. Most programs have lab or computer training requirements.

Many universities offer 2 or 4 year engineering technology programs. These programs include labs, providing students with experience in practical real-life applications. Students earning these degrees can qualify for the same positions as students with degrees from traditional programs. However, engineers with technology degrees are not qualified to register as professional engineers. Certain employers consider job candidates with technology degrees as technicians.

Many jobs with universities or research and developmental programs require employees to hold master's degrees. Many engineers go to school and get master's degrees in engineering or business administration. A lot of senior executives began their careers as engineers.

Nearly 1830 university or college programs offering engineering bachelor's degrees are certified with the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) while 710 other institutions offer accredited engineering technology programs. Most universities offer the major engineering branches while a few offer programs in the smaller specialties. Some programs emphasize more technical details, offering more real life applications while some teach more theoretical concepts. Before selecting a school, students should examine a school's curriculum and accreditations.

Undergraduate engineering schools require students to take courses in mathematics, science, English and humanities. Bachelor's degree programs usually last 4 years with students taking math, science, and introductory engineering schools in the first 2 years and core engineering courses in the final 2 years. Certain programs offer a general focus, and then graduates specialize when they get their first job.

Certain engineering programs have agreements with community colleges where students study engineering courses for 2 years and then enroll in an engineering program. Some schools have agreements with liberal arts colleges where students study engineering prerequisites for 3 years at the liberal arts college, and then move on to core engineering subjects at an engineering school. 5 year master's degree programs are offered by some universities while some programs offer course study with practical applications.

Licensure. All states and the District of Columbia require engineers in private practice to become licensed. Licensed engineers are known as professional engineers. Professional engineers can include chemical, mechanical, electrical, or civil engineers. To become a licensed engineer, candidates must earn a degree from an ABET accredited engineering program, posses 4 years of work experience, and pass a state required test. The examination is taken in 2 phases. After graduating, potential engineers take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. If a candidate passes, he or she will be known as an engineer in training, and then, after gaining some work experience, a candidate will take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Many states require engineering to be involved with continuing education programs to remain licensed. Most states recognize licenses obtained in other states. Numerous professional organizations provide continuing education programs.

Other qualifications. Engineers need to be detail oriented, creative, and have good analytical skills. They need good written and verbal communication skills and have the ability to work in teams. Communication skills are vital because engineers work with other professionals who may not be engineers.

Certification and advancement. Engineers beginning their first jobs are supervised by experienced engineers, and at larger firms, possibly might receive classroom type training. Engineers gaining experience will be assigned more difficult tasks, and if they demonstrate competency, will be given greater independence to solve problems and develop new designs. Some engineers can become technical specialists or managers. Engineers assigned to work in sales can discuss a product's technical details with customers.

Many professional certifications are available for engineers and may increase their promotion potential.


In 2006, there were about 1.5 million engineers. The number of engineers was as follows:
  • Agricultural engineers - 3,100
  • Mining, mine safety, and geological engineers - 7,100
  • Marine engineers and naval architects - 9,200
  • Biomedical engineers - 14,000
  • Nuclear engineers - 15,000
  • Petroleum engineers - 17,000
  • Materials engineers - 22,000
  • Health and safety engineers - 25,000
  • Chemical engineers - 30,000
  • Environmental engineers - 54,000
  • Computer hardware engineers - 79,000
  • Aerospace engineers - 90,000
  • Electronics engineers - 138,000
  • Industrial engineers - 201,000
  • Mechanical engineers - 227,000
  • Civil engineers - 256,000
  • Other engineers - 170,000
Nearly 37 percent of engineers worked in manufacturing while close to 28 percent worked in technology, scientific, and professional services. Many engineers were employed in wholesale trade, telecommunications, and construction industries.

In 2006, nearly 12 percent of engineers were employed by local, state, and federal government agencies. Nearly half were employed by the federal government agencies such as the Departments of Energy, Interior, Agriculture, Transportation, Defense, and NASA. The majority of engineers working for local and state governments worked for the public works and highway departments. About 3 percent were self-employed.

Engineers are employed in cities and rural areas everywhere in the United States. Engineering jobs are usually geographic specific, for example, petroleum engineers work in areas with large oil reserves such as Texas, Oklahoma, and Alaska. Civil engineers work everywhere, often moving to work on new projects.

Job Outlook

Demand for engineers is expected to increase better than average compared to other occupations through the next decade. Demand should be greatest for environmental and civil engineers.

Overall employment change. Job growth for engineers is expected to increase 11 percent through 2016. Although manufacturing is decreasing throughout the United States, manufacturing industries will continue to hire engineers, but the majority of job growth for engineers will be in service industries. Competition and new technology will compel companies to improve product designs and manufacturing processes. Employers will turn to their engineers to coordinate these improvements. New technology is permitting engineers to increase productivity and work output more rapidly. The expansion of technology should not limit job opportunities for engineers because they will continue to develop strategies and processes to boost productivity.

Because many engineering jobs are being outsourced overseas, job growth will probably decrease. Numerous well educated engineers from foreign countries are willing to work for lower wages than American engineers. The internet has made it possible to complete work once only done in America. However, demand will always exist for onsite engineers to work with co-workers and customers.

Overall job outlook. Job opportunities for engineers should be good through 2016 because the number of graduates should be in proportion to the expected number of job openings. Also, more jobs will be available as engineers retire, get transferred, or get promoted to management.

During economic downturns, most engineers enjoy job security because they direct new research or development projects. However, aerospace and electronics engineers, for example, may experience layoffs because of cutbacks in government funded research. Moreover, engineers will be susceptible to layoffs because more companies are using American or foreign engineering service firms.

Engineers need to continue utilizing continuing education opportunities throughout their careers since their value to their organization can be dependent upon their understanding of the newest technology. For example, engineers working with technology may discover their technical knowledge is quickly outdated as innovation increases. Employers will appreciate workers staying up to date with new technology and may have an advantage when seeking promotion. Employment change and job outlook by engineering specialty.

Aerospace engineers should experience increased future demand for their knowledge and services since job growth in their field is expected to rise. New military and aerospace projects will create new jobs for aerospace engineers, as well as demand for new commercial airplane technology. Because of an assumed lack of jobs in aerospace engineering, many individuals have decided not to specialize in this field. New aerospace engineers will be needed to fill vacant positions as more people retire.

Agricultural engineers will enjoy future job opportunities as job growth in their industry is expected to increase by 9 percent through the next decade. Engineers will be needed to operate biosensors, develop processes to increase crop yields, increase production of bio-fuels, and develop conservation strategies.

Biomedical engineers will enjoy future job opportunities as job growth in their industry is expected to increase by 21 percent through the next decade. Biomedical engineers will create medical technology to serve an aging population more concerned than ever about health care. Concerns about costs will increase demand for engineers working in pharmaceuticals. More people are studying biomedical engineering in college, so those with only a bachelor's degree will face tough competition in the job market. Many employers require potential candidates to have a master's degree before they will consider them for many entry-level positions.

Chemical engineers will enjoy job growth over 8 percent through the next decade. Even though the chemical manufacturing industry is expected to shrink, chemical engineers will continue to develop more efficient products and manufacturing processes. The pharmaceutical industry will provide the best job growth, but the majority of opportunities will be available in the renewable energy, biotechnology, and nanotechnology fields and the technical, scientific, and professional service providing industries.

Civil engineers will enjoy job growth over 18 percent through the next decade. Since the nation's infrastructure needs improvement and the population continues to grow, civil engineers will design and supervise development of new buildings, pollution control facilities, water supply facilities, and roads. They will also supervise public buildings, bridges, and road repairs. Construction, architectural, and engineering companies hire civil engineers, but job opportunities will be different in each region, and when construction slows down during recessions, job opportunities will decrease.

Computer hardware engineers will experience 5 percent increase in employment demand through the next decade. The demand for information technology continues to grow but foreign competition will lead to less computer hardware manufacturing in the United States. Future job growth will exist in the computer systems design industry because computer and semiconductor manufacturers continue to outsource engineering responsibilities to foreign and domestic engineering companies.

Electrical engineers should experience 6 percent job growth in their industries through the decade. Although demand exists for cell phone transmitters, batteries, power generators, and GPS systems, job growth for electrical engineers will be limited because of international competition. Engineers working for firms consulting manufacturers should experience more employment opportunities.

Electronics engineers should experience 4 percent job growth through the next decade. Although demand exists for electronic goods such as phone, radios, medical electronics, and military related equipment, job growth will be limited because of foreign competition. Firms providing engineering services will provide the most job opportunities.

Environmental engineers should witness 25 percent job growth through the next decade. Engineers will work with companies to make sure they do not violate environmental laws, and environmental engineers will coordinate efforts to remove environmental hazards. A push to prevent environmental problems and population growth will increase demand for more environmental engineers. Although more students are studying environmental engineering in college, leading to more potential engineers, job growth remains constant. Economic downturn could negatively impact job growth for environmental engineers since less focus would be placed on environmental protection.

Health and safety engineers will have job opportunities as employment is expected to grow 10 percent through the decade. Since safety and health is emphasized in all industries, health and safety engineers will always be in demand. Health and safety engineers will be responsible to make sure new technologies for manufacturing are safe for workers.

Industrial engineers should experience 20 percent job growth through the next decade. Because all companies are constantly looking for ways to cut costs and improve productivity, industrial engineers will be hired to develop processes to achieve these goals. Industrial engineers will also have job opportunities in the declining manufacturing industries. Since industrial engineers have similar job duties as managers, many will have the opportunity to be promoted. Marine engineers and naval architects will experience 11 percent job growth through the decade. The construction of naval vessels and small boats used for recreation will offset the subsequent decline in large ocean liner construction. Prospective candidates should have job opportunities because few engineers enter the occupation, and there will be a need to replace retiring workers.

Materials engineers should experience 4 percent job growth through the next decade. Job opportunities for engineers working with nanomaterials and biomaterials should be good. Job opportunities should also exist for engineers working in technical, scientific, and professional service industries. Mechanical engineers will have job opportunities as employment is expected to expand 4 percent through the decade. This low number is due to the fact that most mechanical engineers work in the declining manufacturing industries. The increasing growth of nanotechnology, biotechnology, and materials science will create some new jobs. Mechanical engineers will still have job opportunities because they can apply their knowledge to other fields.

Mining and geological engineers will experience 10 percent job growth through the decade. New demand for gas and oil extraction will create job new job opportunities. Many mining engineers are now retiring which will create more employment opportunities. Since few colleges offer mining engineering degrees, graduates will have job opportunities. The best jobs may require engineers to live in other countries or travel extensively.

Nuclear engineers will have job opportunities as employment is expected to expand 7 percent through the decade. Most jobs will exist in research and development. Even though new nuclear power plants are being built, nuclear engineers will be needed to work in current plants, deign new ones, and conduct research. They will also be needed to work for the military, heath care technology services, and they will need to supervise nuclear waste management. Job opportunities will also exist because few people graduate with nuclear engineering degrees.

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