As a mechanical engineer, you will design, build, install and service mechanical machinery, components and tools across a range of industries.
These include the manufacturing, construction, power, transport, sports and medical industries.
So, what will I actually be doing?
Whichever industry you work in, you will normally be involved in three key areas:
Research and Development - assessing new products and innovations, and building prototypes
Design - turning research ideas into technical plans using computer aided design (CAD) and computer modelling programs.
Production - improving production processes, and planning and supervising the installation of machinery and parts in line with design plans and timescales.
You could be working on large scale projects, such as new ways to harness wave and tidal power, or at small scale or 'micromechanical' level, for example making prosthetic implants to help people who have trouble moving about.
Find mechanical engineer jobs now
The nitty gritty
You'll normally work 37 to 40 hours a week, maybe longer depending on projects and deadlines.
Your working environment could vary from quiet, modern, open-plan offices to factory production areas and outdoor sites. Depending on the contract, you may also have to travel abroad.
As an incorporated engineer, you would specialise in the day-to-day management. At chartered level, you would have a more strategic role, planning, researching and developing new ideas.
With relevant skills and experience, you could specialise in a particular area of engineering. Or you could move into project management, specialist research or consultancy. If you're chartered, you may go into strategic development in a particular sector, for example rail transport.
Money, money, money
Figures are intended as guideline only.
- Graduates start between £19,500 and £22,000
- Experienced mechanical engineers earn between £26,000 and £37,000
- Chartered engineers can earn over £40,000 a year
See what people are earning in this job
The good points...
Your opportunities are excellent. You could find work with a number of organisations, including local and central government, the armed services, manufacturers in all industries, research and development companies and public utilities.
You may also have the chance to work overseas with British firms of consulting or contracting engineers working for foreign governments, and with international oil and mining companies.
...and the bad
You won't be able to rest on your existing skills in this job, you'll be expected to keep developing your skills and knowledge throughout your career.
Is there study involved?
You'll need a foundation degree, BTEC HNC/HND or degree in mechanical engineering or a related engineering subject. For details, see Foundation Degree Forward, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) and the colleges or universities themselves.
For a degree course you will need at least five GCSEs (A-C) and two or three A levels, normally including maths and physics. Other science subjects such as biology are useful for medical engineering. Equivalent qualifications like vocational A levels may also be acceptable, as could an Access to Higher Education award for certain courses.
See the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, SEMTA, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, and Women into Science, Engineering and Construction for more details about this career. The Engineering Training Council (Northern Ireland) also has careers and course information.
You'll continue training on the job once you're working, and graduate apprenticeship schemes may be available if you have a first degree.
It's important to continue to develop your skills and knowledge throughout your career. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers operates the Monitored Professional Development Scheme (MPDS) for mechanical engineers, which leads towards chartered status.
You could also help your career development by working towards incorporated or chartered status. To do this, you should register with your professional industry body and apply to the Engineering Council.
OK, I'm interested... But is it really the job for me?
To be a mechanical engineer you should have:
- Excellent communication and presentation skills
- Excellent technical knowledge
- Good teamworking skills
- The ability to prioritise and plan effectively
- A high level of computer literacy, particularly computer-aided design
- Good commercial awareness
- The ability to work under pressure and to deadlines
- Good problem-solving skills and a creative approach for new ideas