Mechanical engineers provide efficient solutions to the development of processes and products, ranging from small component designs to extremely large plant, machinery or vehicles.

They can work on all stages of a product, from research and development to design and manufacture, through to installation and final commissioning.

Most industries rely on a form of mechanical systems and mechanical engineering is thought to be one of the most diverse of all engineering disciplines. Due to this, there are employment opportunities in a wide range of sectors, including:

  • manufacturing;
  • power;
  • construction;
  • medical.

Mechanical engineers can be involved in the management of people and resources, as well as the development and use of new materials and technologies.

Responsibilities

Projects that mechanical engineers work on can vary significantly, from researching and developing medical products (such as mechanical hearts), to improving production processes in large oil refineries or designing services within buildings.

Across all sectors, tasks generally include:

  • designing and implementing cost-effective equipment modifications to help improve safety and reliability;
  • developing a project specification with colleagues, often including those from other engineering disciplines;
  • developing, testing and evaluating theoretical designs;
  • discussing and solving complex problems with manufacturing departments, sub-contractors, suppliers and customers;
  • making sure a product can be made reliably and will perform consistently in specified operating environments;
  • managing projects using engineering principles and techniques;
  • planning and designing new production processes;
  • producing details of specifications and outline designs;
  • recommending modifications following prototype test results;
  • using research, analytical, conceptual and planning skills, particularly mathematical modelling and computer-aided design;
  • considering the implications of issues such as cost, safety and time constraints;
  • working with other professionals, within and outside the engineering sector;
  • monitoring and commissioning plant and systems.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for mechanical engineers and for those on graduate training schemes are in the range of £20,000 to £28,000.
  • With experience this can increase to between £25,000 and £35,000. At a mid-level for lead or principle engineers salaries are around £35,000 to £50,000.
  • When a senior level is reached, such as chief engineer, salaries of £45,000 to £60,000+ can be achieved.

Salaries vary from company to company and some sectors attract higher salaries, according to demand.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours typically include regular extra hours, but not usually weekends or shifts.

Self-employment and freelance work are possible for qualified engineers with a good track record and experience. Short-term contract or consulting work is also possible, often arranged through agencies.

What to expect

  • The work is mainly office-based with regular visits to plants, factories, workshops or building sites. Factory production areas can be noisy.
  • Women are currently under-represented within chartered engineering, although there are initiatives in place to try and encourage more women into the industry, such as WISE and Women's Engineering Society (WES).
  • Opportunities are usually available in towns and cities that have a strong manufacturing or research base, or in regions where there is a local facility that supports specialist engineering.
  • Work is often to deadlines, particularly in consultancy work.
  • Dress code can vary from smart for office-based work to a hard hat and overalls when working on site.
  • Travel within a working day is frequent. Absence from home overnight and overseas work or travel may be required, depending on the employer and nature of the business.
  • There are many opportunities to work abroad, particularly throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australia. It is possible to gain professional recognition in other European countries and chartered engineers can apply for European engineer status (Eur Ing).

Qualifications

To get into mechanical engineering you will usually be required to have a degree. Relevant subjects include:

  • mechanical engineering;
  • engineering science;
  • aeronautical engineering;
  • agricultural engineering;
  • computer-aided engineering;
  • manufacturing engineering;
  • nuclear engineering.

A good honours degree is usually required, although some employers place as much emphasis on people skills and commercial awareness as on class of degree.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not essential but it can be useful, especially if your first degree is not in an engineering or other related subject. Masters are available in subjects such as:

  • mechanical;
  • design;
  • computer aided;
  • manufacturing;
  • medical engineering.

It is useful if your first degree or Masters is accredited by a relevant professional body, such as the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), as it can help you to achieve the status of chartered engineer at a later date. Details of accredited courses are available at Engineering Council - Accredited Course Search.

It is possible to enter the career as a trainee with a HND or foundation degree. Relevant subjects include engineering and mechanical engineering.

You could become an engineering technician without a degree, HND or foundation degree but would need to build up the necessary skills and knowledge, and possibly take higher qualifications, to work up to the role of mechanical engineer.

Fluency in a second language may be helpful for dealing with international offices or clients, depending on the type of industry.

Find out about employers before your final year and make contact with them at engineering recruitment fairs.

It is also useful to get student membership with a professional body, to keep up to date with developments in the industry and to start making contacts. Relevant organisations include:

Skills

You will need to show:

  • a high level of technical and scientific knowledge and the ability to apply this knowledge to practical problems;
  • good oral communication skills and confidence in dealing with a wide range of people, including clients, contractors, designers, directors and plant operators;
  • precise and concise written communication skills;
  • the ability to work well within a team;
  • IT skills, particularly computer-aided design;
  • creative ability;
  • the ability to work under pressure;
  • organisational skills, such as time and resource planning.

Work experience

Work experience is valuable and many large employers offer structured internship programmes and summer placement schemes. These provide an excellent insight into the nature of the work and are often hands-on.

Some degree courses offer a year in industry, which really helps to demonstrate what the career will be like, as well as making some good contacts for future job prospects. This type of relevant experience will provide evidence of skill development and commercial awareness.

Employers

Mechanical engineers can find employment in a huge range of sectors, mechanical engineering has usually played a part in almost all the products and services we see around us.

Employers of mechanical engineers include:

  • aerospace and automotive industries;
  • the armed forces and the Ministry of Defence, e.g. the Defence Engineering and Science Group (DESG);
  • construction and building services;
  • energy utilities, including nuclear;
  • engineering consultancies;
  • government agencies;
  • manufacturing industries;
  • medical engineering;
  • oil and gas industries, including petrochemical industries;
  • process industries, including pharmaceuticals, food and cosmetics;
  • the public sector, including the Civil Service, local authorities, hospitals and educational institutions;
  • research establishments, both academic and commercial;
  • sports engineering;
  • transport, including road and railways.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies advertise vacancies and handle contract vacancies, particularly for experienced engineers.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

It is possible to enter the engineering industry through a graduate training scheme. If you do this, you will complete a structured course of training, which usually involves working within a variety of disciplines.

It is likely that you will work towards gaining chartered engineer status (CEng), which is an internationally recognised qualification awarded by the Engineering Council.

With CEng status you have higher earning potential and improved career prospects.

You will need to be a member of a professional institution so that you can apply through them for professional registration. Relevant bodies include:

  • Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)
  • Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE)

The process of becoming chartered is more straightforward if you have an accredited bachelors degree, along with a Masters or an accredited integrated MEng degree. Details of which qualifications are accredited are available at Engineering Council - Accredited Course Search.

Some employers will offer opportunities to study for a part-time MSc in a relevant subject.

You will also need to demonstrate that you are working at a particular level and have the required professional competences and commitment, as set out in the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC).

Most large firms offer structured training and encourage continuing professional development (CPD). Usually, firms offer in-service training and short courses for specific needs. This may include placements in different departments to widen your experience.

Some employers are unable to provide broad training opportunities themselves, and it is worth checking what arrangements they have in place.

CPD can be aided by joining one of the professional bodies, such as IMechE or IET, which offer support through structured CPD programmes. They also run events, courses and conferences.

Career prospects

Most careers in engineering lead to a senior position with responsibility for other staff or larger projects and budgets.

Gaining chartered status (CEng) is a significant help in career progression. It will be proof that you have met a UK and international standard of experience and knowledge in the engineering profession. More information is available at Engineering Council - Chartered Engineer.

As companies operate in an increasingly international market, the European engineer (Eur Ing) status and additional language skills will become a distinct advantage if you wish to progress further in the profession.

All chartered engineers are eligible to apply for Eur Ing status. See Engineering Council - European Engineer.

You may decide to develop additional skills, such as business or management, so that you can get involved with larger projects and take on greater responsibility.

Good commercial awareness is essential for career development, as well as developing people management skills, as it is likely you will be required to lead teams or manage projects.

You may be able to move into business functions, such as procurement, sales and marketing or human resources (HR). Once you have developed your technical skills, you can move into senior engineering posts, such as engineering director.

Another career path could involve moving into engineering consultancy.