It takes creativity to shepherd a theoretical device into a practical reality. To do so, mechanical engineers employ a methodical process that entails research, design, developing, building, and testing various devices. Computers are vital for tweaking a design and gauging how it will function. But to produce a fully refined product, mechanical engineers use grittier items like electric generators, industrial production equipment, and material-handling systems. When confronted with the more complex and analytical portions of the occupation, being a wiz in areas like calculus and trigonometry is a major bonus.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), employment in the field is expected to grow by a little less than 9 percent over the next decade, bringing along 21,300 new positions. But the broad opportunities within that small hiring window should leave aspiring mechanical engineers encouraged. Architecture, alternative energies, remanufacturing, and nanotechnology are subsets of this profession that will have open doors for candidates with the right education and experience. “One of the fun things about engineering is that there’s something in it for anybody,” says Tom Loughlin, executive director of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Salary

According to the BLS, mechanical engineers earned a median salary of $79,230 in 2011. The best-paid earned about $119,950, while the lowest-paid earned less than $51,340. Areas of the industry that pay well include lessors of real estate, oil and gas extraction, and bakeries and tortilla manufacturing. The top-paying metropolitan areas for the occupation include Idaho Falls, Idaho, Bloomington, Ill., and Sheboygan, Wis.

Salary Range

75th Percentile $98,580
Median $79,230
25th Percentile $63,470

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Training

For most mechanical engineering jobs, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree bearing the occupation’s name. Hopeful managers have an even higher educational standard to meet: a master’s degree, in most cases. Along with a degree from an accredited program and four years of relevant work experience, those offering their services on an independent basis must pass a state exam for licensure, a requirement in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia. According to Loughlin, however, an associate’s degree can be enough to land an entry-level job.

Reviews & Advice

“Like other professions, it helps to have some inside demonstrative ability in the field,” says Loughlin. “Many schools are using capstone-type projects which give students a chance to sharpen their engineering skills, but also their organizational, management, and communication skills.” Other professional organizations where you can pick up practical experience and broaden your professional network include Engineers Without Borders, Engineering for Change, and demographic-specific groups like Society of Women Engineers.

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility High
Stress Level Average
Flexibility Above Average