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Mechanical Engineering Overview - The Field - Preparation -
Day in the Life
- Earnings - Employment - Development - Career Path Forecast - Professional Organizations 

Professional Development
A successful mechanical engineering career is the result of a building process that starts during the undergraduate years, if not earlier. Once on the job, the process continues through networking, on-the-job training, graduate studies, and continuing professional education.

Practicing engineers tell us two things: First, today's engineer is expected to be more self-reliant and more self-managed in planning and doing work. Second, and more important, employers will not plan your career -- nor do you want that to happen. Once you find a company and job that you like, you still need a strategy for moving ahead. Your career building efforts will be more successful if you understand how your aptitudes mesh with your surroundings. Are you doing the work you are best suited for, or are you headed that way -- if not, what additional experience and training do you need to secure the right job?

You are in charge of managing your career, before and after your first promotion.

Managing Your Career
From Day One, evaluate your options within the company, looking for interesting work and good career-building assignments. Find out where that work is located, and what you must do to position yourself for opportunities. You must take steps to manage your own career. Be constantly on the lookout for more experienced advisors and mentors. Tactfully make management aware of your capabilities and interests and illustrate how you think you can benefit the company in a new assignment. This must be done as a result of a serious examination of yourself and the needs of the company -- in that order -- and by keeping your eye on the big picture of where the company is headed.

What if your current employer cannot move you into more desirable work? Well-planned and timely job changes are part of the mechanical engineers' career strategy for broadening one's experience and advancing in position, responsibility, and salary. Most mechanical engineers gain an understanding of their field and true interests in their very early career experiences. There is a dramatic increase in job changes in years 3 to 5, with related salary gains.

How Long Do Mechanical Engineers Stay in Their First Job?
About 43% of the mechanical engineers surveyed were continuing to work for their original employer five years after graduation. Another 25% were with their second employer. We were not able to tell how many, if any, of the changes of employer were due to company mergers or sales.

Lifelong Learning
As a mechanical engineer, you will shape future technology by using the latest developments in current technology. You will be employing technologies and ideas used elsewhere as solutions in your own projects. You will find yourself being challenged to keep abreast of changes in engineering and technology.

The fundamentals will always be with you, but technological information and resources change continuously. Once you enter the engineering profession, new, self-directed learning becomes a daily objective. You must look for learning opportunities on the job through company resources, advisors and mentors and company training programs. You will also need to look outside the company to resources provided by suppliers to your company, technical societies, professional development programs, publications and products and to graduate studies to meet your learning needs.

Continuously take stock of your learning needs as your career progresses. Ask yourself "what must I know to do my job today, what will I need to learn to the reach that level, how much can I learn on the job, and where can I find the rest?"

Graduate Studies
Graduate studies can be an important part of an engineer's career building plan. In the early stages of your career, a Master's degree can make you more competitive for key positions and better salaries. When evaluating job offers, find out about employer support for graduate course work and proximity to graduate schools. Within the first year or two on the job, step back and assess your interests and what type of graduate studies could help you to move to the next level or into specific jobs.

If you are still in school, seek the advice of professors concerning opportunities at the graduate level and programs that mesh with your interests and capabilities. Remember that faculty recommendations can be a deciding factor in gaining admission to the right graduate program. Get acquainted with the research and teaching assistants in your department, for they can direct you to research jobs that provide the hands-on experience that graduate schools and employers like to see. And if you decide to work for a few years, keep in touch with your advisors.

P.E. License
There's a difference between current job requirements and mid- to long-range career requirements. Taking the longer view, you should be aware of licensing as a Professional Engineer (P.E.). The P.E. license won't be needed for your first job (you need engineering experience before you can sit for the P.E. exam), and it may not be an issue in every engineering occupation. But a few years down the line your employer may land a contract that requires P.E.'s in key positions, or you may need a P.E. credential to work for a government agency. You may need professional recognition in another country where you have been asked to lead a project. Look at the number of Engineering Service firms in the Employer Data Base -- in a few years you might be applying for a consulting position in one of those firms, or starting your own consulting business. In either case, the P.E. could be a job requirement. Before you can take the P.E. Exam, you will need to take the FE (Fundamentals of Engineering) Exam. Many students take this exam while in their senior year. Employers often support efforts toward the P.E. You will need four years of supervised professional experience to qualify for the P.E. exam. The licensure procedures vary somewhat from state to state.

Adaptability is an important attribute for a mechanical engineer. A mechanical engineering education will provide the essentials - subject knowledge, problem-solving skills, and a capability for future learning. When you first start out, it's important to be curious and open-minded about new learning experiences, and to network within the profession and in your industry. It's up to you to keep current so that you have the knowledge base needed to take advantage of changes in technology and the marketplace. Adaptability is a function of time, knowledge, and contacts. Flexibility is important too -- engineers often have concurrent projects, each calling for different types of knowledge, hands-on skills, and teamwork.

In Case of Adversity
School projects are often based on a given set of assumptions, specifications, and defined variables. Career planning starts out the same way, but life seldom runs along a predictable path. In reality, change actually becomes a constant, coming from many directions- customers, economic and monetary policy, global markets and overseas competition, company priorities, and required job skills. All can affect what your job consists of, and where, when, and for how long you do that job.

Working mechanical engineers stress the importance of a positive, flexible, forward-looking attitude, of being prepared for the next job, whatever and wherever that may be. They speak of how networking and professional contacts have enabled them to turn downsizing, layoffs, and gaps between projects into positive job changes. As difficult as these potential occurrences might seem, they are also significant opportunities to redirect and energize one's career.

Being active in a professional society is a key part of networking. Skill in networking is an important attribute, a basic skill of the successful engineer, a skill that you should begin to develop during your undergraduate years. Networking can help you to land your first job and it becomes more important in every subsequent career move. Start today: make a list of the people who can help you advance your career. They can be faculty, students, members of student organizations, and working engineers. Over time, build your own network for the exchange of information, advice, and job leads.

Note: Some resources in this section are provided by ASME and the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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