Whether you’re still in high school or are looking for a second career later in life, it’s important to understand the requirements for any job you’re interested in. If you’ve contemplated engineering as an option, consider what it takes to earn the credentials you’ll need.
What Engineers Do
Engineering is a huge field of study that covers everything from the way our urban centers are organized to the flow of water beneath a building. Engineers evaluate existing systems and design new ones for buildings, bridges, landscaping, products, and more.
They create schematics and blueprints using exacting measurements and precision. They analyze system efficiency, waste, processes, materials, budgets, specifications, and timelines.
There are literally hundreds of job titles within the field of engineering. Some of the most common are chemical engineer, civil engineer, electrical engineer, environmental engineer, industrial engineer, marine engineer, mechanical engineer, and software engineer.
Engineers mostly work in an office environment. However, some positions will take you to construction sites, manufacturing lines, or sea-faring vessels. Engineers commonly work with engineers from other specialties on team projects, so meetings are commonplace, too.
Education and Certification
Each subset of engineering has specific requirements to investigate. In general, though, becoming an engineer requires a high school diploma followed by a college degree. While a master’s degree may be necessary for some positions, you can launch into other jobs with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, math, or physics.
Classes will be heavily centered around math and science, so if that’s not your thing, engineering may not be for you. Sign up for chemistry, physics, biology, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, pre-calculus, and calculus. You’ll also need to maintain a relatively high GPA throughout high school to be accepted into advanced programs. Many programs also require a completed SAT or ACT exam, and you may need to achieve specific marks on the entire exam or at least the math portion.
In addition to a degree, some positions require licensing. All states require licensing if services are offered directly to the public. Government agencies have their own requirements. A career in a field like computer engineering rarely requires licensing. If you need to pursue licensing in your state, you’ll need to earn your degree from a school accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). You’ll then take and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination. You may need at least four years of on-the-job engineering experience before moving on to pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) examination.
Strong Personal Characteristics for Engineers
Every job has certain personal characteristics that help the job be a more natural match for the person. Becoming an engineer requires strong organizational skills, critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, natural curiosity, interpersonal and communication skills, creativity, mechanical and math skills, and project management skills.
Since engineering is such a broad field, there is an equally broad salary range. Most positions start at around $60,000 annually. Complex jobs may pay as much as $120,000. The median range for all types of engineers in the United States is between $65,000 and $90,000.
Engineering is a field of specialties rather than generalities. That means the job outlook will be better for some than others. In general, though, the need for engineers is on the rise in most occupations. The needs in biomedical and environmental engineering have reliably grown. Marine, civil, and mechanical engineering have remained stable too. For those looking into the future, engineering that involves population growth and green energy are likely to be high-demand areas.
While in school, pay special attention to the subsets of engineering. The field can be competitive so specializing can help you stand out as the best candidate for the job.
Engineering is not a particularly dangerous job. Be sure to wear a hardhat on the construction site, though.