The job of a mechanical engineer could involve working in the aerospace industry; making sustainable systems - both improving our ability to operate as a society in a more eco-friendly way, but also keeping the basic systems we need, such as transport, water and gas systems running; inventing things; or working on new advancements in medicine and health care devices.
Roles range from those involved in research and development, implementation, maintenance and planning - and many astronauts even start out as mechanical engineers, as a great technical understanding is a basic requirement before getting to blast off.
Career paths are many and varied, but some basic starting steps will put you on the right route towards any one of these fascinating positions; and it is never too early to start to develop your interest, with organisations such as ’Tomorrows Engineers’ working with schools and other organisations to increase understanding of engineering careers in kids as young as 11.
Some higher education, at degree level, or in a similar course such as a foundation degree, HND or HNC, is usually required before moving into the field of mechanical engineering. A range of degree and higher education options is available, with differing entry requirements. As a general rule, good grades in maths physics, and perhaps another science are needed, although some universities allow students to enter a course following relevant foundation degrees. To enjoy and excel in a mechanical engineering you also need to enjoy problem solving; but beyond that, there are a range of specialisations open to those pursuing mechanical engineering at college or university.
Most undergraduate courses will open with a solid grounding in subjects like fluid and thermo dynamics, technical drawing, mechanical design and stress analysis. In later years, students specialise more according to their interests, and may focus on areas such as nanotechnology or robotics.
Network to build your career
Some degrees offer ’sandwich’ years in industry, and this can be a valuable way to make industry contacts and ensure that you have chosen the right specialisation for yourself. Alternatively, you may be able to secure a relevant internship, or develop a network through friends, family, or reaching out on Linked In or other social networking platforms.
Organisations exist to help students develop their careers in mechanical engineering, such as professional bodies and not for profit organisations, and they may be able to link you to suitable mentors and advisors.
Graduate job opportunities can be found in global employers such as Siemens, or specialist mechanical engineering firms; or other more local opportunities with smaller businesses are available for graduate level applicants if this is more suitable for you.
Join a professional body
Once you are on the route to becoming a mechanical engineer, joining a professional body provides access to information on career paths, how to find mentors, further professional development, advanced level qualifications and more. Joining an organisation such as the Institution of Mechanical Engineers can help you remain focussed and keep abreast of developments in the industry.
Keep at the cutting edge
Many mechanical engineering careers will require you to manage your own Continuing Professional Development, research and use new technologies, understand developments in your relevant area and manage your own learning in your chosen field. Use your network, follow and use the resources available through your employer or professional body, and keep your knowledge up to date to continue to develop and grow your career.
With a range of options which means you could be keeping planes in the sky, or making sure our mobile phones continue to work, making plans to ensure the lights stay on, or developing life saving medical technology, mechanical engineering may appeal for any number of reasons. With some thought and research, you will find the route that suits your needs, for a lengthy and fulfilling career.