Careers in Engineering

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engineeringEngineering can be a lucrative and rewarding career for the right person. If you have strong mathematical, scientific or problem-solving skills, you might want to consider a career in engineering.

What Is an Engineer?

Engineering is a broad field with many different possibilities. Almost every industry uses an engineer in some capacity.

Historically engineers have built and designed things – buildings, machines and tools. However, as technology grew, so did the need for more advanced areas of engineering. Engineers now work in fields involving the tiniest atom to those as vast as exploring the universe.

Engineering is split into areas referred to as disciplines, depending upon the engineer’s education and experience. Some of the more common disciplines include:

  • Aerospace
  • Agriculture
  • Biomedical
  • Chemical
  • Civil
  • Computer
  • Electrical
  • Fire protection
  • Environmental
  • Industrial
  • Mechanical
  • Nuclear
  • Structural

Within each of these disciplines may also be subcategories that involve different aspects of each major discipline.

How Much Do Engineers Make?

Engineering offers one of the highest starting salaries after graduation. Even as an engineer intern, you can expect to make between $20 and $30 per hour depending on location, size of the firm and your chosen discipline. Once you become a professional engineer, salaries range from a median entry level of about $50,000 to the top 10 percent, which can be well into a six-figure amount.

What Is Required to Become an Engineer?

Each state has a board of engineers that regulates its requirements to become a licensed engineer. However, four general prerequisites are usually shared by most states:

  1. A growing number of states require a four-year degree from an Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredited school. While there are still a handful of states that will waive this requirement based on years of experience, this is not as common as it once was.

It’s during this time that you should be thinking about the area in which you want to practice. It’s important to look beyond the traditional and consider other aspects of engineering that might be of interest to you as well. There are firms that offer testing, certifications and inspections as services to industries like aerospace, defense and energy. If you keep an open mind and do your research, you might discover a career you never even imagined.

  1. Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam. The next step is the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCEES) FE exam, a six-hour exam usually taken right after graduation. You will need to choose one of seven disciplines – generally determined by your degree – in which to take the exam.

Once passed, you will apply for your Engineer in Training (EIT) certificate that may or may not require a yearly renewal fee, depending upon your state’s requirements.

  1. Most states require four years’ experience under the supervision of a licensed engineer before you can take the final exam and become licensed. You do not have to be an EIT in order for this experience to count, but many states require you to have this certification to use the EIT title.
  1. Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) Exam. This is the final step. You’ve now put in your time and you’re ready to become a professional engineer.

The PE exam is a discipline-specific, eight-hour exam which is administered twice a year. This exam tests your ability and competence within your chosen discipline and will determine your area of practice once you become licensed.

If you plan to practice as a structural engineer, your final exam will differ somewhat from that of other engineers. NCEES only offers the 16-hour SE exam for those who want to practice exclusively as a structural engineer. While some states will still accept the original eight-hour Structural I and Structural II exams, a growing number will now only recognize the 16-hour exam as final qualification for a structural engineer.

I’m Finally a Licensed Engineer – Now What?

There are certain requirements that must be met after you’ve attained your license. They include:

  • Engineer Seal. If you are working as a design engineer, you will need to purchase a seal. These can usually be procured though any local supplier or online. Each state has specific criteria for the seal design and some require you to submit your seal imprint for approval before you use it the first time.
  • Your Role. Your day-to-day responsibilities as an engineer will vary, depending on such factors as your discipline, whether you are a project engineer or work in testing and analysis, and where you are located. If you are already working for an engineering firm, your duties may not change much. However, most companies do award a pay raise once you obtain your license.
  • It is important for an engineer to carry professional liability insurance. This offers protection by providing defense and settlements in case of lawsuits against you or your company. Due to the potential for high-dollar settlements, this insurance can be quite costly, but when working for a firm, you will be protected under the umbrella of their liability policy. If you plan to start your own firm, you will need to find a qualified company to provide this protection for you.

What Are a Licensed Engineer’s Responsibilities?

Engineers are held to a high standard of integrity and ethical principles. Their top responsibility is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.

An engineer’s stamp and signature on a set of drawings attests to their competence and makes them fully responsible for any problems or issues associated with those plans.

Many states require continuing education as a means to ensure that engineers continue to maintain their skills and grow in their professional competencies. Requirements vary from state to state and may include special courses such as ethics or state-specific rules and laws.

Continuing education is usually required before the engineer renews his or her license, and failure to complete these hours can result in disciplinary action by the state board.

What Is the Job Outlook for Engineers?

At this time there are about 1.6 million engineers in the United States. Two-thirds of those consist of the civil, mechanical, industrial, electrical and electronic disciplines.

Between 2010 and 2014 job growth for the engineering field in general has been 7 percent, with numbers jumping to double digits for some disciplines such as petroleum, biomedical, geological and industrial.

Between January 2012 and July 2014, monthly job postings for engineers exceeded average monthly hiring, especially among industrial engineers.

While job prospects vary among disciplines, future demand – as well as rising average salaries – appears to be strong in the engineering industry.

So Why Should I Become an Engineer?

There are as many reasons to become an engineer as there are people qualified to do so. Below are some of the top benefits of an engineering career:

  • You have a large choice of varying career opportunities.
  • Engineering is a prestigious and well-paying career.
  • Engineering constantly challenges you intellectually.
  • As the world changes, engineering spurs your creativity.
  • Engineering provides tangible results so you can see and take pride in the things you create.

As a career, engineering provides many benefits and challenges. It is not something you can accomplish overnight and requires hard work and dedication to get there. But with all of the opportunities available, you have the satisfaction of knowing that with a career in engineering the sky – or even the galaxy – is the limit.

About the Author

Sarah Landrum

Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer, blogger, and aspiring world traveler. Sarah is also the founder of Punched Clocks, a site on which she shares advice for young professionals on navigating the work world, and finding happiness and success at work. For more on all things career follow her @SarahLandrum

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