How Engineers Are Thriving Today
Mechanical engineers continue to adapt and thrive in today’s industry, ranking it among the highest paying STEM jobs.
Over the past few years, the engineering industry has come under immense pressure. The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light the many flaws in how we design, educate, analyze, work, communicate, manufacture, and even transport goods. As a result, engineers rose to the challenge of reinventing how we worked. Industries gravitated toward digital tools to communicate and design. Engineers were able to use the power of the Internet of Things to communicate with machines at a distance, leverage cloud platforms to design remotely, and utilize additive manufacturing to 3D print parts at a moment’s notice. Engineering has always been about adaptability.
The engineering profession today is in a state of change. Events like COVID-19 and climate change have pushed new emerging technologies to the forefront and are driving engineers into new tech spaces. Today’s mechanical engineers may find themselves in unfamiliar territory as the state of engineering for the 2020s continues to define itself.
Engineer Salary and Job Market
Engineering majors rank only behind computer and information sciences majors in terms of projected starting salaries, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, with an average starting salary of $71,088 in 2021.
Throughout their careers, mechanical engineers continue to be one of the best-paying professions in the United States. The average salary was $90,160 in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). There were 299,200 working mechanical engineers across the country in 2020, which places MEs eighth among STEM occupations in terms of employment.
BLS also predicts greater than average job growth for mechanical engineers. The mechanical engineering profession is expected to have a job growth of 3.92 percent over the next decade. In comparison, BLS projects the total number of jobs to increase by only 3.71 percent over the next 10 years.
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The Profile Breakdown
Mechanical engineering is dominated by men. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2019, 91.3 percent of all mechanical engineers were male. The average age of most male mechanical engineers is 41.7 and 36.6 for female mechanical engineers. White (non-Hispanic) is the most common race or ethnicity among mechanical engineers at 74.4 percent in 2019. In 2014, the percentage was slightly higher at 76.8 percent.
Breaking down where mechanical engineers work, in 2019, the Census Bureau reported that the motor vehicles and vehicle equipment manufacturing sector had the largest share at 26.1 percent. The next largest industries are machinery manufacturing with 13.3 percent, and architectural, engineering, and related services with 9.56 percent. Between 2014 and 2019, a few industries have jumped to the top in terms of mechanical engineers employed. Aircraft manufacturing rose from 2.08 to 3.46 percent, and medical equipment design rose from 1.17 to 2.21 percent.
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The Quality of the Profession
Mechanical engineers work everywhere. They are involved not just in research and design but also in human resources, marketing, administration, education, and many more unique job roles. It is this diversity and flexibility that deemed mechanical engineering one of the best jobs in the U.S.
According to U.S. News, mechanical engineering is the best engineering job today, as well as the 11th best STEM job and the 23rd best job overall. In the publication’s ranking, mechanical engineering earned 6.8 out of 10. For job market outlook, future job growth, and work-life balance, mechanical engineering scored an eight out of 10.
Mechanical engineering is a profession that many find satisfying. Recruiting firm Aerotek surveyed 150 mechanical engineers in 2020 and found that 67 percent were somewhat satisfied to very satisfied with their jobs. According to U.S. News, mechanical engineers ranked 6 out of 10 in stress factors.
According to the survey conducted by Aerotek, mechanical engineers desire to have clear communication with their managers. Many feel that their managers do not care about their career or its trajectory. The survey determined five factors that could improve the current conditions for mechanical engineers. The first is managers that care about the careers of the engineers under them. The second is for companies to offer growth and advancement opportunities. Clear communications about performance and expectations followed that. Finally, engineers want transparency when it comes to the company and how it impacts their job.
As engineering continues to evolve, mechanical engineers will adapt and adopt new skills. The O*Net Online skills database from the U.S. Department of Labor highlights that mathematics, science, reading comprehension, and problem-solving are the top skills required to perform the job. New tech skills are also emerging, which reflect our digital world. Knowledge of analytical software like Matlab and Nastran; CAD design programs like Solidworks; database management software such as Microsoft Access; and configuration management software such as Perforce Helix are all computer-based skills mechanical engineers may want to familiarize themselves with.
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The current outlook for mechanical engineers is good, and they continue to thrive in an ever-evolving industry.
Carlos M. González is special projects manager.