There are many types of engineers, and they work across diverse industries. There is a shortage of qualified engineers in most fields. In fact, 139,300 new engineering jobs were projected between 2016 and 2026 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If you are thinking of becoming an engineer, we have provided you with an outline of what an engineer does, how to get qualified, and the advantages and disadvantages of this career.
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What Does An Engineer Do?
An engineer is involved in finding technical solutions to problems in society or making improvements to mechanical systems. They create new products and machinery that can fly a man to space or improve productivity in a factory, to name two examples. They are concerned with quality and efficiency. Engineers also take care of the environment. This may involve doing an environmental impact study before constructing a dam, for instance.
With over 25 types of engineering jobs, there is a wide range to choose from. Each of these has its own professional engineering body to set standards and ensure compliance with regulations. It may be mandatory for an engineer to be affiliated with the institution governing their area of specialty as a work requirement.
What Is Required To Become An Engineer?
From high school, you should already be taking physics and math, especially calculus and trigonometry. This will give you a good background for when you start your degree. There are cooperative engineering programs and internships available to many degree students, which will enable you to gain practical experience in the field.
You will need an engineering bachelor’s degree to qualify as an engineer. This could be followed by a masters in engineering management online program. As there are so many types of engineers, such as mechanical engineers, environmental engineers, aerospace engineers, and so on, you will need to align the courses you take to your preferred field when you graduate and begin to work as a qualified engineer.
Here are the advantages of becoming an engineer:
Engineers Earn A Decent Income
The BLS noted that the average engineer earns $91,010 per annum in the USA. This is more than double the average salary across all jobs. An entry-level engineer will start below this median; this salary will grow as the incumbent becomes more experienced. Nevertheless, nine out of ten engineers earn above the average for all other work types.
There are many advantages inherent in a good wage. You can afford to pay for your children’s studies, buy a nice home, go on annual holidays, have a good medical plan, and be able to cover many facets of a good living standard. This also makes retirement planning a pleasure instead of the nightmare it is for many.
Of course, an engineering career, while paying well, will not make you rich. Lawyers, doctors, and some jobs in the financial sector have higher earning potential.
Choice of Employers
Many people are stuck in jobs under adverse conditions, but work scarcity makes it impossible for them to move to a more amenable company. Often new management is the problem as they change working conditions because “new brooms sweep clean”, as the saying goes.
Engineers are fortunate to be able to virtually select a preferred employer as they are in a stable profession. If the top team changes hands and affects the company culture negatively, the engineer will almost certainly be able to find a position with another company.
Overtime is Rare
Unless there is a crisis with one of your projects, you will not have to work overtime as an engineer. Therefore, your evenings and weekends are your own and can be enjoyed. There are numerous jobs where overtime is almost the norm, which makes planning family events and get-togethers with friends difficult. As an engineer, you won’t have this scenario, except in an emergency.
Advancement Opportunities For Engineers
There are generally excellent opportunities to advance and get promoted in the engineering working world. Many engineers move into leadership roles and the chances increase the longer you work and deliver well for a company. You can maximize your promotional prospects by getting a qualification in management and making use of possibilities to gain experience in a leadership position. Project management is also a worthwhile course to attend.
As a manager overseeing other engineers, you will find more advantages such as an increased scope of work, more complexity, and strategic functions, being able to direct resources, and putting together budgets and projects.
Naturally, you will get an increase in salary as you rise through the ranks. In an engineering company, you could work your way to the top as a division executive or even Chief Executive Officer (CEO) position. Someone has to fill these positions and they will go to the person with the best fit in terms of proven skills, knowledge, qualifications, and strategic thinking. That is why it is important to keep up with new knowledge in your field and to take advantage of training programs or study further.
The engineering field has so many specialties that you can easily choose the career that appeals to you most and can find a perfect fit. Then all you have to do is study in that direction. This is similar to doctors who can also specialize.
An Office Versus Site Environment
Engineers spend a lot of time in an office environment preparing projects, checking budgets, making calls to follow up on progress by other participants, and attending meetings. However, they do have to go out on-site as well, and this will happen periodically throughout the course of a project. This makes the job even more exciting and challenging as tasks and time have to be balanced. A big advantage is getting out into the fresh air and seeing the progress of a project as it unfolds all the way through to the final result.
For example, if you are a structural engineer working with the design of buildings, you will need to assess the existing structures for safety issues and ensure compliance with building codes. As construction continues, you will make periodic inspections and check that structures align with the building plans or redirect the work if it goes off-plan. So, your duties will fluctuate between indoor and outdoor environments. At all times, you will be conscious of safety factors for the people who will use those buildings as homes or offices.
An Engineer Has High Job Security
With many vacancies in the engineering arena, you will enjoy a high level of job security. This means you will not have to change jobs mid-career. According to the Wall Street Watchdog, engineering is one of the most stable careers and ranks in the top seven for job security.
There are two reasons given for this. The first one is that engineering falls under essential services. Infrastructure such as dams and roads must be maintained and sometimes even upgraded.
An example is when there is soil erosion, and a house has been built on the side of a cliff. As the damage continues, the cliff is worn away, putting the foundations of the house at risk of collapsing. An engineer will be needed to address the problem. The engineer may decide to build terraces and plant grass or vegetation that reduces the chances of soil being washed away. Or they may construct drainage systems to drain the water from rainfall away. At other times they will need to bolster the cliff and house with gabion baskets. The latter is known as hard engineering while some of the other examples are called soft engineering.
The second reason for the job security engineers enjoy is that engineering studies have a high entry barrier because the subjects are difficult. This makes engineers specialists that are hard to replace. This means that engineers can move between companies very easily and are not forced to work for one specific employer.
Now let us take a look at some of the disadvantages of an engineering career:
Studying For An Engineering Qualification Can Be Costly
If you have taken a student loan to pay for your engineering studies, you will usually only pay back the interest until you have qualified. Once you start working, you will have to start paying back the capital loan amount. This will probably take you several years to do.
The needed qualifications can also be costly in terms of time. You can obtain an associate’s degree in two years, but that alone is insufficient to work as an engineer. However, it will enable you to find a job as an engineering technologist. You are looking at up to ten years to complete a bachelor’s degree, which will allow you to apply for entry-level jobs, plus a master’s degree or higher, dependent on specific job requirements.
Studying For An Engineering Qualification Can Be Hard
Studying for an engineering degree is difficult and requires a lot of hard work and putting in the hours. If you are serious about being an engineer and have the capability to complete your degree, then you probably won’t be discouraged by this disadvantage.
A STEM education at school is one of the best groundings to prepare a person for the rigors of studying engineering. It combines science, technology, engineering, and math into a lesson with practical projects and real-world applications. If you have a STEM background, then you will have an advantage when you start your studies to become an engineer.
Working In Engineering Can Be Demanding
Just as studying for an engineering degree is demanding, working in the field can be challenging as you will need to be able to perform complex calculations, read and design planes, and make decisions to arrive at the best solution.
This requires a person who is intelligent, creative, and curious about finding the right answers. You will need good problem-solving skills, be good at math and analysis, and must be able to communicate effectively with multiple groups of people. Sometimes you will be called upon to make presentations, so you will need the ability to speak well to diverse groups and get your point across. You need to be good at completing detailed and accurate work and writing technical business reports. New technologies will be discovered all the time, so you must be adaptable and open to continuous learning. Being a team player is another attribute that is highly prized in engineering.
It Is Hard To Start Your Own Company
If you have always wanted to own a company, then engineering is unlikely to be your best choice, as your main career. However, nothing stops you from saving up the money or taking a loan to launch a company in another field, or working as an engineer and having a business on the side. That is, provided you understand that you will not be able to dedicate your normal working hours to your business, while working in an engineering job, and will need someone else to handle the day-to-day management.
However, never say never, as this story indicates.
Women Are Still Underrepresented In The Engineering Field
As a woman, you will find it harder to be accepted into the clique of engineers in your company. This is traditionally a man’s job, and many are slow to change and treat all as equal and diversity as important to growing the engineering field.
Fewer women obtain a degree in engineering, so as a woman, you should be prepared to take up this challenge and get your degree. On the plus side, most companies have taken diversity and inclusivity on board. They are actively looking for female engineers to balance numbers and make the most of what women bring to the table. This means that it will be much easier nowadays for female engineers to find work and progress up the career ladder.
Having considered the pros and cons of a job in engineering, if the idea still excites you then you should map out a career path to your goal.
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