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Is a Mechanical Engineering Degree Worth It? Here Are 12 Possible Career Paths

Greg de la Cruz works at NCR Corp's R&D center in the Philippines. He is interested in economic history and current world financial affairs.

Mechanical engineering is a broad field that offers jobs across several different industries.

Mechanical engineering is a broad field that offers jobs across several different industries.

What Are the Best Jobs for Mechanical Engineers?

Choosing a career path is a complex process. When you’re young and had just graduated high school, your perspective may not yet be so wide. But don’t fret—because it doesn’t have to be. You don’t need to have all things figured out for your career early on. I’ve known co-workers who’ve decided to do a complete pivot onto an entirely different industry after twenty years or so.

In mechanical engineering, it can be difficult at first when figuring out which career path you should choose. A great advantage is that there are multiple industries you can enter using this major, which is perhaps one of the reasons aspiring students continue taking it. But it’s also a little bit of a disadvantage at first because the field is so general and broad that you almost always need to pursue further studies in order to specialize.

Whether you are a student still scouting for a career path, or a worker trying to look for ways to pivot, or simply curious as to what a mechanical engineering degree can mean for someone’s career—here are twelve possible career paths worth some interest.

12 Career Paths for Mechanical Engineering Graduates

  1. Mechanical Designer
  2. Maintenance Engineer
  3. Safety Practitioner
  4. Power Plant Engineer
  5. Industrial Production Engineer
  6. Automotive Engineer
  7. MEPF Engineer
  8. Property Manager
  9. Marine and Naval
  10. HVAC
  11. Aerospace
  12. Mechatronics and Robotics

1. Mechanical Designer

My professor in machine design, a former college dean, used to say a lot in class, “Don’t just aim to be a mechanical engineer; strive to become a mechanical design engineer.” I had some idea of what he was trying to inspire us with—after all, design work is the white-collar side to what can often become such a blue-collar discipline.

But I had only been able to fully internalize his mantra when I joined a big company full of design engineers. From day one, I was amazed. Not only were there leaders in the company who were designers, but there were multiple teams of mechanical design engineers—specializing in a particular niche or line of business. On my first site tour, I was brought into this room with glass plaques holding a certain designer’s picture, and below it was the patent they held. I was in a company full of inventors!

Mechanical design work is a truly rewarding career route. You get to see your own contributions in real life and out in the world, making a difference. That’s why I put this career path first on this list.

2. Maintenance Engineer

Maybe not the most enamoring career choice—but also one of the more rewarding ones. The job content of a maintenance engineer can vary from company to company and across industries. In running commercial or industrial real estate, for example, the work can mean managing the preventive maintenance programs of the support systems of the facilities such as backup power (generators, UPS) and amenities. In other industries, such as in the energy sector, it can mean managing the maintenance plans of crucial components of the plant, like for the wind turbines, boilers, etc.

3. Safety Practitioner

A safety engineer can also have a highly varying job content across industries, but the basic principles of occupational safety, industrial hygiene, and good housekeeping all form the base of the job’s functions. Conducting safety and compliance inspections are the routine, and you can expect to lead your company in keeping up with national and/or international standards.

While it’s easy to put a safety practitioner inside a box for the guy in charge of making sure zero-to-minimal accidents occur in the workplace and for minimizing any safety risk, a safety practitioner is much more than just a loss-prevention specialist. While it may sometimes be viewed as a boring job, the beauty in being a safety engineer is that you get to look out for both your employer and your fellow employees—preventing or minimizing productivity loss and keeping your co-workers safe.

4. Power Plant Engineer

If you thought that our healthcare workers and other economic frontliners (supermarket workers, peace & order, etc.) were the only heroes during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, don’t forget about those who run our energy systems. Without people running the power plants that supply electricity for distribution to households, businesses, and institutions, there would be no activity at all inside hospitals, grocery stores, and everywhere else. We saw how the power crisis in Texas during February 2021 devastated the entire state.

A power plant engineer’s job is mainly to make sure the energy supply systems are able to produce to their full capacity, especially during times of high demand. Even just minor incidents inside power plants can cause power outages, so the magnitude and impact of a power plant engineer’s job is something that cannot be understated. It’s easy to think of power plant engineers as people who just sit around inside control rooms, air-conditioning on full blast, hot coffee in hand. But in reality, something unexpected always comes around, which keeps you at your feet.

5. Industrial Production Engineer

Working in a manufacturing plant is as round-the-clock as jobs can possibly come for mechanical engineers. Manufacturers and processors usually operate at thin margins, so a downtime of 1–2 hours can sometimes already mean millions in lost revenue.

Working as a production engineer can be one of the most stressful and pressure-filled jobs there are because of outputs that need to be met and with as little waste or inefficiencies as possible. As hard as it may be, your experience in industrial production will prepare you for almost any field. Jumping from manufacturing into other industries will sometimes make you heave a sigh of relief, and you’ll come out of it with a heightened tolerance for pressure.

6. Automotive Engineer

A major in automotive engineering is a specialization on its own, but sometimes, having a mechanical engineering degree will set you up for a career focused in automotive engineering. The fundamentals are certainly there once you decide on mechanical engineering as a major, but the great thing about automotive engineering is that there are several areas you can focus on. Whether it’s on the design of mechanical components of a car, to stress and failure analysis, to ergonomics—there are so many sub-fields where a mechanical engineer can apply himself.

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7. MEPF Engineer

Standing for Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, and Fire Safety—a MEPF Engineer is essential in all types of construction projects. Deadlines are incredibly crucial in the construction industry, and you also almost always have to think beyond your own work or scope, as it impacts the rest of the sectors in construction.

According to MPW Engineering, MEP Engineers are “important not only for their role in design but also for their role in assisting with audits of the project’s workflow and specifications. MEP engineers greatly enhance the smooth flow of the project by serving as a centralized source of information and advice for design, purchasing, and installation decisions.”

8. Property Manager

Becoming a property manager is a culmination of having a body of knowledge in the basic fields of engineering—civil, mechanical, electrical, and sometimes electronics. Managing a property involves being able to address problems in these areas, and usually, mechanical or electrical engineers are chosen for this role because of the amount of general knowledge they have in engineering. Essentially, a property manager runs the property like a machine—making sure all the support systems are in functional condition to the benefit of the property’s tenants or occupants.

That’s the technical side of it. The other side to being a property manager is also managing relations with the users of the building. In the modern era, buildings are usually owned by a big commercial property conglomerate and managed by its property management division—and the users of the building are often a mix of different tenants.

In the commercial buildings of cities, for example, the anchor tenant can be a major investment bank while some retail shops operate at the ground floor. You’ll realize that your job as a property manager becomes not only managing the technical aspect but also making sure your users (often tenants) get what they need.

9. Marine and Naval

If being inside a ship and traveling vast seas and oceans is your thing – you’ll probably pursue marine engineering after completing your mechanical engineering major. The requirements vary across different countries, but usually, an additional two years of education is the norm.

According to the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology, marine engineers are “involved with the design, construction, installation, operation, maintenance and repair of the main propulsion engines and auxiliary machinery and systems found in all kinds of ships…”

Marine engineering is one of the most lucrative professions—not just for the higher salary range, but because of the all-expense-paid living costs such as your room & board, food, and other basic needs while on the job. Talk about taking home a full salary.

10. HVAC

Recalling my college days, there seemed to be a focus on three key areas, especially during the last two years—power plant engineering, machine design, and HVAC & refrigeration. The latter was not exactly the most fun-sounding among these three disciplines, but its importance cannot be understated. A mechanical engineer can find jobs in almost any industry by being a practicing HVAC engineer. If you perhaps have taken to heart the laws of thermodynamics and very much enjoy the subject of heat transfer, then there’s no doubt that you’ll probably pursue this field.

11. Aerospace

To one day be part of NASA or SpaceX would be the dream of anyone who pursues aerospace engineering, and with the further expansion of all things exploration in several countries—China, India, Japan, South Korea—a mechanical engineer specializing in aerospace would not anymore find it difficult to land a job in this industry.

It would probably be anyone’s greatest life achievement to be part of the team that designs a rocket that flies to space—even for just minor components inside the rocket such as the food compartments of astronauts or their sleeping pods. When a mechanical engineer thinks of aerospace, they immediately think of the day they might be the next Elon Musk.

12. Mechatronics and Robotics

Last but not least—mechatronics and robotics. Is Tony Stark (Iron Man) a mechanical engineer? The dramatic, innocent expectation when it comes to pursuing this field is to one day design your own suit of armor and perhaps even a legion of automated robots. But the practical way of seeing yourself in this field is your contribution to automation across any industry.

Robots are commonplace in advanced manufacturing plants, especially those that require speed and precision. You may not be the one to create a suit of armor around the world, but your contribution could mean making food production more efficient and hence, in a way, helping address world hunger.

Ultimately, it's not necessarily the course you choose that will end up deciding the fate of your career. It is instead how you apply your knowledge and experience, coupled with a willingness to learn.

Ultimately, it's not necessarily the course you choose that will end up deciding the fate of your career. It is instead how you apply your knowledge and experience, coupled with a willingness to learn.

Is Studying Mechanical Engineering Still Worth It?

Without a doubt, there are career paths of interest that I missed out on this list. The possible career options for a mechanical engineering graduate seem to be endless. It’s easy to get jealous of the more in-demand, higher-paid types of engineers these days—software engineers, data engineers, blockchain engineers, and whatever new type of engineer that the tech industry comes up with.

But have no fear—mechanical engineering as a major is still worth it. Just because it doesn’t sound new anymore (mechanical engineers have been around since the beginning of civilization) doesn’t mean it no longer matters. Mechanical engineers are still everywhere. Just keep in mind that you don’t need to confine yourself inside a box in terms of how you can apply your knowledge and experience. It’s not necessarily the major you choose that ultimately decides your fate, but it is what you do with it, coupled with your willingness to learn new things.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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