How to Become a Mechanical Engineer

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated December 2, 2022

Published June 21, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you like working with objects and systems in motion, a career as a mechanical engineer might be an ideal path for you. Mechanical engineering is among the broadest engineering field that involves the application of engineering designs to manufacturing using the principles of motions, energy, and force. Mechanical engineers are critical in solving human problems by creating solutions in diverse sectors such as healthcare, space exploration, energy, transport among others.

In this article, we explain what mechanical engineering is, what they do, and how to become one. We also discuss the skills and average salary for mechanical engineers.

What is mechanical engineering?

Mechanical engineering is the branch of engineering that deals with the application of principles and laws of nature to the development of technology. Mechanical engineers are a part of almost every phase of design and development of machine, systems, and processes. They need to understand the laws of thermodynamics, mechanics and effects of force on solid and liquids. Because of their central role, mechanical engineers play a critical role in technological advancement today. The industries that mechanical engineers work in include:

  • Automotive

  • Aerospace

  • Computer manufacturing

  • Biomedical devices

  • Predictive maintenance

  • Energy

  • Robotics, electronics, and mechatronics

  • Electromechanical systems

  • Heat exchangers and ventilation systems

  • Nanotechnology

  • Cybersecurity

  • Control systems

  • Structural analysis

  • Production planning

Mechanical engineers skills are wide-ranging, allowing students to enjoy a variety of career options. Today, virtually all machines and everyday conveniences such as mobile phones, refrigeration, and transportation are thanks to the efforts of mechanical engineers.

What do mechanical engineers do?

Mechanical engineers use their creativity, knowledge, and skills to shape an idea into reality and are crucial in taking a product to the marketplace. To achieve this, mechanical engineers design, develop, and test thermal and mechanical devices. Mechanical engineers must be able to establish the forces and heat environment that a product will encounter in order to determine the best manufacturing functionality.

Typical duties and responsibilities of a mechanical engineer

  • Read and understand technical drawings and blueprints

  • Liaise with fellow engineers to implement projects

  • Conduct research on customer design proposals

  • Design products and components that meet customer proposals

  • Conduct experiments to improve product designs

  • Estimate project budgets and timelines

  • Ensure products meet regulatory regulations

  • Conduct economic and technical feasibility studies

  • Design, test and, scale up prototypes

  • Supervise of machine operation

Areas that mechanical engineers typically specialize in

  • Fluid mechanics: This is a branch of mechanical engineering that deals with application of thermodynamics principles and fluid mechanics in industries. The area of focus includes aerodynamic drag forces, internal flows with heat and mass transfer, and pressure drops from fluid flow.

  • Machine design and solid mechanics: Machine design and solid mechanics deals with the physical and mathematical foundations of matter applied in nature. Topics in this area include elasticity and plasticity of matter, machine design, and optimization.

  • Materials engineering and processing: This branch of mechanical engineering deals in topics like heat treatment, metallurgy, nonmetallic, and composite materials.

  • Thermodynamics: Thermodynamics focuses on how to convert energy into useful power and how much energy is lost during the process. Thermal engineering also focuses on heat transfer processes such as conduction, convection, and radiation.

  • Automation and control: This subdiscipline focuses on production processes and how computers aid the manufacturing process.

  • Engineering economics: Engineering economics focuses on estimating production and life cycle costs of materials and engineering products.

How to become a mechanical engineer

Here are the important steps to take before officially becoming a mechanical engineer:

1. Get a bachelor's degree

If you want to become a mechanical engineer, you must complete a bachelor's degree program in mechanical engineering. Alternatively, one may take a pre-engineering degree program that takes two years to complete. With a pre-engineering qualification, you may find some entry-level jobs in mechanical engineering like a mechanical drafter. However, if you take a pre-engineering program, you must complete the remaining years of study to equal four years, and meet all the baccalaureate requirements.

It's also crucial to get a bachelor's degree from an accredited program as most employees are interested in the authenticity of your achievement. Coursework in a degree program in mechanical engineering includes design, engineering, physical and life sciences, and intermediate and advanced mathematics. A student can also spend their time in computer labs as they work on advanced computer-aided design software.

This program prepares a student for how to design, test, and manufacture devices as they grow their skills on the entire process of a project, from the design to the assembly phase. Besides the technical skills, a degree program helps you gain the excellent communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills you need to work well and ensure that a project is functional. You may also take a related course to specialize in one of the mechanical engineering areas.

2. Get a master's degree

If you want to advance in your career or specialize in a particular area in mechanical engineering, getting a master's degree is crucial. This program provides in-depth knowledge which enables you to improve your skills and improve your expertise. Most programs take two years of studies and let you focus on a specific discipline in mechanical engineering.

3. Get a doctorate

You can take your mechanical engineering education to the highest level by undertaking a doctorate degree. A mechanical engineering doctoral program emphasizes research and takes four to five years of study to complete. A doctoral program qualifies you to become a college professor or industry researcher.

4. Get experience

Internships are a requirement for completing a degree program in mechanical engineering. They help in acquiring hands-on experience and can be an excellent opportunity to network with other professionals and leading companies.

There are two options for students pursuing mechanical engineering:

  • Combine both degree and master's program coursework to complete their studies in five years

  • Take five to six years of cooperative plans that include coursework and practical employment in the same field of study

During an internship program, you take part in research and other related practical projects. It also broadens your knowledge of modern technologies including computer-assisted design applications and boosts your qualifications.

5. Obtain a practising license

It is a requirement that you must get a license to practice engineering in Canada. Getting a license earns you the title of Professional Engineer (P. Eng). Professional Engineers may practice in the province or territory where they are issued their license. Here are the steps you need to take to become licensed as a mechanical engineer in Canada:

  1. Get a degree from an approved engineering program

  2. Register as an engineer in training

  3. Gain two to four years of on-the-job internship training

  4. Pass the National Professional Practice Examination (NPPE)

If you have an engineering degree program from outside Canada, you can also apply for a license if an international agreement covers the program.

Skills for mechanical engineers

Here are the essential skills that a mechanical engineer requires:

Communication skills

Mechanical engineers work with other professionals such as computer scientists, architects, and fellow engineers. They must therefore be able to exchange ideas in a professional and timely manner to achieve project success. Mechanical engineers should also be active listeners to enable them to grasp details received from other professionals.

Collaboration skills

Most work by mechanical engineers brings together large teams of experts and support staff. They, therefore, need excellent collaboration and interpersonal skills to ensure smooth collaboration for projects to attain intended outcomes.

Problem-solving skills

Mechanical engineers usually undertake complex projects that may sometimes encounter problems such as delays and funding. They need good problem-solving skills to propose working solutions fast and with precision.

Read more: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

Technical skills

Mechanical engineers need to be well-versed in their areas of specialization. They also need to have excellent knowledge of mathematics since most of the operations require precise calculations.

Creativity skills

Mechanical engineers are important people in product design and development. They need to be creative in order to invent new products and improve existing ones that are likely to excite consumers.

Project management skills

Mechanical engineers are often needed to work on a unique product within the allocated time and budget. They need to have excellent project management skills to achieve project objectives while facing the triple constraints of time, scope, and budget.

Read more: 22 Essential Project Management Skills

Average salary of a mechanical engineer

According to Indeed Salaries, mechanical engineers earn an average annual salary of $61,624. The exact salary depends on factors such as years of experience, level of education, job location, and nature of the industry.

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