Mechanical Engineer

    If you are wondering how to become a mechanical engineer, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of engineering, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Mechanical engineers design, build, install and maintain mechanical machinery, systems, components and tools across a range of industries, including manufacturing, construction, power, transport, sports and medical.

    As an engineer, you could find yourself working on varied projects. These might range from large scale jobs, for instance developing new ways to harness wave and tidal power or modifying wind turbines to increase efficiency; to the small, micromechanical level, for example making prosthetic implants to aid mobility in people with impaired movement.

    Typical responsibilities:

    research and development – working in a research environment, aessessing new product developments or innovations
    design – using computer-aided design (CAD) software and computer modelling to turn research ideas into technical plans
    production – improving production processes, and planning and supervising the manufacture and installation of machinery and components in line with design plans and timescales.
    Your work would include testing at all stages, putting prototypes through rigorous assessments. You would analyse the test data and use it to refine designs before the machine or compenent goes into full production.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good mechanical engineers include:

    excellent communication and presentation skills
    good problem-solving skills and a creative approach for new ideas
    excellent technical knowledge
    good teamworking skills
    the ability to prioritise and plan effectively
    a high level of computer literacy, particularly computer-aided design
    good commercial awareness
    the ability to work under pressure and to deadlines.

    How to become a mechanical engineer
    You normally need a foundation degree, BTEC HNC/HND or degree in mechanical engineering or a related engineering subject. These courses are very widely available at colleges and universities around the country.

    For information about foundation degrees see Foundation Degree Forward. To search for colleges and universities offering foundation degrees, HNDs and degrees see Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Please check with the colleges or universities for exact entry requirements for these courses.

    For a degree course you will need at least five GCSEs (A-C) and two or three A levels, normally including maths and physics. Other science subjects such as biology are useful for medical engineering. Equivalent qualifications like vocational A levels may be acceptable. Colleges and universities may accept an Access to Higher Education award for entry onto certain courses.

    Training and Development
    You normally continue training on the job once you are working and graduate apprenticeship schemes may be available if you have a first degree.

    It is important to continue to develop your skills and knowledge throughout your career. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers operates the Monitored Professional Development Scheme (MPDS) for mechanical engineers, which leads towards chartered status.

    Gaining incorporated or chartered status
    Professional engineering bodies recommend that you gain incorporated or chartered status to enhance your career prospects. You can achieve this by registering with a professional body and applying to the Engineering Council to start the process.

    Chartered engineers normally work at a strategic level, planning, researching and developing new designs and innovations, and streamlining management procedures. They are often project leaders with responsibility for teams of incorporated engineers and technicians. Incorporated engineers specialise in the day-to-day management of engineering operations.

    To qualify as an incorporated or chartered mechanical engineer, you need:

    an accredited university qualification
    a period of Initial Professional Development, including practical training to gain experience
    to pass a professional review
    membership of an appropriate professional body.
    As part of the process, you are assessed against UK-SPEC (UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence), developed by professional bodies, employers and the Engineering Council.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Graduates start between £19,500 and £22,000.
    Experienced mechanical engineers earn between £26,000 and £37,000.
    Engineers with chartered status can earn over £40,000 a year.

    Job Prospects
    Your opportunities are excellent if you are a qualified engineer. You could find work with a number of organisations, including local and central government, the armed services, manufacturers in all industries, research and development companies and public utilities.

    You may have the chance to work overseas with British firms of consulting or contracting engineers working for foreign governments, and with international oil and mining companies.

    With relevant skills and experience, you could specialise in a particular area of engineering and move into jobs like project management, specialist research or consultancy. If you gain chartered status, you may become involved in strategic development in a particular sector, for example rail transport policy.

    Useful engineering resources:
    Institution of Mechanical Engineers
    1 Birdcage Walk
    SW1H 9JJ
    Tel: 020 7222 7899

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