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Mechanical engineers research, develop, design, manufacture and test tools, engines, machines, and other mechanical devices. They work on power-producing machines such as electricity-producing generators, internal combustion engines, steam and gas turbines, and jet and rocket engines. They also develop power-using machines such as refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment, robots used in manufacturing, machine tools, materials handling systems, and industrial production equipment. Mechanical engineers also design tools needed by other engineers for their work.
Mechanical engineers work in many industries and their work varies by industry and function. Some specialties include applied mechanics; computer-aided design and manufacturing; energy systems; pressure vessels and piping; and heating, refrigeration, and air-conditioning systems. Mechanical engineering is the broadest engineering discipline, extending across many interdependent specialties. Mechanical engineers may work in production operations, maintenance, or technical sales; many are administrators or managers.
Mechanical engineers held about 220,000 jobs in 1998. Almost 3 out of 5 jobs were in manufacturingmostly in machinery, transportation equipment, electrical equipment, instruments, and fabricated metal products industries. Engineering and management services, business services, and the Federal Government provided most of the remaining jobs.
Employment of mechanical engineers is projected to grow about
as fast as the average for all occupations though 2008. Although overall manufacturing employment is expected to decline, employment of mechanical engineers in manufacturing should increase as the demand for improved machinery and machine tools grows and industrial machinery and processes become increasingly complex. Employment of mechanical engineers in business and engineering services firms is expected to grow faster than average as other industries in the economy increasingly contract out to these firms to solve engineering problems. In addition to job openings from growth, many openings should result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.
Median annual earnings of mechanical engineers were $53,290 in 1998. The middle 50 percent earned between $42,680 and $74,220. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,290 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $87,000. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of mechanical engineers in 1997 were:
|Engineering and architectural services
|Electronic components and accessories
|Aircraft and parts
|Motor vehicles and equipment
According to a 1999 salary survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelors degree candidates in mechanical engineering received starting offers averaging about $43,300 a year; masters degree candidates, $51,900; and Ph.D. candidates, $64,300.
(See introduction to the section on engineers for information on working conditions, training requirements, and sources of additional information.)