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Nature of the Work
* A bachelor's degree in engineering is almost always required for beginning engineering jobs. Good employment opportunities are expected for new graduates.
* Starting salaries are significantly higher than those of bachelor's degree graduates in other fields.
* Knowledge of technological advances must be acquired through continued study and education.
Engineers apply the theories and principles of science and mathematics to research and develop economical solutions to practical technical problems. Their work is the link between scientific discoveries and commercial applications. Engineers design products, the machinery to build those products, the factories in which those products are made, and the systems that ensure the quality of the product and efficiency of the workforce and manufacturing process. They design, plan, and supervise the construction of buildings, highways, and transit systems. They develop and implement improved ways to extract, process, and use raw materials, such as petroleum and natural gas. They develop new materials that both improve the performance of products, and make implementing advances in technology possible. They harness the power of the sun, the earth, atoms, and electricity for use in supplying the Nation's power needs, and create millions of products using power. Their knowledge is applied to improving many things, including the quality of health care, the safety of food products, and the efficient operation of financial systems.
Engineers consider many factors when developing a new product. For example, in developing an industrial robot, they determine precisely what function it needs to perform; design and test components; fit them together in an integrated plan; and evaluate the design's overall effectiveness, cost, reliability, and safety. This process applies to many different products, such as chemicals, computers, gas turbines, helicopters, and toys.
In addition to design and development, many engineers work in testing, production, or maintenance. They supervise production in factories, determine the causes of breakdowns, and test manufactured products to maintain quality. They also estimate the time and cost to complete projects. Some work in engineering management or in sales, where an engineering background enables them to discuss the technical aspects of a product and assist in planning its installation or use. (See the statements on engineering, science, and computer systems managers and manufacturers' and wholesale sales representatives elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Most engineers specialize in a particular area. More than 25 major specialties are recognized by professional societies, and within the major branches are numerous subdivisions. Structural, environmental, and transportation engineering, for example, are subdivisions of civil engineering. Engineers may also specialize in one industry, such as motor vehicles, or in one field of technology, such as jet engines or ceramic materials.
This section, which contains an overall discussion of engineering, is followed by separate sections on 10 engineering branches: Aerospace; chemical; civil; electrical and electronics; industrial; mechanical; metallurgical, ceramic, and materials; mining; nuclear; and petroleum engineering. Some branches of engineering not covered in detail here, but for which there are established college programs, include architectural engineeringthe design of a building's internal support structure; biomedical engineeringthe application of engineering to medical and physiological problems; environmental engineeringa growing discipline involved with identifying, solving, and alleviating environmental problems; and marine engineeringthe design and installation of ship machinery and propulsion systems.
Engineers in each branch have a base of knowledge and training that can be applied in many fields. Electrical and electronics engineers, for example, work in the medical, computer, missile guidance, and power distribution fields. Because there are many separate problems to solve in a large engineering project, engineers in one field often work closely with specialists in other scientific, engineering, and business occupations.
Engineers use computers to produce and analyze designs; simulate and test how a machine, structure, or system operates; and generate blueprints for parts. Many engineers also use computers to monitor product quality and control process efficiency. They spend a great deal of time writing reports and consulting with other engineers, as complex projects often require an interdisciplinary team of engineers. Supervisory engineers are responsible for major components or entire projects.
Most engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. Others spend a considerable amount of time outdoors at construction sites, mines, and oil and gas exploration sites, where they monitor or direct operations or solve onsite problems. Some engineers travel extensively to plants or worksites.
Most engineers work a standard 40-hour week. At times, deadlines or design standards may bring extra pressure to a job. When this happens, engineers may work long hours and experience considerable stress.
In 1996, engineers held 1,382,000 jobs. Chart 1 shows the employment of the engineering disciplines covered in this statement. Forty-six percent of all wage and salary engineering jobs were located in manufacturing industries such as electrical and electronic equipment, industrial machinery, aircraft and parts, motor vehicles, chemicals, search and navigation equipment, fabricated metal products, and guided missiles and space vehicles. In 1996, 716,000 wage and salary jobs were in nonmanufacturing industries, primarily in engineering and architectural services, research and testing services, and business services, where firms designed construction projects or did other engineering work on a contract basis for organizations in other parts of the economy. Engineers also worked in the communications, utilities, and construction industries.
Federal, State, and local governments employed about 178,000 wage and salary engineers in 1996. Over half of these were in the Federal Government, mainly in the Departments of Defense, Transportation, Agriculture, Interior, and Energy, and in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Most engineers in State and local government agencies worked in highway and public works departments. In 1996, 46,000 engineers were self-employed, many as consultants.
Engineers are employed in every State, in small and large cities, and in rural areas. Some branches of engineering are concentrated in particular industries and geographic areas, as discussed in statements later in this chapter.
A bachelor's degree in engineering is usually required for beginning engineering jobs. College graduates with a degree in a physical science or mathematics may occasionally qualify for some engineering jobs, especially in engineering specialties in high demand. Most engineering degrees are granted in electrical, mechanical, or civil engineering. However, engineers trained in one branch may work in related branches; for example, many aerospace engineers have training in mechanical engineering. This flexibility allows employers to meet staffing needs in new technologies and specialties in which engineers are in short supply. It also allows engineers to shift to fields with better employment prospects, or to ones that match their interests more closely.
In addition to the standard engineering degree, many colleges offer degrees in engineering technology, which are offered as either 2- or 4-year programs. These programs prepare students for practical design and production work rather than for jobs that require more theoretical, scientific and mathematical knowledge. Graduates of 4-year technology programs may get jobs similar to those obtained by graduates with a bachelor's degree in engineering. Some employers regard them as having skills between those of a technician and an engineer.
Graduate training is essential for engineering faculty positions, but is not required for the majority of entry-level engineering jobs. Many engineers obtain graduate degrees in engineering or business administration to learn new technology, broaden their education, and enhance promotion opportunities. Many high-level executives in government and industry began their careers as engineers.
About 320 colleges and universities offer bachelor's degree programs in engineering that are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), and about 250 colleges offer accredited bachelor's degree programs in engineering technology. ABET accreditation is based on an examination of an engineering program's faculty, curricular content, facilities, and admissions standards. Although most institutions offer programs in the major branches of engineering, only a few offer some of the smaller specialties. Also, programs of the same title may vary in content. For example, some emphasize industrial practices, preparing students for a job in industry, while others are more theoretical and are better for students preparing to take graduate work. Therefore, students should investigate curricula and check accreditations carefully before selecting a college. Admissions requirements for undergraduate engineering schools include a solid background in mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus), sciences (biology, chemistry, and physics), and courses in English, social studies, humanities, and computers.
Bachelor's degree programs in engineering are typically designed to last 4 years, but many students find that it takes between 4 and 5 years to complete their studies. In a typical 4-year college curriculum, the first 2 years are spent studying mathematics, basic sciences, introductory engineering, humanities, and social sciences. In the last 2 years, most courses are in engineering, usually with a concentration in one branch. For example, the last 2 years of an aerospace program might include courses such as fluid mechanics, heat transfer, applied aerodynamics, analytical mechanics, flight vehicle design, trajectory dynamics, and aerospace propulsion systems. Some programs offer a general engineering curriculum; students then specialize in graduate school or on the job.
Some engineering schools and 2-year colleges have agreements whereby the 2-year college provides the initial engineering education and the engineering school automatically admits students for their last 2 years. In addition, a few engineering schools have arrangements whereby a student spends 3 years in a liberal arts college studying pre-engineering subjects and 2 years in the engineering school, and receives a bachelor's degree from each. Some colleges and universities offer 5-year master's degree programs. Some 5- or even 6-year cooperative plans combine classroom study and practical work, permitting students to gain valuable experience and finance part of their education.
All 50 States and the District of Columbia require registration for engineers whose work may affect life, health, or property, or who offer their services to the public. Registration generally requires a degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program, 4 years of relevant work experience, and passing a State examination. Some States will not register people with degrees in engineering technology. Engineers may be registered in several states.
Engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail-oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and be able to communicate well, both orally and in writing.
Beginning engineering graduates usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers and, in larger companies, may also receive formal classroom or seminar-type training. As they gain knowledge and experience, they are assigned more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions. Engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a staff or team of engineers and technicians. Some eventually become engineering managers or enter other managerial, management support, or sales jobs. (See the statements under executive, administrative, and managerial occupations; under sales occupations; and on computer scientists, computer engineers, and systems analysts elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Employment opportunities in engineering are expected to be good through the year 2006 because employment is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations while the number of degrees granted in engineering may not increase as rapidly as employment.
Competitive pressures and advancing technology will force companies to improve and update product designs more frequently, and to work to optimize their manufacturing processes. Employers will rely on engineers to further increase productivity as they increase investment in plant and equipment to expand output of goods and services. New computer systems have improved the design process, enabling engineers to produce and analyze design variations much more rapidly; these systems are increasingly used to monitor and control processes. Despite this widespread application, computer technology is not expected to limit employment opportunities. Finally, more engineers will be needed to improve or build new roads, bridges, water and pollution control systems, and other public facilities.
Many of the jobs in engineering are related to developing technologies used in national defense. Because defense expenditures, particularly expenditures for the purchase of aircraft, missiles, and other weapons systems, are expected to continue at low levels (compared with the cold war years), employment growth and job outlook for engineers working for defense contractors may not be strong through 2006.
The number of bachelor's degrees awarded in engineering began declining in 1987, as shown in chart 2, and has stayed at about the same level in the 1990's. Although it is difficult to project engineering enrollments, the total number of students enrolled in colleges is expected to increase over the projection period, and it is likely that engineering enrollments and number of degrees awarded will follow. However, some engineering schools have restricted enrollments, especially in defense-related fields such as aerospace engineering, to accommodate the reduced opportunities in defense-related industries.
Only a relatively small proportion of engineers leave the profession each year. Despite this, most job openings will arise from replacement needs. A greater proportion of replacement openings is created by engineers who transfer to management, sales, or other professional specialty occupations than by those who leave the labor force.
Most industries are less likely to lay off engineers than other workers. Many engineers work on long-term research and development projects or in other activities which may continue even during recessions. In industries such as electronics and aerospace, however, large cutbacks in defense procurement expenditures, government research and development funds, and the increasing trend of contracting out engineering work to engineering services firms have resulted in significant layoffs for engineers.
It is important for engineers, like those working in other technical occupations, to continue their education throughout their careers because much of their value to their employer depends on their knowledge of the latest technology. Although the pace of technological change varies by engineering specialty and industry, advances in technology have affected every engineering discipline significantly. Engineers in high-technology areas, such as advanced electronics, may find that technical knowledge can become obsolete rapidly. Even those who continue their education are vulnerable if the particular technology or product in which they have specialized becomes obsolete. By keeping current in their field, engineers are able to deliver the best solutions and greatest value to their employers. Engineers who have not kept current in their field may find themselves passed over for promotions or vulnerable to layoffs, should they occur. On the other hand, it is often these high-technology areas that offer the greatest challenges, the most interesting work, and the highest salaries. Therefore, the choice of engineering specialty and employer involves an assessment not only of the potential rewards but also of the risk of technological obsolescence.
Starting salaries for engineers with the bachelor's degree are significantly higher than starting salaries of bachelor's degree graduates in other fields. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, engineering graduates with a bachelor's degree averaged about $38,500 a year in private industry in 1997; those with a master's degree and no experience, $45,400 a year; and those with a Ph.D., $59,200. Starting salaries for those with the bachelor's degree vary by branch, as shown in the following tabulation.
Aerospace $37,957 Chemical 42,817 Civil 33,119 Electrical 39,513 Industrial 38,026 Mechanical 38,113 Metallurgical 38,550 Mining 36,724 Nuclear 37,194 Petroleum 43,674
A survey of workplaces in 160 metropolitan areas reported that beginning engineers had median annual earnings of about $34,400 in 1995, with the middle half earning between about $30,900 and $38,116 a year. Experienced midlevel engineers with no supervisory responsibilities had median annual earnings of about $59,100, with the middle half earning between about $54,000 and $65,000 a year. Median annual earnings for engineers at senior managerial levels were about $99,200. Median annual earnings for these and other levels of engineers are shown in the following tabulation.
Engineer I $34,400 Engineer II 41,000 Engineer III 48,500 Engineer IV 59,100 Engineer V 71,400 Engineer VI 84,200 Engineer VII 99,200 Engineer VIII 117,000
The median annual salary for all engineers who worked full time was about $49,200 in 1996. Those with a bachelor's degree had median annual earnings of $49,800; master's degree, $56,700; and PhD, $64,700. Median annual salaries for some engineering specialties were:
Aerospace $57,000 Chemical 52,600 Civil 46,000 Electrical 51,700 Industrial 43,700 Mechanical 49,700 Engineers, nec 49,700
Engineers apply the principles of physical science and mathematics in their work. Other workers who use scientific and mathematical principles include engineering, science, and computer systems managers; physical, life, and computer scientists; mathematicians; engineering and science technicians; and architects.
High school students interested in obtaining general information on a variety of engineering disciplines should contact the Junior Engineering Technical Society by sending a self-addressed business-size envelope with 6 first-class stamps affixed, to:
JETS-Guidance, at 1420 King St., Suite 405, Alexandria, VA 22314-2794. Homepage: http://www.asee.org/jets
High school students interested in obtaining information on ABET accredited engineering programs should contact:
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc., at 111 Market Place, Suite 1050, Baltimore, MD 21202-4012.
Non-high school students and those wanting more detailed information should contact societies representing the individual branches of engineering. Each can provide information about careers in the particular branch.
Aeronautical and Aerospace Engineering, send $3 to:
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc., Suite 500, 1801 Alexander Bell Drive, Reston, VA 20191-4344.
American Institute of Chemical Engineers, 345 East 47th St., New York, NY 10017-2395.
American Chemical Society, Department of Career Services, 1155 16th St. NW., Washington, DC 20036.
American Society of Civil Engineers, 1801 Alexander Bell Drive, Reston, VA 20191-4400.
Electrical and Electronics Engineering
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 1828 L St. NW., Suite 1202, Washington, DC 20036.
Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc., 25 Technology Park/Atlanta, Norcross, GA 30092. Homepage: http://www.iienet.org
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 345 E. 47th St., New York, NY 10017.
American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc., 1791 Tullie Circle NE., Atlanta, GA 30329. Homepage://www.ashrae.org
Metallurgical, Ceramic, and Materials Engineering
The Minerals, Metals, & Materials Society, 420 Commonwealth Dr., Warrendale, PA 15086-7514. Homepage: http://www.tms.org
ASM International, Student Outreach Program, Materials Park, OH 44073-0002.
The Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc., P.O. Box 625002, Littleton, CO 80162-5002.
American Nuclear Society, 555 North Kensington Ave., LaGrange Park, IL 60525.
Society of Petroleum Engineers, P.O. Box 833836, Richardson, TX 75083-3836.
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