Have you always loved building things? Maybe there’s nothing that feels quite as rewarding as solving a tough mechanical problem. If so, becoming a mechanical engineer could be your ideal career path.
But before committing to this line of work, you might be interested to learn more about what a typical day looks like for a mechanical engineer.
That’s why we put together this article. It covers everything that you need to know about mechanical engineers and what they do during an average day so you can figure out whether this job is right for you.
So let’s get into it!
Role and responsibilities of a mechanical engineer
First, let’s take a look at what employers typically want to see when hiring a mechanical engineer.
TYPICAL JOB DESCRIPTION
An average job description will specify the exact set of skills and experiences that an employer wants a candidate to have.
For a mechanical engineer, this generally means tasks related to the design, development, and building of various mechanical systems.
For example, the tasks on a job description for a mechanical engineer will often look something like the following list:
- Research and design mechanical systems to solve specific problems
- Work with other engineers to solve problems and come up with creative mechanical solutions
- Investigate mechanical failures and resolve them
- Recommend new solutions to management that reduce costs and improve efficiency
- Create documentation that explains the solutions you create to others in both technical and non-technical ways
EDUCATION AND ASPIRATION
To become a mechanical engineer, you typically need a bachelor’s degree. You can get a degree in either mechanical engineering directly or a related field such as mechanical engineering technologies.
These degree programs typically include lots of math and science courses, which teach the skills and background knowledge that mechanical engineers need to know to do their jobs effectively.
This type of coursework differs from other engineering programs in that mechanical engineering classes tend to focus on the practical rather than the theoretical.
If you’re serious about this career, you may also want to look into pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Earning one could make it easier for you to find jobs and qualify for more advanced positions.
A day in the life of a mechanical engineer
The average day for a mechanical engineer will vary based on the phase of the project that they’re in. We’ll look at a few different scenarios in this section.
A MECHANICAL ENGINEER’S STANDARD SCHEDULE
At the beginning of a project, a mechanical engineer will spend much of their day in stakeholder meetings.
This is the stage of a project in which project requirements get defined and mechanical engineers get to interact with stakeholders to clarify their goals and requirements.
These meetings could take up a mechanical engineer’s morning, or longer. Then, in the afternoon, they might start working with other mechanical engineers to brainstorm solutions for the stakeholders’ problems.
As the project gets solidified and moves towards completion, more and more of a mechanical engineer’s day will be spent creating mechanical solutions instead of engaging in stakeholder meetings.
At a certain stage, mechanical engineers will move into the lab and begin bringing their designs to life.
Throughout this entire process, some of a mechanical engineer’s day will be dedicated to documenting what they’re doing. That way, it’s easy for everyone to see how the project is progressing and why it’s moving in the way that it is.
Most of the work that a mechanical engineer does takes place in offices. But they may occasionally visit job sites or work in labs during certain phases of the design process.
Working hours and average salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for a mechanical engineer in the United States is $90,160 – or about $43.35 per hour.
But this can vary some based on factors like your location and the specific industry that you work in.
For example, mechanical engineers who work in scientific research and development services make $104,260 per year on average. While those working in Machinery manufacturing make an average salary of $82,190.
Generally, mechanical engineers work standard hours, from about 9:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. But they may have to stay late or work on the weekends periodically if they’re up against a hard deadline for a design.
Pros and cons of being a mechanical engineer
Now that we know what mechanical engineers do and what it takes to become one, let’s consider some of the pros and cons of choosing this career path. Here are three of each.
EARN A COMPETITIVE SALARY
The average annual salary for a worker in the United States is $56,310 – or about $20 an hour. Mechanical engineers make significantly more than this, with their average salary of over $90,000 per year.
So if you’re looking for a job that will allow you to out-earn the majority of Americans, then becoming a mechanical engineer could be a very good decision.
While your salary may vary based on where you’re located and the industry that you work in, even mechanical engineers in the lowest-paying states tend to earn meaningfully more than the average U.S. salary.
WORK ON ENGAGING MECHANICAL PROBLEMS
If you’re someone who loves tackling mechanical problems and coming up with creative solutions, then this could be the ideal job for you.
Mechanical engineers take problems or goals and design systems that can resolve or reach them. This gives you a ton of opportunities to be creative and to make things that don’t exist yet.
This type of work can be extremely rewarding if you enjoy that type of process.
STRONG FUTURE CAREER PROSPECTS
The BLS also says that it expects job opportunities for mechanical engineers to grow by about 7% over the next 10 years. That’s as fast as average, which means you shouldn’t have to worry about your future career prospects if you choose this job.
POTENTIAL FOR LONG HOURS
One potential downside for this role is that your mechanical engineering job may require you to work long hours.
The exact number of hours that you work each week will depend on your employer. You could have a standard 40-hour workweek that only goes up when you’re trying to finish up a project before a deadline.
Or, you might have to work more than 40 hours every week and still have to work extra during crunch time. It’ll depend on your employers’ needs.
LONG TRAINING PROCESS
To become a mechanical engineer, you’ll typically need at least a bachelor’s degree, which takes about 4 years to complete. That’s more training than you need for many other industrial professions, such as becoming an electrician.
So if you’re looking to get into a new industrial career as quickly as possible, you may want to look elsewhere.
MOST DAYS ARE SPENT IN AN OFFICE
Finally, many people who are drawn to the industrial field like the idea of not having to spend every day in the same office. If this is a major concern for you, then mechanical engineering might not be the best fit.
Mechanical engineers only really go to job sites every so often when their input is needed for a specific problem. You should expect to spend most of your time in an office setting, which may not be ideal for you.
Is this the right profession for you?
So you should start looking for mechanical engineering jobs? Or would it be a better idea for you to look elsewhere for your career?
Ultimately, this is a decision that only you can make. There are some great positives to becoming a mechanical engineer, such as earning a competitive salary and getting to be creative with resolving mechanical problems.
But there are also some real downsides to consider. For example, you may not have four years to spend earning a degree before making money.
The best strategy is to take a complete look at the pros and cons of this job. Then, weigh the pros against the cons based on your personal goals and preferences and see where you’re at.
Use Rock The Trades to find your next mechanical engineering job
When you’re ready to start looking for your next job as a mechanical engineer, Rock the Trades can help.
Our app automatically connects you with employers in your area who are looking for mechanical engineers with your exact set of skills.
All that you need to do is download the app, tell us a bit about yourself, and we’ll handle the rest. This makes it super easy to find a mechanical engineering job that you love. So why wait? Download the RTT app today to take the first step towards your new career.