Mechanical engineer job profile

 

What does a mechanical engineer do?

Mechanical engineering involves the design, development and operation of machines and systems. It is one of the broadest engineering disciplines as it involves anything with moving parts. As a mechanical engineer, you can work across all stages of product development, from research and design to installation and commissioning.

Many industries rely on mechanical engineers, including:

  • Aerospace – A mechanical engineering career in the aerospace sector involves the design, construction and maintenance of aircraft and spacecraft.
  • Construction – Design the systems in buildings such as heating, air conditioning and smoke ventilation.
  • Electronics – Design and develop electronics used in everything from mobile phones and computers to laboratories and research equipment.
  • Food processing – Improve efficiency and process across food production lines, explore chemical interactions with food and develop new processing techniques.
  • Medical – Develop, test and maintain medical equipment from simple devices to the latest technology. 
  • Power – Mechanical engineers work on the generation and delivery of energy, from nuclear power plants to solar panels.
  • Vehicles – Specialise in the mechanical systems that control vehicles. Automotive engineers work with cars, motorbikes and trucks, while naval architecture engineers work on oil rigs and ships. 

Duties of a mechanical engineer 

A mechanical engineer’s responsibilities vary depending on where you work and your specialism. These are likely to include:

  • Using computer-aided design to create technical plans
  • Applying mathematical and materials science principles to design and modify equipment
  • Designing and testing mechanical components 
  • Surveying systems and machines
  • Producing technical documents 
  • Presenting data to managers and clients
  • Liaising with suppliers

More senior mechanical engineers may also:

  • Manage a team of engineers
  • Control budgets and project plans

Working environment and hours

Where do mechanical engineers work? 

Mechanical engineers can work in offices, laboratories, workshops, factories, oil rigs, research facilities and building sites. As a result, an engineer’s dress code can range from business attire to a hard hat on a construction site. Travel during the working day is common as you may need to visit client sites or suppliers. 

Hours

The working hours for mechanical engineers are usually full-time (37 to 40 hours a week), Monday to Friday. Depending on your role you may work shifts over weekends and evenings. 

Key skills

A mechanical engineering job description might include some or all of the following skills:

Technical 

Mechanical engineers write technical reports and apply mathematical and scientific principles to design machines and systems.

Creativity

Designing and developing new products and components requires a high level of creativity and innovation.

Problem solving

Engineers need to find logical solutions to problems and have a natural curiosity for how things work.

Communication and presenting

Part of a mechanical engineer's job is to present designs and data to clients and managers. Strong communication is needed to explain technical ideas clearly.

Teamwork

It is important to be able to work with different teams and specialists, including technicians, designers, architects, computer scientists and other engineers.

IT and computing

IT skills are required to turn designs into technical plans using computer aided design/modelling (CAD/CAM).

Analytical

Testing products and analysing how different systems work is a key part of a mechanical engineer’s role.

Budgeting and planning

Engineers need to carefully consider costs and timeframes when designing and commissioning mechanical modifications. 

Commercial awareness

Engineers work to industry standards and ensure projects meet safety regulations.

Qualifications and training 

To study mechanical engineering at university you will need to achieve good grades in three or four A Level subjects, including Maths and at least one science. Relevant A Levels to choose include:

If you did not study A Levels you will need to study an Engineering Foundation.

To qualify as an engineer, you should study an undergraduate degree (BEng) in engineering, which is usually three years. Choose a subject like mechanical, electromechanical, mechatronics or mechanical/manufacturing engineering

Alternatively, study a Master of Engineering (MEng) for four or five years, which combines the foundations of a BEng and further specialist knowledge. This level of education gives you the opportunity to apply for Chartered Engineer status. 

Degrees should be accredited by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers or Institution of Engineering and Technology. 

The ability to speak another language can also be helpful as many employers operate internationally with clients around the world. 

Work experience 

Work experience is a great way to demonstrate to future employers that you are passionate about your chosen career. It will deepen your knowledge and help you find out what the role involves. Many degrees include work placements, and university careers services can support students who want to arrange their own. 

Salary

The National Careers Service provides guidance on the average mechanical engineer salary:

  • The average starting salary for a mechanical engineer is £22,000 to £26,000
  • More experienced mechanical engineers earn £28,000 to £40,000
  • Chief engineers can earn £40,000 to £55,000.
     

Qualifications

So, what qualifications do you need to be a mechanical engineer?

  • Undergraduate degree (BEng) – three or four years 
  • Master’s degree (MEng) – one or two years.

Graduates with mechanical engineering degrees are awarded a BEng or MEng qualification.

Find more information on how to become an engineer.

How to become an engineer

Wind farm engineer surveying

Find out the qualifications and training you need to become an engineer in the UK. 

Mechanical engineer career path

Many companies offer graduate training programmes with structured progression and development opportunities. With experience, you can work towards professional accreditation to demonstrate your knowledge as you aim for more senior positions. You could also work towards management and consultancy roles.

Chartered Engineer

You can work towards Chartered Engineer (CEng) status with the Engineering Council. You will need to complete an accredited bachelor’s and master’s degree.

Senior management

As you progress in your career you may choose to become a manager, leading projects and teams of engineers and technicians. 

Engineering consultancy

Those who want to work for themselves may progress to setting up their own business.