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What jobs can you do with a mechanical engineering degree?

Find out what kinds of work mechanical engineering graduates can carry out in which engineering industries – or how you could pursue a totally different career.

Mechanical engineering graduates are sought by employers in almost all sectors of the engineering industry. These include:

  • Aerospace industry – researches, designs, manufactures, operates and maintains aircraft
  • Automotive industry – designs, manufactures, distributes and markets motor vehicles
  • Chemical industry – covers oil companies, chemicals manufacturers and the businesses that support them (eg to build new plants or develop new process technologies)
  • Construction industry – designs and builds infrastructure, buildings and buildings services (eg heating and ventilation)
  • Defence industry – provides equipment, support and services for the armed forces and national security
  • Electronics industry – designs and manufactures components and complete equipment for sectors from automotive to medicine and the military
  • Fast moving consumer goods industry – manufactures products such as household cleaning items, personal hygiene goods and convenience foods
  • Marine industry – develops and helps operate vessels
  • Materials and metals industry – activities include developing new materials and manufacturing components or end products
  • Pharmaceuticals industry – develops and manufactures drugs
  • Rail industry – designs, constructs, manages and maintains rail system components from trains and tracks to electrical power systems and train control systems
  • Utilities industry – helps supply power, water, waste management and telecoms.

What precisely would my job as a mechanical engineering graduate be?

In many roles you will remain as a mechanical engineering specialist, applying your skills and knowledge to those specific aspects of your employers’ technical operations that call for this skill set. However, engineering careers in some areas involve becoming more of a generalist, drawing on or developing knowledge of other engineering disciplines and perhaps doing the same job as a fellow engineer with a different degree background.

Defence and fast moving consumer goods are two industries that often call for generalists.

  • Paul Jones, enterprise integration manager at BAE systems, explains the situation in the defence industry. He comments: ‘At BAE systems – and at most other defence companies – engineers today mainly work at system level. A ‘system’ could be an aircraft or submarine, or one of its major components, or the whole battle space in which it operates, including the associated communications technologies, people, buildings and legal requirements. Defence systems are now so integrated that engineers need to operate cross-discipline, for example using a mixture of mechanical, electronic and electrical engineering knowledge. Most engineering degrees now cover a range of areas, but if you come from, say, a pure mechanical engineering background you’ll have to pick up how mechanical engineering fits into the bigger picture.’
  • Meanwhile Chris Traynor, careers adviser and former engineer and engineering recruiter, outlines the state of play in the fast moving consumer goods industry. He explains: ‘Almost all the graduate roles are in one of two areas: manufacturing/engineering or supply network operations/logistics. And for both of these areas graduates from different disciplines would be doing similar jobs as each other. The reason for this is that the real “work” is not defined in nice separate buckets of mechanical, electrical, chemical etc, but normally a mixture of different disciplines as a general manufacturing or logistics engineer. Graduates will pick up skills from other disciplines as they go through their training and career. I started as a chemical engineer and quickly learned basic mechanical and electrical engineering principles that were needed to help me in my work.’

If you’d prefer to specialise, there are numerous options.

  • The Rolls-Royce website outlines job roles in its part of the aerospace industry, stating that: ‘Mechanical technology engineers are responsible for understanding the stress and vibration loads applied throughout the engine and on specific components. They have a strong influence on power plant design and work closely with the design community, materials engineers and manufacturing. Although this area is largely analysis-based, mechanical technology engineers are also involved in verifying and validating component models through physical experiments and tests. This includes reviewing the physical condition of post-test specimens.’
  • Mechanical engineering graduates can also choose to work in the materials and metals industry. Dr Andrew Smith, knowledge group leader at Tata Steel, states that in this sector: ‘Mechanical engineering graduates can be involved in process technology and development, manufacturing or process improvement. They could equally be involved in more customer-facing roles, eg customer technical support (CTS) – or on major CAPEX [capital expenditure] schemes, ensuring the engineering is right. And this list is by no means exclusive.’
  • Similarly in the power generation industry, Paul Clarke, asset developer at EDF Energy – Generation, explains: ‘Mechanical Engineers typically maintain the mechanical plant items (steam turbines, gas turbines, pumps, valves, pipework, coal mills, fans, heat exchangers, coolers, storage tanks, etc).’
  • Jerry England, group asset management director at Network Rail, outlines opportunities in the rail industry. He reveals: ‘Mechanical engineers could be involved in track systems, rolling stock and other rail vehicle engineering, as well as with other mechanical systems such as overhead power lines – which although transmitting power at 25kV are largely a mechanical engineering design.’
  • In the utilities industy, Neil Pullen, director of transmission asset management at National Grid, comments: 'Mechanical engineers might work with pressure systems (eg pipelines, compressed air systems in power stations), corrosion, tribology, asset design or network design.'
  • Mechanical engineers in the oil and gas industry design equipment and machines that the offshore engineers and technicians depend on, such as pipelines, valves and turbines, making sure that it is productive and safe to use.
  • Lee Hankins, senior technical engineer at Johnson Matthey, explains that mechanical engineers in the chemical industry are ‘typically involved in delivering reliability improvements, technical support or major CAPEX projects on a range of cutting-edge automated production assets including conveyors, industrial ovens, pipework, valves, pumps and robotics.’

Non-engineering careers for mechanical engineers

A mechanical engineering degree is a great passport to a huge variety of non-engineering graduate jobs, both within the engineering industry and outside it.

If you want a non-technical career in the engineering sector, a number of the larger employers run graduate schemes in areas such as finance and management. You could also consider jobs in areas such as supply chain or technical sales. If you wish, you could start your career in an engineering job, then progress into a more business-focused role at a later date.

Outside the engineering industry, many employers welcome mechanical engineering graduates for their high level of numeracy and problem-solving mentality. In particular, IT companies and technical consultancies are well worth exploring, especially if you have some programming skills, as are patent attorneys. Your skill set will also go down well with recruiters for finance, management and business or management consulting graduate schemes, while teachers with technical backgrounds are always in demand.

You’ll also find niche areas of seemingly unrelated professions where your degree background will be a big help. How about training as a solicitor or barrister, then specialising in a technical area such as intellectual property, construction or energy, transport and infrastructure? Or working in technical publishing or science journalism?

Finally, remember that around 40% of graduate jobs are open to graduates from any degree discipline. Your extra-curricular activities and transferrable skills developed while at university could help launch your career in an entirely new direction.