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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.

Fast moving consumer goods is one industry that often calla for generalists.

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.

  • Andy Haasz, head of component engineering at Rolls-Royce outlines job roles in the aerospace industry: 'A graduate mechanical engineer could work on one or more of the components required to create a Rolls-Royce aero engine. They may be assessing the robustness of the design, optimising the component for cost or weight, or establishing the best manufacturing process to use in production. Later on in their career they might become an engineering specialist, lead engineering programmes and projects, such as on advanced engine designs, or they might lead an engineering department.
  • Pamela Wilson, engineering engagement manager at BAE Systems, outlines job roles in the defence industry: 'Mechanical engineers are involved in the design, development and testing of complex mechanical systems. Through 3D modelling and a range of analysis tools, they ensure that the structural integrity, thermal properties, mass, manufacture, assembly and cost of the equipment meet the requirements of the air, sea or land operating environments.'
  • Mechanical engineering graduates can also choose to work in the materials and metals industry. They can be involved in process technology and development, manufacturing or process improvement, or they could take on a more customer-facing role, eg customer technical support.
  • 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, mechanical engineers might work with pressure system 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 transferable skills developed while at university could help launch your career in an entirely new direction.