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 the:
- Aerospace industry
- Automotive industry
- Chemicals industry
- Construction industry
- Defence industry
- Fast-moving consumer goods industry
- Marine industry
- Materials and metals industry
- Oil and gas industry
- Pharmaceuticals industry
- Power generation industry
- Rail industry
- Utilities industry
What precisely would my job as a mechanical engineering graduate be?
In many roles you will remain a mechanical engineering specialist, applying your skills and knowledge to those specific aspects of your employer's 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.
'A graduate mechanical engineer will work with new technologies, for example advanced materials, new manufacturing processes or highly efficient cooling systems, converting demanding requirements into optimised designs for use in the products we supply. As their career develops they may go on to lead the innovation of such technologies, for example advanced composite fan blades or a unique power gearbox. Alternatively, they may be leading engineering teams that apply those technologies to the next generation of power systems.' Andy Haasz, engineering fellow – design at Rolls-Royce.
A mechanical engineer in the automotive industry will work closely with engineers from other disciplines and will often become a multi-skilled engineer. They may specialise in a particular area such as body engineering, chassis engineering, powertrain engineering, manufacturing engineering or engineering quality.
'Mechanical engineers in the built environment sector are responsible for designing the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and smoke ventilation systems that make up buildings. They can work on projects ranging from hospitals, offices and shopping malls to airports, universities and railway stations. As they mature professionally, they often take on responsibility for other technical disciplines to produce coordinated designs that meet client requirements.' David Eastland, divisional director at Mott MacDonald.
There are a range of engineering jobs in the construction industry that you might not be aware of. Take a look at this interview with Paul Matthews, a fire engineer at Mott MacDonald, to find out why he chose fire engineering and what his job is all about.
Mechanical engineers in the chemicals industry are typically involved in delivering reliability improvements, technical support or major CAPEX projects on a range of automated production assets including conveyors, industrial ovens, pipework, valves, pumps and robotics.
'Mechanical engineers in the defence industry 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.' Pamela Wilson, engineering manager at BAE Systems.
'Most of the graduate roles in the fast-moving consumer goods industry are in one of two areas: manufacturing/engineering or supply network operations/logistics. For both of these areas, the work is not defined in nice separate buckets of mechanical, electrical, chemical etc, but is normally a mixture of different engineering disciplines as a general manufacturing or logistics engineer. Graduates will pick up skills from other disciplines as they go through their training and career.' Chris Traynor, careers adviser and former engineer and engineering recruiter.
'Engineers in the marine industry usually either operate and maintain vessels and equipment or design and build them. A mechanical engineer could be involved in designing, installing or maintaining engines, boilers, shafts and propellers. You could be part of enforcing regulations for sea and air pollution or designing the next generation of cleaner ships.'
'A mechanical engineer in the materials and metals industry will be involved in the design, development and testing of a range of complex mechanical systems. They will work on the full maintenance lifecycle of the mechanical plant items (steam turbines, gas turbines, pumps, valves, pipework, coal mills, fans etc).' Peter Toms, senior engineering manager at Tata Steel.
A mechanical engineer at an oil company will work with a range of equipment such as gas turbines, compressors, heaters, vessels and piping. For example, they might investigate operational difficulties or help to build new assets and modify existing ones. Mechanical engineers at an oil service company are responsible for designing the equipment and machines that the offshore engineers and technicians depend on, such as pipelines, valves and turbines, making sure that it is reliable, efficient and safe to use.
A mechanical engineer in the pharmaceuticals industry will be involved in designing, testing, installing and maintaining machinery and equipment, from boilers to HVAV (heat and ventilation and air conditioning) and water systems. They will also optimise equipment performance and provide day-to-day support for risk assessments and equipment breakdowns.
A mechanical engineer in the power generation industry will design, build and maintain the mechanical plant items such as steam turbines, gas turbines, wind turbine blades, gearboxes, high-pressure boilers, nuclear reactors, pipework, pumps, valves, fans, coolers and storage tanks.
'Mechanical engineers in the rail industry will work on overhead line systems and will write specifications for these systems, review designs and answer technical queries. Some mechanical engineers become track engineers, which involves doing the same jobs, but on the track systems instead.' Elen Jones, programme engineering manager at Network Rail.
Mechanical engineers in the utilities industry might work with pressure system corrosion, tribology, asset design or network design.
Non-engineering careers for mechanical engineering graduates
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. Your skills set will also go down well with recruiters for finance, management and business or management consulting graduate schemes, and 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 becoming a patent attorney or 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?
Have a read of our article 'What can I do with an engineering degree apart from being an engineer? for more information.
Finally, remember that many graduate jobs are open to graduates from any degree discipline. Your extracurricular activities and transferable skills developed while at university could help launch your career in an entirely new direction.