MAN AND MACHINE
Although there are many different areas engineers can specialise in – from marine engineering to aerospace, taking in electrical and chemical engineering along the way – it is probably mechanical engineering that first comes to mind. This is because the work of the mechanical engineer is so vital to the smooth running of our modern, mechanised world.
The most basic function of mechanical engineers is to design and build the parts of machines that move. That may sound straightforward, but if you think about how many machines with moving parts we are surrounded by on a day-to-day basis, you suddenly realise just how vital their input is. From the cars on the road to rocket ships, toasters to lawnmowers, vacuum cleaners to trains, nuclear power plants to new wind turbines, mechanical engineers keep our world running.
One of the great attractions of the sector is this wide range of projects mechanical engineers actually work on. Another is the variety of roles available within the sector. Some mechanical engineers specialise in the research and development of products. This involves working with new and emerging technologies to find solutions to engineering problems. Some mechanical engineers concentrate on the design aspects, while others prefer to work on the actual production and/or the installation of machines. Whichever area you decide to enter, the main skills you will need remain the same. These include having an aptitude for maths and also technology and IT (including working with computer-aided design – CAD), being able to problem solve in a logical and methodical manner, but most of all being interested in what makes things work.
GETTING IN TO MECHANICAL ENGINEERING
Most mechanical engineers kick their careers off by doing some form of engineering degree. This could be a pure mechanical engineering course or a combined course. After graduation, normal career progression is by entering a graduate training programme with an engineering company (there are 18,000 engineering companies across the UK and around £2 billion a year is spent on training prospective engineers). Promotion comes through more experience as mechanical engineers undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD) throughout their careers and many go on to register with a professional body such as the Engineering Council (ECUK) as either an Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng), while 75,000 engineers worldwide are members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), further enhancing their career prospects. Many mechanical engineers go on to become senior managers.
Britain has a worldwide reputation for producing exceptionally talented mechanical engineers (think Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Trevor Bayliss), and there are many opportunities to work abroad on projects. However, the rewards here at home are quite substantial. Graduates can expect to start on around £17,000, while a qualified Chartered mechanical engineer can earn £50,000, although some earn in excess of £100,000. If you’d like to make a real contribution to the way people live and work then this fascinating sector could be for you. Read our following case studies to see what mechanical engineers do in the real world of work.
Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE): www.imeche.org.uk