How to become a mechanical engineer

Written by: Georgina Bloomfield
Published on: 11 Feb 2016

If you haven’t quite chosen your engineering-based career, have you looked at becoming a mechanical engineer? Mechanical engineers are essential in sectors such as building services, power, water, transport and more. Just because the rise of computers means a lot more jobs are automated for us, doesn’t mean that mechanical engineers are out of a job. It’s actually quite the contrary. With the need for more computers to help us do some of our jobs, right now is a great time to become a mechanical engineer.

mechanical engineering

A lot of engineers share similar qualities. If you’re logistically minded, enjoy problem solving and knowing how things work, then mechanical engineering is right up your street. In fact, with these qualities you could actually enter almost any engineering profession. So, what are the steps you need to take to become a brilliant mechanical engineer now that you've got the personal skillset that's needed for it?

Firstly, you need to make sure you’ve got correct and up to date qualifications for the role you’re looking at. If you’re going into an entry-level position, a degree is usually required in (obviously) mechanical engineering. If you have a degree in another strand of engineering, don’t panic! You can always get some good experience in mechanical engineering roles even if you have a different degree (such as manufacturing). Most of the transferable skills you would’ve learnt during your degree will contribute greatly to any engineering career.

 A lot of courses include placement years where you get some real hands-on experience in a workplace and learn some invaluable skills. Take as much advantage of these as you can because it’s possible that you’ll learn an awful lot more on these placements than in the classroom.

If you haven’t had the advantage of a placement year or if your placement year wasn’t as good as you expected, then it’s worth organising some proper experience yourself. During all that time off you’ll have in summer, contact companies who offer summer placements and graduate schemes. They may be unpaid – but they’ll give you some excellent knowledge and skills that you’ll almost definitely need if you want to land a great mechanical engineering job once you leave university, college or your apprenticeship programme.

If you haven’t been interested in the university or college scene, an apprenticeship is a very good option. It’s paid and you get to learn on the job. And, if it goes well with the company you’re with, you may be able to get a full-time permanent job with them once your apprenticeship finishes. Along the way you’ll also gain some good contacts who you’ll be able to fall back on when you need to.  

Once you’re in a career you’re enjoying, never turn down the opportunity to train as much as possible. Engineering is an industry that changes very quickly with the latest equipment needing new procedures etc. if you can keep your training as up to date as possible, you’ll stand a good chance of moving on to another job to earn some extra pennies. Most companies pay for particular training, which is another reason why you shouldn’t say no. where possible, having chartered status as an engineer is hugely beneficial. You’ll unlock many doors for yourself as a lot of companies look for chartered engineers to do the big jobs. To get chartered status, sign up to a professional body (which may be paid for by your current employer), have a look at the schemes they have to offer and get your chartered status!

Other skills which benefit in becoming a mechanical engineer include good teamwork skills, communication, problem-solving, management, technical knowledge (including IT), patience, to be able to work to deadlines and manage difficult situations under pressure. 

In your spare time, read as much as you can. A lot of knowledge is gained through a genuine interest in the topic. Have a look at videos online about manufacturing or mechanical processes, look up mechanical engineering forums and network on social media sites such as LinkedIn for knowledge bites. If you have a personal interest in the job that you do – you’re more likely to enjoy your job and succeed when a problem comes along.

If you go through the proper academic routes (or apprenticeship), get your training and keep it up to date at every stage of your career, you’ll be a brilliant mechanical engineer in no time!