How to become a mechanical engineer
If you haven’t yet chosen the direction of your engineering career yet or you’re ready to explore a new sector, have you thought about becoming a mechanical engineer? Mechanical engineers are essential in a lot of engineering sectors such as building services, power, water, transport and many more.
A lot of engineers tend to share similar qualities. If you’re logistically minded, enjoy problem solving and knowing how things work, then mechanical engineering might be the right step for you and your career. Skills like this are highly transferable, so if you’re looking at changing sector, they could help you get further than you think! 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?
What do they do?
Mechanical engineers can do anything from design, develop and testing to create machinery. There are so many different things you can chose from and can range from building engine components to working in robotics.
Day to day, it’s likely that your activities will change depending on projects and companies you work for. However, some responsibilities may include:
- Planning and researching ideas
- Making sure the work you do meets the legal requirements and is always adhering to health and safety standards
- Using computer programmes to build you plans
These are just a few of the things you could find yourself doing! Much like other sectors in engineering, there is so much to choose from and do on a day-to-day basis. Is this something you could see yourself doing?
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 or degree level apprenticeship is usually required in 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. Remember, your skills can be transferable.
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.
Or if you are looking to change sector, it’s likely you have plenty of industry experience. There are online courses that can help you and you can start to learn new things about the industry before you start applying for these roles.
University isn’t the only option
If you haven’t been interested in the university or college route, 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 learning 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.
Continuous Professional Development
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 and progressing as you would like.
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 could potentially unlock more opportunities for yourself as a lot of companies may specifically look for chartered engineers when hiring. 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! – The IET can also help you here.
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, it can be a good idea to 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.
Much like any other engineering sector, keep up-to-date with all of these things. If you are changing sector, remember that you already have some great skills to offer. You don’t have to start from scratch, just find the sector that interests you and dedicate time to your learning.
You’ll be a brilliant mechanical engineer in no time!