What Can You Do With an Engineering Degree?
If you’ve studied engineering, chances are you’ve developed a range of practical skills which are highly valued by employers in many sectors – this includes logical thinking, numeracy and problem-solving. Engineering is a broad subject which splits into many different disciplines (chemical, civil, mechanical and electrical engineering to name a few), so the careers open to engineering graduates are wide and varied, although you may wish to choose the career most relevant to your chosen engineering specialization and related skills. If you’d like to become a chartered engineer you will need to take a postgraduate course (MEng) and gain professional experience.
The good news is that not only is there currently a high demand for talented engineering graduates to find their perfect careers in engineering, but there’s also a chance that you could earn an impressive salary, with engineering graduates in the US earning an average of US$75,000 per year.
Read on to find out more about which careers in engineering would best suit you, and how to increase your employability in these areas.
Civil engineering careers
If you’ve studied civil engineering, your degree has prepared you for a career in the construction industry as well as in the wider business, management and financial sectors. Civil engineering careers are both rewarding and challenging and can involve construction, design and management, depending on your interests and specialist knowledge gained at university. This career option often involves many aspects of design and architecture, allowing you to express your creative side and explore innovative new ideas, whilst also analyzing data and technology. All civil engineers need a good knowledge of design and construction methods as well as of health and safety matters.
If you’d like to become a civil engineer, this career generally splits into the roles of a consulting civil engineer and a contracting civil engineer. If you opt for civil engineering careers in consultancy, you are likely to be involved in the design stage of a project, collaborating with architects and other professionals. Alternatively, as a contracting civil engineer, you will turn the plans of consulting civil engineers into reality, dealing with practical issues such as obtaining materials and meeting deadlines, and helping to resolve any problems that arise. You might also be able to work in a role which combines both the consulting and contracting stages. If you have studied a different engineering discipline, you can still apply for these roles but may find entry more difficult.
An example of a career which is open to all graduates of engineering but is particularly suited to those who have studied civil engineering is that of a building control surveyor. Building control surveyors consider areas of health and safety to ensure building regulations and other regulations are monitored when buildings are designed and constructed. They also offer advice when buildings do not meet these regulations, and will make visits to the construction site at different stages to make sure that the work is being correctly carried out.
Chemical engineering careers
If you’re a chemical engineering graduate, there are a wide range of engineering careers available to you. As well as engineering, a chemical engineering degree develops technical and transferable skills that can lead to a range of professions in business, finance and law.
Chemical or process engineers examine and design the machinery and processes used to turn raw materials into everyday products such as fuel, plastics and food, whilst sticking to health and safety guidelines. If you’re interested in chemistry and enjoy problem-solving, then this career could suit you. Modern chemical engineering is also concerned with trailblazing useful new resources and techniques, such as nanotechnology.
You’ll be using your knowledge of mathematics and science to help you analyze problems and come up with solutions. You will also need good management skills to help you to effectively manage projects, budgets and people. Click here to read in more detail about how careers as a chemical engineer vary between sectors such as food processing and wastewater management.
Another career which you might wish to consider as a chemical engineering graduate is that of a product/process development scientist. Your knowledge of processing gained in your degree will be very useful for this career, as product or process development scientists are responsible for exploring and developing new production processes and making adjustments to current manufacturing systems to increase their general efficiency and profitability.
This is another diverse field encompassing a wide range of engineering disciplines and providing you with many highly regarded skills. Graduates of mechanical engineering are suited to many roles, not just directly related engineering, as their strong numerical skills would also be very useful for careers in finance or management.
Mechanical engineers develop resourceful solutions to help improve mechanical processes and products, and can work in a variety of sectors, including manufacturing and power. They can be involved in the management of people and resources, as well as the development and use of new materials and technologies. If you’re technically minded, brilliant at science and mathematics, and good at problem-solving, then this career path could work for you. Mechanical engineers in the US can earn an average of US$83,000, with those at senior level earning over US$126,000.
The obvious route for careers in aeronautical engineering is to study a specialized degree in this field, but it is also an option for graduates of mechanical engineering, as well as graduates of computer science engineering, electrical engineering and manufacturing engineering.
As an aeronautical engineer you’ll apply scientific, technological and mathematical principles to research, design, develop, maintain and test the performance of civil and military aircraft, including weapons, satellites and even space vehicles. You’ll need to be able to resolve any issues that arise during the design, development and testing process, including investigating any aircraft accidents and project management.
This field of engineering again gives you strong skills to offer employers in sectors both within and outside engineering. It often overlaps with other areas of engineering, as the sectors you could work in span from construction to communications and media, to healthcare and more. This is another area which isn’t necessarily restricted to graduates of this subject, as entry may be possible with a different type of engineering degree, particularly mechanical engineering.
Electrical engineers design, develop and maintain electrical control systems and/or components through a mixture of technical knowledge and commercial awareness, and in the US can expect to earn between US$61,000-85,000. As well as having technical knowledge, electrical engineers need to have commercial awareness and be able to project manage and multitask. You may be able to develop your career into a supervisory or management role by developing your leadership skills.
Engineering careers in management and consultancy
Engineering graduates are well suited to roles in management, as they often have strong problem-solving skills and the ability to ‘think outside the box’. Some graduates of engineering might decide to study a postgraduate degree specializing in engineering management in order to boost their career prospects, while many graduates will be able to gradually progress into a more senior position which involves having responsibility for other staff or larger projects and budgets.
Experienced engineers may choose to pursue a career in engineering management consultancy, working either as part of a consultancy or as an independent contractor. This means the opportunity to work on a variety of different projects at different types of organization, providing expert advice, and perhaps also taking on project management duties.
Similarly, engineering managers conduct a variety of tasks to apply engineering principles to business practice, for example by overseeing projects and operations, managing personnel and handling budgets. Engineering management is a career that combines the technological problem-solving know-how of engineering and the logistic, administrative and formation skills of management in order to supervise complex initiatives from conception to completion. As this is a senior role, you will usually need a qualification as a chartered engineer, as well as significant experience.
Other careers for engineering graduates
This career might particularly suit you if you have studied electrical or computer/software engineering. Your expertise in IT would be welcomed in a wide range of organizations. IT consultants work in partnership with clients, guiding them on how to use information technology in order to meet their business objectives or overcome problems. Having a good degree, prior work experience and a sincere interest in IT and consulting will increase your chances of finding work in this role.
As a quality manager, you would be responsible for ensuring that your company's products and services are fit for purpose and meet set standards, with quality assessment procedures in place to uphold those standards. If you understand the importance of quality to customers and businesses, have an eye for detail and are a good communicator, this could be an ideal career for you. A postgraduate degree and/or relevant experience would be useful for entry into this role.
Technical writers are needed in many industries to write descriptions or instructions to help people understand how to use a product or service. The strong practical knowledge that you’ve gained during your engineering degree will be very useful in this role, particularly if you have knowledge of software packages, as you could be writing manuals for high-tech products. Technical writers work for an extensive assortment of industries, from finance to nuclear energy. Again, relevant experience is useful, as are strong writing skills and the ability to convey instructions clearly in the relevant language/s.
‘What Can You Do With an Engineering Degree?’ is part of our ‘What Can You Do With…’ series. We have also covered art, biology, business, communications, computer science, English, fashion, history, geography, law, marketing, mathematics, performing arts, philosophy, politics, psychology, sociology, chemistry, economics and physics.
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This article was originally published in November 2015 . It was last updated in January 2020