Careers in Engineering Specializations, Career Paths & Earning Potential

Engineering makes our day-to-day lives possible. Engineers are the innovative minds responsible for creating, enhancing and improving upon all the products we use on a regular basis, from smartphones to running shoes to our favorite kitchen appliances. Their work allows for seamless driving along roads, assures that we can fly safely from one airport to another, and fights to keep the world around us healthy, clean and safe. Becoming an engineer offers a multitude of opportunity in an enormous number of professions, and it all begins with an accredited engineering program.

Career Paths in Engineering

Engineers work with a variety of technology and may also work with materials, chemicals, medical equipment, bridges, and even nuclear power – just to name a few. Just as there are countless career opportunities for engineers, there are numerous concentrations that prepare those engineers for the work they will do upon graduation. Here are some of the most common concentrations chosen by engineers during their course of study.

Computer Engineering

This popular concentration allows graduates to move into many areas of technology, including software and hardware engineering. Courses focus strongly on computer science, including computer architecture, system testing, custom design, probability, operating systems, networking and more.

  • Computer Hardware Engineer

    These experts design, create, test and maintain computer hardware. They might work with anything from new peripheral devices to upgraded servers, and they might innovate new hardware, such as creating a more efficient memory system.

  • Electrical and Electronics Engineer

    Electrical equipment is the realm of these engineers, who work in designing, testing, developing and supervising equipment such as motors, power generation equipment, communications systems and more. Those who specialize in electronics might create GPS systems, portable music players and much more.

Technology Innovation

This concentration is designed for engineers who are also entrepreneurs, who want to design and create the latest and greatest technologies within their field. Courses focus strongly on technology, business, management and the like, in addition to the fundamental engineering courses.

  • Biomedical Engineers

    Patient care is the name of the game for biomedical engineers, who work to find solutions to problems in the medical world. They can be found in research centers, teaching hospitals, universities, and even manufacturing facilities.

  • Engineering Manager

    Found in many industries, engineering managers oversee a variety of activities, including operations, production, testing, quality control, maintenance and much more. They work closely with other engineers to ensure that projects remain on schedule and on budget.

  • Chemical Engineer

    The production and usage of chemicals, food, drugs, fuel and many other products is heavily influenced by the chemical engineer. They use the principles of physics, chemistry, biology and math to design procedures and machines that manufacture these products.

Manufacturing

This is a concentration that is applicable to a wide range of engineering disciplines and career paths. Studies include those in green manufacturing, computer-aided design, materials and systems, research, proposals, supply chain management and more.

  • Mechanical Engineer

    One of the broadest careers in engineering, mechanical engineers are responsible for designing, building, testing and tweaking numerous types of devices, including tools, machines and engines.

  • Electrical and Electronics Engineer

    Electrical equipment is the realm of these engineers, who work in designing, testing, developing and supervising equipment such as motors, power generation equipment, communications systems and more. Those who specialize in electronics might create GPS systems, portable music players and much more.

  • Civil Engineer

    These engineers work on the various structures that we use every day, such as bridges, roads, airports, dams, buildings, water supply or treatment plants, and much more. They are involved in every aspect from design and construction to operation and maintenance.

Materials Engineering

This concentration is designed for those who intend to employ innovative materials to create new products. Courses students can expect to take include those in materials science, electricity and magnetism, fluid mechanics, biomaterials, mechanical processing and the like.

  • Petroleum Engineer

    These experts develop new methods for extracting oil and gas from the earth. They might work in laboratories, but they could also be found at drilling sites, often in remote locations or even in the middle of the ocean.

  • Chemical Engineer

    The production and usage of chemicals, food, drugs, fuel and many other products is heavily influenced by the chemical engineer. They use the principles of physics, chemistry, biology and math to design procedures and machines that manufacture these products.

  • Nuclear Engineer

    These engineers work with the research and development of systems, instruments and processes that pertain to nuclear power, radiation use and the like. They might work anywhere from nuclear plants to medical equipment manufacturing.

  • Engineering Manager

    Found in many industries, engineering managers oversee a variety of activities, including operations, production, testing, quality control, maintenance and much more. They work closely with other engineers to ensure that projects remain on schedule and on budget.

Chemicals and Additives

Great for those who want to understand more about how chemicals and additives affect our products, actions and day-to-day lives, this concentration includes courses in advanced chemistry, sustainable engineering, hydraulic systems, risk and benefits analysis, environmental law, biomaterials, human factors in engineering and more.

  • Chemical Engineer

    The production and usage of chemicals, food, drugs, fuel and many other products is heavily influenced by the chemical engineer. They use the principles of physics, chemistry, biology and math to design procedures and machines that manufacture these products.

  • Petroleum Engineer

    These experts develop new methods for extracting oil and gas from the earth. They might work in laboratories, but they could also be found at drilling sites, often in remote locations or even in the middle of the ocean.

  • Environmental Engineer

    Solving environmental problems is the job of the environmental engineer; they might be involved in recycling, waste disposal, public health, water treatment, air pollution controls, and much more that pertains to keeping the environment as healthy as possible.

  • Biomedical Engineers

    Patient care is the name of the game for biomedical engineers, who work to find solutions to problems in the medical world. They can be found in research centers, teaching hospitals, universities, and even manufacturing facilities.

Outlook & Salary Potential in Engineering

Engineering is considered a very stable job, mostly because of the nature of the work: engineers are required to keep things running smoothly, to create new items and procedures, to innovate new methods and products, and much more. Given that, the overall job outlook for engineering professions is strong. However, as with any other field, there are some engineering paths that offer more robust growth than others.

In addition, there are differences in pay between the various engineering professions. Though some positions simply pay more than others, there are the added factors of geographical location, the amount of experience and certain employers that can make a difference in the final take-home pay of an engineer. These five careers are good examples of the various job outlooks and pay rates individuals can expect when they graduate from an engineering program.

Biomedical Engineer Average salary $86,960 Growth outlook 27%
Civil Engineer Average salary $79,340 Growth outlook 20%
Environmental Engineer Average salary $80,890 Growth outlook 15%
Nuclear Engineer Average salary $104,270 Growth outlook 9%
Petroleum Engineer Average salary $130,280 Growth outlook 26%

Engineering Salary by State

There are numerous points that affect the income of engineers; one of those is the geographical location. Some states are simply hiring more engineers than others, usually due to a particular need; for instance, nuclear engineers will be in-demand in states that are trying to switch over to nuclear power, while civil engineers might see higher demand in areas that are affected by natural disasters. The following states pay the highest average salaries for those in engineering professions.

  • 1Alaska: $107,600
  • 2Texas: $100,330
  • 3California: $99,580
  • 4District of Columbia: $99,460
  • 5Rhode Island: $95,720
  • 6Washington: $86,310
  • 7Nevada:$85,970
  • 8Virginia: $85,650
  • 9Colorado: $85,490
  • 10Massachusetts: $85,100

Top Skills for a Career in Engineering

Though there are numerous career paths available in the world of engineering, there are some particular skills and traits that are helpful for any engineer, no matter what direction they choose in the field. Some of these skills are learned through experience and education, while some traits are simply innate in good engineers.

Strong grasp of science

Scientific principles abound in the engineering field, and understanding how it all works is vitally important. A strong background in physics, chemistry, biology and the like is a must for engineers, depending upon their particular career path and area of expertise. They must understand the concepts in every way, and be able to apply those concepts to solving problems.

Complex problem solving

The essential work of an engineer is to solve problems. Often those problems come with numerous elements that must be considered when searching for a solution. Good engineers must be able to look at the big picture, take all elements into account, and solve complex problems – sometimes with very limited time in which to do so.

Decision-making skills

Engineers often have several options to choose from when it comes to the materials they use, the process they try, the different factors that play into their research, and much more. They have to be able to make decisions quickly, based on the best information they have, taking into account both the short-term needs and the long-term goals.

Understanding of schematics, blueprints and the like

Much of engineering relies on blueprints, schematics, formulas, programs, maps and similar ways of offering important information. Engineers must learn to be able to not only read these effectively but must be able to pinpoint when something just ‘doesn’t look right’ or seems inaccurate. That deeper understanding is what sets a seasoned engineer apart.

Excellent communication skills

In addition to being able to write succinct reports with accurate details, engineers must also be able to communicate quickly with others in the field, get their point across immediately, and have the ability to listen effectively. Good communication can be vital to the success of the job, and even to the safety of team members.

Certifications & Licenses

Becoming an engineer requires having strong skills, in-depth knowledge, and a firm grasp of what is happening in a particular field. In order to ensure that someone has the know-how to handle the job, licensing and certification might be required. Many engineers seek out professional licensing or certification in order to prove their mettle and make them more attractive to employers; others seek it out because being licensed or certified is a state law for their particular profession. Here are five of the most common certifications and licenses sought by engineers in the United States.

Top 5 Certifications or Licenses for a Career in Engineering

  • Professional Engineer

    This very important license is required for many in the engineering profession; those who intend to submit plans to public entities, work with the government or be responsible for a worksite and crew, among other things, must have the license. The National Society of Professional Engineers offers the license to those who have graduated from an accredited engineering program, passed the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, gained four years of experience, and passed the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.

  • Engineer in Training Certification

    Offered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, this is designed for those who have not yet met the requirements for the Professional Engineer license but intend to do so. They must have completed at least three years of an accredited engineering program and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam.

  • Electrical and Mechanical Systems Certifications

    Designed for electrical and electronics engineers – but appropriate for any engineer who might work with or have jobs influenced by electrical power – these certifications through the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) include those in power testing, fire alarms systems, industrial instrumentation, video security systems designer, audio systems and more.

  • Civil Engineering Technology Certifications

    Also offered by NICET, these certifications include those in wastewater plants, asphalt and concrete, construction, erosion and sediment control, highway design, bridge safety inspection, water and sewer lines, and much more. Each offers four different levels of certification, depending upon experience.

  • Certifications for Energy Engineers

    The Association of Energy Engineers offers numerous certifications, including those in water efficiency, business energy, energy auditing, carbon and GHG reduction, sustainable development and many more. Each certification requires certain criteria be met, including a comprehensive exam and minimums of education and experience.

Emerging Careers in Engineering

The world is constantly changing and innovating, which means that engineering jobs will always be in demand. New career opportunities are emerging along with the changes we see on a day-to-day basis; for instance, climate change has fueled the need for those who work with the environment, while our busy work schedules demand someone who can make life easier in the office. As technology advances, we will discover more need for the products and services that engineers can provide. These engineering careers have a bright outlook, both in terms of growth and income.

Environmental Restoration Planner

Climate change and other environmental factors are driving a public outcry for protection and restoration of our natural resources and green spaces. Environmental restoration planners work with experts in biology, sustainable systems and conservation to create new restoration projects, such as developing safe havens for wildlife or reintroducing native plants and animals to an area. The job is growing faster than average at 15%, with an average annual income of $66,250.

Human Factors Engineer

Also known as ergonomists, these engineering experts design items for well-being in the workplace and other areas commonly used over the course of a lifetime. They study human performance and behavior, specifically in how we relate to technology, and create new products that take ergonomics into account. Though the growth of this position is currently slower than average, the good news is the income potential: The 2014 average annual pay was $81,490.

Logistics Engineer

These individuals make sure that the world moves as smoothly as possible; to that end, they work with transportation, cost analysis, cost containment, routing and shipping optimization, and information management to ensure that products and materials get to where they are needed in a timely manner. The work can be needed in everything from small businesses to major corporations. In fact, impressive job growth of 22% is expected from 2012 to 2022, and the income is nice at $73,870 on average.

Career & Job Resources

Dedication, persistence and commitment are indispensable for landing an engineering job. The following job sites and internship resources also provide essential tools for researching engineering openings, credentials, or professional networks. Thousands of engineering openings are updated daily including jobs in particular disciplines posted on smaller job sites and professional association career centers.

careers & jobs

  • ASCE Career Connections

    The career site of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Career Connections offers members a career fair, a job board, and career resources for building resumes, mentoring and career coaching.

  • ASME Career Center

    The American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ career center lists jobs by engineering discipline, keywords, employer and location. Members can post resumes, find organizations that are hiring, and research salaries in the engineering fields.

  • CareerBuilder

    CareerBuilder.com has a list specially tailored for engineers. Jobs are searchable by employer, discipline, location, job title and other parameters. Recent openings included jobs for engineers and managers in mechanical, HVAC, electrical, manufacturing, QA, energy, geotechnical, civil/structural, and field safety engineering.

  • Dice

    Technology focused Dice.com has more than 3,000 jobs listed in the software engineering disciplines. Job filters tailor engineering searches by location, employer, required travel, and telecommute options.

  • Engineering.com

    Members can search for engineering jobs by discipline, company, location and other factors, along with viewing or downloading career advice articles designed for engineers.

  • Engineering Central

    Job seekers can find a glut of engineering positions here, searchable by discipline, job title, or location. Visitors can also browse listings by company, recruiter, industry and experience level.

  • Indeed

    The emerging titan of job search, Indeed, now tallies more than 12,000 jobs in the engineering disciplines. Recent listings included openings for research scientists, manufacturing engineers, aerospace test managers, materials engineers, project engineers and managers, and weapons engineers.

  • Monster

    One of the world’s largest job sites devotes a section that currently lists more than a thousand engineering positions. Monster’s resource center for engineering provides sample resumes by job level along with a library of articles on engineering job search and career development.

  • TechCareers

    Powered by Beyond.com, this technology focused jobsite lists engineering jobs across the disciplines, with listings from featured partner companies in research, international communications, technology, manufacturing, finance, and security.