Engineering is a highly rewarding career.
Anyone who loves science and math will feel creatively fulfilled if they choose to become a professional engineer— and make a nice paycheck on top of it!
But what are some typical professional engineering industries? How much do they pay? And what are the best engineering careers?
Keep reading to find out!
Types of Engineering Careers
Although they may share some similarities, the truth is that there are several different branches of engineering. These different niches have separate educational requirements, salaries, and career trajectories, so you’re better off familiarizing yourself with all of them before making a decision.
Here are some of the most common branches of engineering:
- Aerospace: Aerospace Engineering involves designing and testing aircraft. They ensure that every aircraft is safe and works according to its design.
- Agricultural: These engineers work to improve agricultural production and processing. Their main goal is to improve the efficacy and sustainability of farming practices.
- Biomedical: Engineers in this branch evaluate, fabricate, and custom fit prosthetic arms and legs. They also design the materials required to create these prosthetics.
- Chemical: A chemical engineer produces and uses chemicals in order to solve a large variety of problems, including those relating to pharmaceuticals, oil and gas.
- Civil: Someone who plans, designs, and constructs infrastructures. They also improve existing infrastructures currently being used in cities and towns.
- Electrical: These engineers design, develop and test different electrical systems and equipment. They’re sometimes referred to as electronics engineers.
- Environmental: Engineers that improve the quality of the environment and human health. Typically they do so via the preservation of natural ecosystems.
- Nuclear: These engineers research and improve the processes and systems used for nuclear energy and radiation.
Each of these careers are highly specialized yet helpful in your daily life. In fact, much of what you take for granted has been designed and heavily tested by an engineer: roads, cars, fuel, stoplights…
It’s precisely because of this specialized and essential nature that jobs within engineering are so fulfilling— both to those who work them and those who benefit from their work.
Annual Salaries for Engineering Jobs
Each branch of engineering earns an extremely competitive wage. That’s largely due to how essential their work is and how highly qualified they are. In many cases, the entry level salary for engineers is as high as many financial management positions (not even to mention median salary figures)--and more experienced engineering professionals can easily earn over $100,000 a year.
Here are the average salaries for common engineering jobs based on data from PayScale and Glassdoor:
Aerospace Engineer: $81,821
Agricultural Engineer: $64,074
Biomedical Engineer: $66,298
Chemical Engineer: $73,389
Civil Engineer: $71,543
Electrical Engineer: $76,880
Environmental Engineer: $67,015
Nuclear Engineer: $81,977
Keep in mind that these are average salaries based on data gathered from two different aggregators. Your entry level salary will vary, as will any increases you might see throughout the duration of your career. However, the fact remains that these are extremely lucrative careers— especially if you’re going into the chemical, civil, electrical, or nuclear fields.
Employment Facts for The Best Engineering Jobs
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over 1.7 million people worked as engineers in 2019. The majority of them are civil or electrical engineers, although there were plenty of other people working in the other branches.
In terms of job outlook, the BLS predicts that the engineering industry will grow by 4% from 2018 to 2028. Around 113,000 new jobs are predicted to be added— primarily to build infrastructure, create robotics, increase renewable energy, and extract gas and oil.
Becoming an Engineer
Let’s make something clear right now:
It’s not easy to become a professional engineer.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Here’s how you do it:
To start with you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in engineering. You can replace this with a math or science degree, but that will decrease your chances of finding employment quickly.
But even with all that schooling, you’ll only be qualified for an entry level position. If you want to break into the highest paying upper level jobs, you’ll need a state license and years of experience.
Seriously, this career requires a lot of work and is not something to get into lightly.
Fundamentals of Engineering (FE)
If you want a leg up on the competition, you’ll also want to take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam in your final year of schooling.
This test is issued by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) and takes place over 6 hours. It covers topics from chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical and computer engineering, environmental engineering, industrial and systems engineering, mechanical engineering, and/or other disciplines.
Passing the FE exam ensures that you can either earn an engineer in training (EIT) license or an engineering intern (EI) license.
Professional Engineering (PE)
Once you’ve earned your FE license, what’s the next step?
Anything beyond a training or internship position will require a master’s degree in your chosen engineering branch as well as a professional engineering (PE) license. This applies to all branches of engineering, but bear in mind that this part is optional. You don’t need these if you’re happy with a lower position; it’s only worthwhile if you really want that six-figure salary.
But let’s be honest— who doesn’t want that?
Working as an Engineer
In the beginning, your educational path to professional engineering is similar regardless of your intended niche. But after a certain point, each engineering discipline has a different set of requirements.
Because of this, your average working days can look completely different. Check out some of the projects you’ll be expected to undertake for each branch of engineering, as well as some of the employers who might hire you (not to mention these are 8 of the 10 highest paying fields as well):
1. Aerospace Engineer
Aerospace engineers work in businesses that build aircraft, missiles, systems for national defense, or spacecraft. They primarily work in manufacturing, design and analysis, research and development, and government positions.
Employers: Northrop Grumman, Garmin, Amazon
2. Agricultural Engineer
Typically, agricultural engineers work full time in office settings, but they’re occasionally required to make field visits to agricultural sites. They solve problems with power supplies, structure use, farming machine efficiency, or pollution issues.
Employers: Cargill, US Department of Agriculture, Anheuser-Busch
3. Biomedical Engineer
Most biomedical engineers work in manufacturing for hospitals, universities, and research facilities. They work full time designing medical equipment and computer software. This is an especially difficult career since it requires both engineering and medical science knowledge.
Employers: ATI, Emerson, US Department of Veterans Affairs
4. Chemical Engineer
Chemical engineers are employed by corporate offices and laboratories. They may be asked to direct operations onsite at refineries or industrial plants. Primarily, however, their work is dedicated to improving fuel, drugs, food, and many other products.
Employers: Tesla, Northrop Grumman, Xerox
5. Civil Engineer
Civil engineers almost always work on infrastructure projects and systems. As a result, they’ll typically work in offices or supervise a construction site. That way they can solve any problems that appear quickly and efficiently.
Employers: State and County governments, Consulting firms
6. Electrical Engineer
Electrical engineers primarily design, develop, and test the manufacture of electrical equipment. They do so in a wide range of industries— including telecommunications, government work, and research and development. Almost every electronic device you own was designed at least in part by an electrical engineer.
Employers: Microsoft, B&H Manufacturing, Northrop Grumman
7. Environmental Engineer
An electrical engineer’s professional environment depends largely on the industry in which they work. When they work with urban planners they’ll work in an office or city setting. By contrast, if they’re implementing environmental solutions in construction projects, they’ll spend most of their time onsite.
Employers: US Army, Tesla, Northrop Grumman
8. Nuclear Engineer
Nuclear engineers work in power plants or reactors to improve their processes and safety protocols. They can also work in the medical field studying the medical applications of certain types of radiation. This field has a small amount of overlap with chemical and electrical engineering but tends to be more narrowly focused.
Employers: US Navy, GE, Northrop Grumman
Though there’s a lot of overlap between these different branches (especially if you work at Northrop Grumman!), each has a specialized working environment. Ultimately, each engineering career is uniquely fulfilling in its own ways.
If you’d like to know more about each branch, check out the BLS occupational outlook handbook for architecture and engineering occupations.
What Skills Are Important For Engineers?
Every engineer should typically embody a specific set of professional principals. According to job listings for engineers on Indeed, employers are looking for the following traits in their employees.
- Strong interpersonal and communication skills
- Well developed organizational skills
- The ability to deliver work projects on time
- A strong, goal oriented personality
- Self motivated and detail oriented work
- The ability to adapt to situations on the fly
- Ability to understand and interpret product drawings
- Ability to learn new ideas and concepts
If you’re able to learn and practice each of these traits, you’ll have a much better job of achieving jobs within engineering. Be honest with yourself and you can go far in this industry!
Can Everyone Be An Engineer?
Whether or not you will be successful as an engineer largely depends on your interests and your personality.
If you enjoy problem solving through math and science, you’ll find a career in engineering to be extremely fulfilling. But if you aren’t interested or comfortable in STEM, I would recommend looking elsewhere for a career. There are many alternative careers that don’t require as much schooling or technical knowledge, such as accounting, project management, and real estate.
Goal oriented personalities who don’t mind working on their own for long stretches of time would do well in engineering. Typically engineers are highly motivated and technically minded people. Again, problem solving is a major aspect of engineering— so you’ll need a healthy interest in that!
If any of the above describes you, engineering could be a great career choice for you. Consider getting a bachelor’s in your engineering branch of choice, enrolling in a FE prep course, and starting down this career path today!
How Do You Advance in Engineering?
Advancing in your engineering career largely comes down to gaining as much experience as possible.
Work for several years in your field and earn a few certifications. Enroll in a PE prep course and take the licensing exam for your specialization. You should also consider getting a master’s degree or doctorate in your chosen branch of engineering. These actions will allow you to climb further up the job chain and land that highes paying position.
High ranking engineers tend to work as technical specialists or supervisors for groups of engineers. Their expertise is essential for leadership in complicated and high value projects. If you work in one of those positions long enough, you can even become an engineering manager.
Careers in engineering are highly rewarding, but only if you’re willing to put in the work required to enter the field.
You’ll need a four-year university degree and will have to pass several tests even to get started as an engineer. But if you stick around long enough to get to the end, you’ll find yourself with an extremely fulfilling career.
If any of this sounds interesting to you, then you should see if engineering is right for you. Take a local community college course or read a couple textbooks. If you like what you see, it’ll be worth moving on and getting a degree.