Mechanical engineers use the principles of engineering to analyze, design, and manufacture machines. They understand the mathematic and scientific principles behind the way energy is used, generated, and distributed, and they apply that knowledge to provide expert advice on how machines and tools work. Mechanical engineers specialize in controlling the movement, use, and automation of machinery or any kind of tool. Becoming a mechanical engineer requires either completion of an engineering degree from a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) or a college-level degree in a related subject combined with work experience within the field of engineering. Those without an engineering degree typically seek professional registration within a specific area of engineering.
It is important to keep up-to-date on your technical skills. Things change, and professional development through continuing education is good for you, both as an engineer and as a person.
Stacey OberSenior Manager of Public Relations and Outreach for the National Society of Professional Engineers
Getting a Mechanical Engineering License and Professional Membership
Because mechanical engineers play a role in the development of most mechanical devices, the public depends on the work they do to create the machines we use every day, such as aircrafts and medical devices. The work of a mechanical engineer is directly related to public safety, and engineers must be licensed in order to work professionally. The minimum amount of education required to work in the field is a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or a closely related area. Course work in mechanical engineering programs will include advanced physics and math, such as calculus, partial and differential equations, heat transfer, fluid mechanics, solid mechanics, and thermodynamics. Many students go on to get a master’s or doctoral degree in mechanical engineering, and those graduates must also obtain a license to work professionally. According to Stacey Ober, senior manager of public relations and outreach for the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), licensure is a must for anyone who wishes to hold a position of authority in engineering, such as consulting, working for the government, or owning an engineering firm.
The first step toward getting a license is passing the national Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, which is usually taken around the time of graduation. All graduates must pass this test to work in any way as an engineer. However, passing the FE exam will only allow you to work as an intern or engineer-in-training under the supervision of a licensed engineer; it is not a test for licensure. After completing around four years of supervised work, engineers must pass the Principle and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam, which is state-specific, in order to obtain a license. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) administers and grades both the FE and PE exam. "[The FE and PE] are two big, eight-hour exams," said Ober, "and you’re showing the public and other engineers, clients, and employers that you have the competency to practice engineering in your field."
Licensed mechanical engineers often apply for membership with a professional engineering association to stay abreast of new developments in the field and connect with fellow mechanical engineers. Major engineering associations include the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, National Society of Professional Engineers, and the American Society for Engineering Education.
Maintaining a Mechanical Engineering License and Professional Membership
The field of mechanical engineering is constantly changing as engineers across the globe adapt to current mechanical needs and respond to technological developments. Because mechanical engineers must be aware of these changes and trends to effectively do their jobs, continuing education is required to maintain an engineering license. "It is important to keep up-to-date on your technical skills," Ober said. "Things change, and professional development through continuing education is good for you, both as an engineer and as a person."
The exact continuing education requirements for license renewal are determined by the individual states. The NSPE provides a chart of continuing education requirements for each state here. It is important to contact your state’s board of engineering any time you need to renew your license in order to make sure you are aware of any new developments in state requirements.
Continuing education for license renewal usually entails around 15 to 45 hours of coursework, independent study, or seminar time in an area relevant to your particular field. Engineers typically need to renew their licenses every one to three years, depending on their state. There are many options available for continuing education within engineering, and online courses and seminars are becoming popular. The NSPE provides Web seminars in areas such as adapting to politics while maintaining engineering ethics, social media in engineering, and career success. The NSPE also provides full courses online in areas such as conflicting interests in ethics, employment practices, and promoting public health, safety and welfare. It is common for engineers to complete a combination of coursework, independent study and seminars in order to reach their required amount of continuing education time. "The majority of states require some type of continuing education every year in order to keep your license, whether it be technical education or professional development education," Ober said. "Most of our members do both."
To maintain membership with an engineering association, most members must pay annual dues and any additional dues required for the specific committees in which they are involved.