What Does an Engineer Do? (Plus 12 Types of Engineers)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 20 December 2022

Published 11 October 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Engineers are professionals who design, build, invent and study machines, systems, products and structures. These professionals can specialise in a variety of subjects such as technology, mechanics, medicine and natural resources like petroleum and mining. If you enjoy STEM subjects, a career as an engineer may be fitting for you. In this article, we describe what an engineer is, answer the question 'what does an engineer do' and share salary information for different types of engineering professionals.

Related: 10 Highest Paying Engineering Jobs

What does an engineer do?

Engineers observe scientific findings and apply them to world issues to improve aspects of society. An engineer is a STEM professional who uses their mathematical skills and expertise to design and build solutions. These professionals invent, design and maintain a variety of machines, structures and data systems. Engineers are also responsible for adhering to their employer's specifications for budget and timeline. Engineers are experts in their fields, creating and innovating constantly.

An engineer's job duties depend on their employer, career rank and type of engineer they are. Engineers apply math, science and technology knowledge to advance other fields like technology, architecture and manufacturing. Depending on their specialty, engineers may design products for clients or modify current systems to make them more efficient. Some engineers study components, such as manufacturing materials to help build or improve the final product. An engineer's duties might include:

  • designing experiments

  • conducting research

  • consulting with clients

  • leading projects

  • writing technical reports

  • presenting their work

  • collaborating with other engineers

  • calculating project specifications

  • reviewing safety documents

Related: The 8 Main Types of Engineering Industries (With Roles)

What are the requirements for becoming an engineer?

While the specific requirements to become an engineer can depend on the area of study you choose, engineers typically have the following qualifications:

Education

The minimum educational requirement for engineers is typically a bachelor's degree. Professionals can major in engineering or engineering technology. Most programs allow for specialisation, which helps you gain detailed knowledge in a particular area of engineering. You can take core engineering classes, such as physics and, calculus while choosing other courses to suit your desired career path. For example, if you're interested in being a biomedical engineer, you may take some courses relating to health care.

Some engineering professionals may choose to advance their education to qualify for promotions, learn more about their specialisation or pursue more career opportunities.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Biomedical Engineering

Licence

To work on any publicly funded project, engineering professionals may earn a professional licence. You can get an engineering licence by earning a passing score on an exam, completing an engineering bachelor's program and proving that your professional behaviour aligns with the ethics and values of the general engineering profession. To do this, professionals gain experience while working under the supervision of an engineer who already earned their licence.

Though you can work without a licence, earning one can help you advance your career. You can learn more about the engineering licence by researching Australia's National Professional Engineers Register, which is a licencing organisation.

Experience

Some professionals may earn years of experience before beginning their studies for a licence. This practice allows you to gain valuable skills and knowledge that can help you pass your licensing exam. To earn experience, consider applying for an internship or entry-level position after you complete your bachelor's degree. Be sure to research the licensing requirements for your area to determine how many years of experience you may require to qualify for the licensing program.

Related: 12 Key Engineer Skills for Your Resume

What are the types of engineers?

The types of engineers depend on the professional's area of study. The area of study you go into as an engineer can affect your salary and work environment. Here is a list of the different types of engineers with their salary information:

1. Environmental engineer

National average salary: $66,001 per year

Primary duties: Environmental engineers focus their work on air, water and land pollution. They evaluate the sources and effects of pollution and develop systems for rehabilitating affected areas. These engineers work to control pollution in compliance with local, state and federal laws.

2. Industrial engineer

National average salary: $69,166 per year

Primary duties: Industrial engineers evaluate the machinery, materials, energy, labour and processes used to produce a product or deliver a service. They develop new approaches that increase efficiency and minimise waste. Industrial engineers spend much of their workday analysing production plans, schedules, materials lists and purchase orders to recommend better manufacturing processes for businesses.

3. Computer engineer

National average salary: $75,800 per year

Primary duties: Computer engineers work with computer software and hardware and networks, routers, printers and other types of related equipment. They continuously design and develop new computer-based products and solutions to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape of modern technology. Some computer engineers focus their work on hardware and design computer systems such as circuit boards.

4. Marine engineer

National average salary: $77,690 per year

Primary duties: Marine engineers work with all types of watercraft, including boats, ships and tankers. These professionals help design, create and fix watercraft equipment aspects like propulsion, steering, construction and design. They focus on developing better ways to manufacture and maintain marine equipment for the best performance. Marine engineers often work on a consultant basis and complete their responsibilities in offices instead of working on the watercraft.

5. Mechanical engineer

National average salary: $89,387 per year

Primary duties: Mechanical engineers work with machinery, including electric generators, gas turbines, machine tools, elevators, robots and heating and cooling equipment. Some focus on production equipment within a factory, while others focus on construction or farm machinery. Mechanical engineering is an extensive discipline and includes work with nearly any machine, assessing and improving its operation.

Related: What Does an Entry-Level Mechanical Engineer Do? (A Guide)

6. Electrical engineer

National average salary: $94,121 per year

Primary duties: Electrical engineers apply mathematics and physics principles to electrical systems within buildings, watercraft and machines. These professionals work with all types of electrical equipment, including wiring, lighting, motors and controls. They may also work with navigational systems, power generation, transmission devices and communications technology. They focus on the efficient transmission and use of power.

7. Aeronautical engineer

National average salary: $98,688 per year

Primary duties: Aeronautical engineers work with aircraft and spacecraft. They assess this equipment's design, controls, structure, and functionality and work to improve upon the current systems. They may focus on communications, navigation, propulsion or other aspects of aeronautical design.

8. Chemical engineer

National average salary: $99,060 per year

Primary duties: Chemical engineers assess the chemicals used for food, clothing, medication and other purposes. They study properties such as oxidation or combustibility to determine the most appropriate uses for various chemicals. Chemical engineers also work on developing new chemical products for different applications.

9. Materials engineer

National average salary: $103,629 per year

Primary duties: Materials engineers work with the raw supplies used to create a variety of consumer products. They may use plastics, composites, metals, ceramics and other items to create or improve upon items. They assess the strength, stability and other properties of these materials to find new uses or determine the best material to use for improvements to an existing product.

10. Petroleum engineer

National average salary: $134,369 per year

Primary duties: Petroleum engineers work on extracting gas and oil from the earth. They work closely with geologists to determine the best drilling methods for safety and efficiency. Petroleum engineers strive to develop improved technology and strategies for successfully recovering oil and gas resources.

11. Mining engineer

National average salary: $149,719 per year

Primary duties: Mining engineers design the systems that locate and extract metals, minerals and coal. Usually, these professionals specialise in the study of a specific mineral or material. They seek environmentally sound and economically viable ways to access these resources.

12. Biomedical engineer

National average salary: $201,136 per year

Primary duties: Biomedical engineers work in the health care field designing systems, devices, and equipment for patients' diagnosis, treatment, and care. They work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as physicians, nurses and researchers, to assess the current needs in the healthcare system and develop practical solutions.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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