Different Types of Engineering: Salary Potential, Job Outlook and More

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There are dozens and dozens of different types of engineering, but when it comes down to the basics, engineering is about using specialized bases of knowledge to solve a problem. Since we encounter a wide variety of problems, we have an equally wide range of engineering disciplines, many of which are highly specialized, designed to solve those problems. 

In broad terms, engineering can be divided into four main categories – chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering.

1. Chemical Engineering

  • 2020 median salary - $108,540
  • Typical required education - Bachelor’s Degree
  • Job growth outlook through 2029 - 4%
Infographic with the text 4 categories of engineering chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical

Chemical engineers use their knowledge of sciences – such as chemistry, biology, physics and math – to solve problems that affect the use or production of chemicals, food, drugs and more, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They often work in offices and laboratories, and nearly all of them work full-time, according to BLS.

Chemical engineers use their knowledge in the sciences as well as manufacturing to bring chemical processes developed in a laboratory to a commercial or industrial process to create products and then evaluate and improve those processes, according to the American Chemical Society.

Chemical engineers translate processes developed in the lab into practical applications for the commercial production of products and then work to maintain and improve those processes. They rely on the main foundations of engineering: math, physics, and chemistry (though biology is playing an increasing role). The primary function of chemical engineers is to design and troubleshoot processes for the production of chemicals, fuels, foods, pharmaceuticals, and biologicals, just to name a few. They are most often employed by large-scale manufacturing plants to maximize productivity and product quality while minimizing costs.

Similar occupations include biomedical or nuclear engineering and occupational and health safety specialists or technicians, according to BLS.

2. Civil Engineering

  • 2020 median salary - $88,570 
  • Typical required education - Bachelor’s Degree
  • Job growth outlook through 2029 - 2%

Civil engineers solve infrastructure problems. The projects they design, build and maintain span a wide range in both the public and private sector, including bridges, roads and tunnels; dams and water and sewer systems, according to BLS. Infrastructure such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Erie Canal and the Thames Tunnel in London were all made possible because of the work of civil engineers. Those are just three on a list of dozens of civil engineering landmarks listed by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

They often split their time between an office and project sites. Similar occupations include construction manager, landscape architect and urban or regional planning, according to BLS.

3. Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineers focus on the design, testing and manufacturing of electrical components, such as motors, navigation and communications systems, and power generation, according to BLS. They work in a range of industries, including research, manufacturing, telecommunications and more.

Electrical engineering is one of the industries broadest fields, which means the available jobs can vary widely from one sector to another. From working with circuits and making computers and other electronics to building fiber optic networks or vision sensors for cars, many disciplines employ electrical engineers.

Similar occupations include electrician, biomedical engineer and architectural and engineering manager, according to BLS.

4. Mechanical Engineering

  • 2020 median salary - $90,160BLS reports mechanical engineers earned a median salary of $90,160 in 2020
  • Typical required education - Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering
  • Job growth outlook through 2029 - 4%

Mechanical engineers design, build and develop mechanical and thermal sensing devices, such as engines, tools and machines. Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest of the engineering fields, according to BLS, and they can be found a huge range of products from electric generators to batteries to refrigeration systems. Mechanical engineers analyze projects to determine how a mechanical device can be used and then design and test machines to help the project. They can also investigate equipment that has failed to determine how part of the mechanics needs to be repaired, according to BLS.

Other similar occupations include materials engineer, petroleum engineer and mechanical engineering technician, according to BLS.

Other Kinds of Engineering

There are nearly as many types of engineers as there are industries overall. Here's an overview of a dozen specific types of engineering.

Environmental Engineering

  • 2020 median salary $92,120
  • Typical required education - Bachelor’s Degree
  • Job growth outlook through 2029 - 4%
  • BLS says: "Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. They are involved in efforts to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control."

Industrial Engineering

  • 2020 median salary - $88,950
  • Typical required education - Bachelor’s Degree
  • Job growth outlook through 2029 - 10%
  • BLS says – "Industrial engineers find ways to eliminate wastefulness in production processes. They devise efficient systems that integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service."

Aerospace Engineering

Computer Hardware Engineering

  • 2020 median salary $119,560
  • Typical required education - Bachelor’s Degree
  • Job growth outlook through 2029 - 2%
  • BLS says: "Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test computer systems and components such as processors, circuit boards, memory devices, networks, and routers."

Biomedical Engineering

  • 2020 median salary - $92,620
  • Typical required education - Bachelor’s Degree
  • Job growth outlook through 2029- 5%
  • BLS says: "Biomedical engineers combine engineering principles with medical sciences to design and create equipment, devices, computer systems, and software used in healthcare."

Petroleum Engineering

  • 2020 median salary - $137,330
  • Typical required education - Bachelor’s Degree
  • Job growth outlook through 2029 - 3%
  • BLS says: "Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth’s surface. Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells."

Materials Engineering

  • 2020 median salary - $95,640
  • Typical required education - Bachelor’s Degree
  • Job growth outlook through 2029 - 2%
  • BLS says: "Materials engineers develop, process, and test materials used to create a wide range of products, from computer chips and aircraft wings to golf clubs and biomedical devices. They study the properties and structures of metals, ceramics, plastics, composites, nanomaterials (extremely small substances), and other substances in order to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements."

Health and Safety Engineering

  • 2020 median salary $94,240
  • Typical required education - Bachelor’s Degree
  • Job growth outlook through 2029 - 4%
  • BLS says: "Health and safety engineers develop procedures and design systems to protect people from illness and injury and property from damage. They combine knowledge of engineering and of health and safety to make sure that chemicals, machinery, software, furniture, and other products will not cause harm to people or damage to property."

Mining and Geological Engineering

  • 2020 median salary - $93,800
  • Typical required education - Bachelor’s Degree
  • Job growth outlook through 2028 - 4%
  • BLS says: "Mining and geological engineers design mines to safely and efficiently remove minerals such as coal and metals for use in manufacturing and utilities."

Agricultural Engineering

  • 2020 median salary - $84,410
  • Typical required education - Bachelor’s Degree
  • Job growth outlook through 2029 - 2%
  • BLS says: "Agricultural engineers attempt to solve agricultural problems concerning power supplies, the efficiency of machinery, the use of structures and facilities, pollution and environmental issues, and the storage and processing of agricultural products."

Nuclear Engineering

  • 2020 median salary - $116,140
  • Typical required education - Bachelor’s Degree
  • BLS says: "Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation. Many of these engineers find industrial and medical uses for radioactive materials—for example, in equipment used in medical diagnosis and treatment."

Marine Engineering

  • 2018 median salary - $95,440
  • Typical required education - Bachelor’s Degree
  • Job outlook through 2029 - 1%
  • BLS says: "Marine engineers and naval architects design, build, and maintain ships, from aircraft carriers to submarines and from sailboats to tankers. Marine engineers are responsible for the internal systems of a ship, such as the propulsion, electrical, refrigeration, and steering systems. Naval architects are responsible for the ship design, including the form, structure, and stability of hulls."

Consider how an engineering degree can kick-start your career.

Joe Cote is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Follow him on Twitter @JoeCo2323.

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