Requirements and Opportunities
You will need a bachelor's degree even for an entry-level engineering job, and that degree must be in engineering, of course. Occasionally, however, graduates with a degree in math or the physical sciences may qualify for consideration for these positions. Many engineers can cross disciplines. Most two- and four-year colleges have programs in engineering technology. This subcategory allows you to perform engineering-related work in a variety of fields. A degree in engineering technology does not qualify you to register as a professional engineer, however. As in all things, the more advanced the degree you achieve, the more marketable you are. Graduate training is necessary for teaching and research jobs, but it is not a requirement for most government jobs.
Engineering Degree Programs
There are some 360 colleges that are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET), and approximately 230 colleges offer accredited programs in engineering technology. ABET accreditation is based on a test of the student's abilities. As with any other college degree, always make sure that any school you attend is accredited.
In order to get into an undergraduate engineering school, you need a background in mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus) and science (biology, chemistry, and physics), in addition to liberal arts courses. A standard four-year college curriculum consists of two years studying mathematics, basic sciences, introductory engineering, humanities, and social sciences. The second two years includes courses in engineering, with a concentration in one specialty.
All fifty states require licensing for engineers who deal directly with the public. This includes most government engineering jobs. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PE). In order to earn a PE license, an engineer must have earned a degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program, have four years of on-the-job experience, and have successfully completed a state examination.
Recent graduates can start the licensing process by taking the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination upon graduation. If you pass this you are called an engineer in training (EIT) or an engineer intern (EI). After some work experience, EITs can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.
Most states recognize engineering licenses from other states. Most civil, electrical, mechanical, and chemical engineers are licensed PEs. Fledgling engineers work under the supervision of experienced engineers who serve as their mentors. As new engineers gather more experience, they are given more difficult projects and more independence.
There are about 1.4 million engineers working today. Federal, state, and local governments employ some 194,000 engineers. About 91,000 are in the federal government, mostly in the Departments of Defense, Transportation, Agriculture, Interior, and Energy, as well as in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Most engineers in state and local government agencies work in highway and public works departments.
In 2005, salaries for government engineering jobs (for employees who had earned at least a bachelor's degree) averaged between $70,086 and $100,059.