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The different types of engineers

22 August 2019

Some people become interested in engineering because they’re attracted to the idea of building major infrastructure – airports, bridges, railway systems and skyscrapers.

Others have an interest in how things work, such as computer systems, electronic circuits, software and apps. Still, more are simply interested in making cities more liveable, or bringing fresh water to villagers in developing nations, or designing vehicles that can transport people safely into space and back.

There are so many types of applications in society that require engineers, and so many types of engineers to suit those applications. It means there is a broad and wonderful choice of specialisations for those who are interested in a career that involves putting things together and making them work.

As technology advances and industries require new skill sets, the engineering disciplines continue to evolve and change. This means the choices can also be a little overwhelming, so we’ve put together a summary of the major disciplines, as a starter guide.

Remember that no matter what type of engineering you choose as your specialisation, postgraduate study in Engineering Management, such as a Master of Engineering Management, helps to set you apart and prepare your future career for great success.

Civil engineer

For those with an urge to build major infrastructure that will potentially exist for centuries, this could be your field. Civil engineering covers many types of structures, from bridges and roads to railways and airports, dams and tunnels.

It can also involve smaller, more intimate projects in city spaces, such as parks and playgrounds, underpasses and riverside/coastal promenades, and major urban systems for utilities such as water.

Without civil engineers, our cities would break down. These professionals create the flow, in and out, of people and goods, services and resources, light and energy. They plan and execute for the future needs of the human population by building, tunnelling and connecting.

Mechanical engineer

Any machine that requires construction has likely involved the expertise of a mechanical engineer. Moving parts, changing temperatures, foreign operating environments, weight and strength of materials, etc. – they’re all the responsibility of the mechanical engineer.

The modern field of robotics is a booming industry for mechanical engineers, so much so that it’s becoming a specialisation in itself. But mechanical engineers might just as well be required in an agricultural environment as in a high-tech lab.

As automation gathers pace with the fourth industrial revolution, machines of various types will be employed to do the work previously carried out by humans, particularly dangerous and dirty jobs. Mechanical engineers will help build those machines that improve workplaces and that free up employees for higher-level purpose.

Electrical engineers are in high demand

Electrical engineer

For obvious reasons, with the digital age, the role and importance of the electrical engineer is changing dramatically. The smaller and more complex electrical circuits become, the more vital is the role of the engineer who is able to ensure they operate as intended.

That’s not to say that electrical engineers don’t still work on major projects such as power plants, mining developments, large vehicles and power solutions for major towns and cities. But they’re also now in enormous demand in the IT and technology arenas.

Any device or system that requires energy to operate may well have been developed by an electrical engineer. According to Klaus Schwab, the merging of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres are set to ‘disrupt nearly every industry around the world and transform entire systems of production, management and governance’. As a result, mechanical engineers and electrical engineers will find themselves in greater demand as technology has a greater impact on our lives.

Chemical engineer

The chemical engineer brings chemistry, mathematics, physics and microbiology into play to create new and exciting products for use around the house, in the medical field, by industry – in any arena that requires chemical products.

Examples of chemically engineered products include washing detergents, pharmaceuticals, plastics, processed foods, industrial chemicals, fuels, agricultural chemicals, fertilisers, insecticides, and many more.

In essence, the chemical engineer improves quality of life, whether it’s through the development of medications, more sustainable and affordable fuel and energy options, chemicals that enable new microelectronics or countless other applications of the specialisation.

Systems engineer

Increasingly, as various disciplines of engineering become more complex and technologically advanced, they also come together more often.

In the past, for instance, the construction of a metro rail system mainly involved civil and electrical engineers. These days, however, that rail system has to work with digital apps and artificial intelligence technology. It must communicate with bus systems, traffic control systems and weather data in order to predict demand in real-time. It requires security, not just in a physical sense but, more importantly, in a cyber sense. And it must all be developed in an environment in which passengers expect greater efficiencies and individualisation of customer experience.

This involves the coming together of numerous engineering disciplines on one project. That project, at its core, will require a systems engineer to focus on how the work of various disciplines will combine to create, manage and maintain the infrastructure. The Engineering Futures 2035 scoping study reports that there is strong employment growth of 21% forecast for software and applications programmers in the next five years, 60% of whom will be required in professional services.

Environmental engineering

Environmental engineer

Every infrastructure project, whether it be a road or a bridge, a mine or a power plant, has environmental challenges to overcome. These may be in the soil on which the bridge is built, the refinement of the raw product produced in the mine, the recycling of a waste product from an energy plant or the protection of a water supply.

The environmental engineer solves such issues through the use of chemistry, biology, geology, ecology, microbiology and more. They typically have a good, working knowledge of other forms of engineering.

For instance, if a bridge is being built in an area of seismic activity, the environmental engineer not only understands the way soil behaves under certain types of stress but must also have knowledge around the civil engineer’s design and materials options.

Aerospace engineer

A niche field of engineering, aerospace specialists are specifically concerned with the development of vehicles intended to fly – mainly aeroplanes, helicopters and spacecraft. The aerospace engineer might work on the newest passenger aircraft, a hi-tech and highly secretive fighter jet, or a rocket built to launch a satellite to a distant planet.

Regardless of the engineering field you may work in, learn more about becoming a leader in your industry by studying a Master of Engineering Management with SCU Online.