An Overview of Mechanical Engineering Internships & Placements
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Are you working towards a mechanical engineering degree? Fancy yourself a bit of an expert on thermofluids, computing and material sciences? That’s smashing.
However, these days a degree without work experience just doesn’t cut the mustard - which is where this guide comes in.
Featuring insightful case studies and essential career advice on mechanical engineering jobs, placements and internships, you’ll soon be up to scratch on everything you need to put your career in the right gear.
For further career advice, read our in-depth guide to Engineering Placements, where we put the spotlight on engineering internships, placements, salaries and more.
What is mechanical engineering?
In a nutshell, mechanical engineers design, create and improve the mechanical components and systems that make the world go round.
They apply scientific principles, technical expertise and a dash of creativity to turn great ideas into reality. These ideas could be anything from prosthetic limbs, 3D printers and toasters, to high-speed trains, driverless cars and supersonic planes that fly you from Tokyo to San Franciso in less than six hours.
Watch this inspiring video from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) to find out more about the future of mechanical engineering:
Getting mechanical engineering work experience
“Six months after graduating, 16.4% of engineering and technology graduates became mechanical engineers and 15.7% civil engineers, making these the two most common engineering occupations.” Engineering UK Report 2018.
There are hordes of fresh-faced students, just like yourself, who will do anything to get their hands on an engineering job - 38 of them per graduate role, to be precise.
If you want the upper hand, you’re going to have to arm yourself with professional work experience. So, let’s run through your main options…
Mechanical engineering placements
FOR: 2nd or 3rd years
DURATION: 5-13 months
WHEN TO APPLY: Sep-May
A placement, or year in industry, is a brilliant opportunity to spend up to an entire year in full-time employment before you enter the rat race. It’s a real job that pays a real salary. In turn, you’ll be relied upon to deliver projects that have an impact on the world around you.
This experience will give you the soft skills, technical knowledge and worldly wisdom you need to confidently take on the graduate job market. For example, at JCB you’ll join a team of world class engineers in designing industry-leading machines, engines and systems.
As well as giving you an invaluable insight into the industry, JCB’s mechanical engineering placements offer a competitive salary, 33 days annual holiday and a pension scheme. Not bad for a student.
Get an eyeful of JCB’s impressive achievements by watching this video:
Internships in mechanical engineering
FOR: All students
DURATION: 4-16 weeks
WHEN TO APPLY: Sep-Mar
If your mechanical engineering course doesn’t require you to do a year in industry, two or three stints as an intern will make a great impression on future employers.
An internship is a chance to put theory into practice by taking ownership of a project; something that will give you the edge when applying for graduate jobs in mechanical engineering.
If you perform well, your employer might even offer you a permanent position - which will take all the stress out of your final year!
TOP TIP: Engineers are great at thinking outside the box. So, rather than waiting for an internship to fall into your lap, go to as many careers fairs, employer presentations and recruiter workshops as possible. Meeting employers face-to-face is a unique opportunity to ask questions and find out more about specific roles and industries.
Mechanical engineering jobs: what can I do with my degree?
Lots of mechanical engineers think of their work as more of a passion project than a job. Take Adam Clayton. Adam won at life when he became a test engineer for luxury and sports car manufacturers Intertek Transportation Technologies:
“I am working in a field that significantly crosses over with my hobbies, so most of the time, my work doesn’t really feel like work. Every day brings a new challenge, and I find it particularly satisfying to watch or read a five-star review of a vehicle that I have had a role in testing components for, and know I had a small part in its creation.”
With a mechanical engineering degree and relevant work experience under your belt, you too have a real shot at landing your dream job.
Your ability to solve complex problems, manage projects and navigate tools like MATLAB and AutoCAD has set you up for a successful career in any one of the following industries:
Once you’ve decided on a sector that interests you, you can start thinking about which companies you’d like to work for.
A few top employers for internships, placements and graduate schemes in mechanical engineering are: 3M, Airbus, Cummins, Dyson, Eaton, Jaguar Land Rover, Powertrains, Network Rail, Rolls-Royce, and Siemens.
If you’re struggling to pick, have a think about what you want to get out of your placement. For instance, do you want a global brand like Dyson on your CV? Or would you rather make a bigger impression in a smaller company?
If you have time, try to secure engineering work experience with both types of employers so that you can make an informed decision once you graduate.
Browse thousands of reviews submitted by students like you to get an insight into what it’s really like to do a placement or internship…
Becoming a Chartered Engineer
After you leave university, you can jumpstart your career by working towards professional registration with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).
Becoming a registered engineer - either Chartered (CEng), Incorporated (IEng) or Technician (EngTech) - demonstrates your professionalism, improves your long-term earning potential and opens doors for working on exciting projects abroad.
To gain chartership, you’ll need at least four years of vocational training alongside an accredited MEng degree. It’s best to start by joining the Institution of Mechanical Engineers as an Associate Member - this will give you access to exclusive industry events and the chance to network with other specialists in your field.
How much will I earn as a mechanical engineer?
Based on the thousands of reviews on RateMyPlacement - submitted by students who have done internships and placements themselves - the average salary for students undertaking work experience in the engineering sector is £17,709 a year.
Mechanical engineers tend to bring home a considerably higher wage than the average Joe, and rightly so. Once you secure a graduate role, mechanical engineers can expect to start on an average salary of £26,101.
It takes hard work, commitment and a high level of skill to get to the top - but if you do, there is the potential to earn a tidy average salary of £41,808 a year.