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What do engineers do? Explore the different types of jobs

If you find yourself wondering how structures and systems are designed or built, you may be well-suited to a career in engineering.

Whether it’s building a tunnel, designing sustainable energy tech, or constructing machinery, engineers have a significant and far-reaching impact on the world around us and how we engage with it.

As the engineering industry continues to evolve to keep pace with the changing needs of society, jobs in engineering are more exciting, diverse, and unexpected than ever before.

A look at the different types of engineers

With a variety of options within the discipline, engineers are no longer confined to ‘traditional’ fields such as the construction and automotive industries.

These days, engineers are highly valued workers who are relied on to design, build, problem-solve, and maintain industrial solutions, infrastructure, and sustainable technology in areas such as the health, energy, agricultural, and food and beverage industries.

Associate Professor Tim Hilditch from Deakin’s School of Engineering explains.

We’re seeing a real change in the type of industries and companies that are working with us, that see the value in engineering and are employing engineers, including our graduates,’ Assoc. Prof. Hilditch says.

So, what are the different types of engineers, and what does each one do?

What does a mechanical engineer do?

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest disciplines in engineering. The job of a mechanical engineer can vary between designing, developing, and manufacturing complex machinery and products of all sizes, such as automotive and aerospace components, sports technology and products, heavy agricultural machinery, and machinery used in buildings (like air ducts and gas and fluid systems).

It’s about designing products, components, and solutions, as well as taking current designs and making them better. It also involves building or manufacturing those components, devices, or systems and maintaining them,’ Assoc. Prof. Hilditch explains.

What does a civil engineer do?

Civil engineers are the brains behind buildings and structures such as bridges, tunnels, dams, airports, rail, and roads. The work of a civil engineer is all about building and maintaining sustainable everyday structures and infrastructure used in modern society.

‘If you think about the way we live in society, whether it’s in a big city or in a regional area, the challenges posed by infrastructure – how we travel, how we move energy, how the water or sewage network connects together – these are all problems civil engineers need to solve,’ Assoc. Prof. Hilditch says.

'We’re seeing a real change in the type of industries and companies that are working with us, that see the value in engineering and are employing engineers, including our graduates.'

Associate Professor Tim Hilditch,
Deakin’s School of Engineering

What does an electrical and electronics engineer do?

Electrical and electronics engineers focus on how electricity can be generated, stored, distributed, and used, as well as the electronics that control these processes.

While power generation and distribution are the most common areas for electrical and electronics engineers to work in, they also find careers in many other areas.

Associate Professor Ben Horan from Deakin’s School of Engineering explains.

‘Electrical and electronics engineers work in many roles in power generation and distribution, like utilities companies, and more emerging areas like self-driving vehicles, renewable energy, automation and control.’

What does an environmental engineer do?

The job of an environmental engineer is to assess existing or potential impacts that human activity can have on the environment, and work to design and implement solutions to negate these impacts. Environmental engineers are an integral part of all types of engineering projects, from construction, mining, and manufacturing, to renewable energy and humanitarian relief.

‘There are opportunities for environmental engineers to work directly with local companies, start-ups, governments and councils across a wide range of sectors to make sure that environmental impact is as low as possible,’ Assoc. Prof. Hilditch says.

Environmental engineers can be found working in areas such as air and noise pollution, water treatment, catchment management, remediation of land and water, waste management and recycling, sustainable infrastructure, environmental policy, public health, and energy generation.

What does a mechatronics engineer do?

Mechatronics engineers are involved in the design and integration of electronic and mechanical systems for a wide range of applications. Some common examples are industrial robotics and automation, but really anywhere where electronic and mechanical systems need to be integrated to perform a particular function.

‘Mechatronics engineering is newer than some of the older engineering disciplines, which is quite obvious when you think about how it is the intersection between mechanical and electronic systems. Having said that it has been around for 30 years now so it’s very well established,’ Assoc. Prof. Horan says.

‘Like all of the engineering disciplines, mechatronics engineers end up in a large variety of roles and are often seen as very versatile due to their ability to work with both electronic and mechanical systems.’

How to become an engineer

Options for budding engineers are varied and plentiful thanks to the diversity of career opportunities and high employability rates across many disciplines and industries.

If you’re interested in becoming an engineer and you enjoy maths and physics, then you’re already on the right track. But to start with, you’ll first need to complete a bachelor’s degree in a relevant and approved engineering course.

Depending on your chosen area of interest, starting in one field of engineering doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it for life, as many fields require similar skill sets.

“Engineers are well known for their problem-solving skills and it’s no surprise you often see engineers in senior roles across many different, and sometimes unrelated industry sectors,” Assoc. Prof. Horan says.

You might choose to graduate into one area of engineering and later look to transition into another that piques your interest.

‘Employability in the sector is exceedingly high across all the disciplines,’ Assoc. Prof. Tim Hilditch says.

‘And while I would never advocate for someone to solely do something because they’ll get a job at the end of it, I think having such a wide range of options open to you from an employability standpoint means it’s much easier for you to find an area where you can get a lot of satisfaction out of your job.’

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Associate Professor Tim Hilditch
Associate Professor Tim Hilditch

Interim Deputy Head of School, School of Engineering, Deakin University

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Associate Professor Ben Horan
Associate Professor Ben Horan

Interim Head of School, School of Engineering, Deakin University

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