What Career Path Should I Take? 5 Lucrative Engineering Career Paths
By Kim Ruehl, PayScale.com
Everyone knows engineers never have to worry about bringing home the bacon. But, most folks assume that engineering careers are boring and tedious. This isn't necessarily true. There are a ton of interesting, exciting possibilities in engineering-a highly lucrative career path that, contrary to popular belief, doesn't require a graduate degree in order to achieve long-term success. If you're not familiar with the many engineering fields, you may ask yourself, "What career path should I take?" Here are a few options that can get you started with one of the most in-demand, well-paid engineering careers for people with a four-year degree:
1. Environmental Engineering
With Obama in office, and his emphasis on tackling environmental issues, most folks would agree that environmentally friendly careers are on the rise. An environmental engineering job is one of the most promising and, perhaps, the most attractive for prospective engineers. Cody Johnson, Principle Engineer for Shannon & Wilson, Inc., a geotechnical and environmental consulting firm in Seattle, puts into perspective why this field is only on the rise. "From a practical standpoint," he says, "if there are federal dollars being spent, it's likely that a good portion of the money will go to public works projects to shore up our aging infrastructure. So, in the current economic climate, there might actually be [environmental engineering] jobs out there for engineers." Like most engineering paths, environmental engineers do need to earn Engineer in Training (EIT) certification. Then, within the first five years in the field, you'll also need to complete a Professional Engineer certification. Both certifications, says Johnson, only ensure your ascent up the environmental engineering job ladder. Average Salary for an Environmental Engineer: $63,833 per year
2. Chemical Engineering
The benefits of chemical engineering careers are growing each day as our society looks for more environmentally savvy ways to tackle the production and use of oil, plastics, paint, and food products. Think of how often you fill up the tank, buy toys for the kids, or scan the shelves at the grocery store. These are some of the most basic products in our society, and chemical engineers are in charge of figuring out how to manufacture them-think compostable baby bottles and biofuels. All of this makes both chemical engineers' demand and income reliably high - two great benefits of chemical engineering for you. And you don't need a master's degree to ensure a long, productive career in this field. Average Salary for a Chemical Engineer: $79,345 per year
3. Electrical Engineering
If you've ever taken apart a radio just to see whether you can put it back together again, electrical engineering may be the job for you. The advantages of electrical engineering are found in the number of options for jobs in this field. Bill Culbreth, Associate Dean at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering, says students pursuing this avenue can "work for private industry or for the government. The construction industry, aerospace, transportation, automotive, and electronics firms also hire these graduates." And, if you get into any of these kinds of electrical engineering careers and decide you're ready for that higher degree, it's a great prerequisite for a highly lucrative future in nuclear engineering. Average Salary for an Electrical Engineer: $70,941 per year
4. Computer Engineering
Nobody can deny that computer engineering is here to stay. As we all look for newer, better and faster computerized electronics to help us tackle our ever-changing world, even in a tipsy economy, computer and software engineers are in constant demand. Steve Wong, Senior Account Manager with COMSYS, an information technologies recruiting company, says that the "industries that are strong are aerospace, telecom, and specialized technology. Those are areas that'll stay strong, and specialized technology, especially, is going to continue strongly." What's more, while larger companies are cutting back on full-time employees, the demand for computer engineering contractors remains steady. One of the sweetest perks of being a computer engineer is contracting. You may have the opportunity to work from home on occasion-something almost nobody would complain about. Average Salary for a Computer Engineer, Systems Software: $79,359 per year
5. Civil Engineering and Structural Engineering
If you've ever marveled at the efficiency of a highway junction or the power of a well-built dam, civil engineering may be right up your alley. Civil engineers work on public projects, planning the construction of new highways, dams, bridges, and other infrastructure mainstays. According to Gary Spring, Professor and Chair of the Engineering Department at Merrimack College in Andover, Mass., there are plenty of options for pursuing a future job in civil engineering, and you won't have to be in school forever, either. He recommends seeking out civil or structural engineering careers with a smaller to midsize consulting firm because the larger the company, the more they require their employees to be specialized. Plus, he says, "don't avoid engineering because you might someday have to earn an advanced degree. Most [of our] students don't go on for an advanced degree." The career path for a structural engineer is pretty steady. Once you have earned your certification, sticking to civil or structural engineering careers is one of your most stable options because, he says, "there is always a need for infrastructure improvements." Average Salary for a Civil Engineer: $66,638 per year
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Source: All salary data is from PayScale.com. The salaries listed are median, annual salaries for full-time workers with 5-8 years of experience and include any bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.
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