The State of the Mechanical Sciences Job Market in 2019

The State of the Mechanical Sciences Job Market in 2019

What does the job market look like?

 

Throughout 2019, Career College Central will focus on one fast-growing industry per edition. In this series, we will analyze new data in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook to provide an overview of the employment market in that industry and take a closer look at some common career paths in the field.

 

There are many people for whom the traditional American ideal of white-collar “success” just doesn’t appeal. These people are often hard workers and focused problem-solvers who prefer the physicality of working with their hands-on projects where success is objective: an engine roars to life, metals forge, or a massive turbine begins to spin. These are often the same people who grew up taking apart small household appliances just to put them back together again, who family and friends rely on to diagnose car troubles, and who draw true satisfaction from a long day of physical labor—not eight hours in a cubicle.

Often, this disdain for time spent behind a desk doesn’t begin with a job. People who consider careers in the mechanical sciences might be the same people who don’t want to spend four years in a traditional classroom, killing themselves for a bachelor’s degree. Fortunately, many careers that fall under the mechanical sciences umbrella require shorter amounts of education, and much of that education comes in the form of hands-on training rather than book-based instruction. Mechanical sciences students and apprentices are usually able to learn what they need to succeed under the hood of a car, atop a wind turbine, or on a construction site, rather than in a classroom.

Beyond the strong drive many people have to work in mechanical sciences, the field is rife with opportunity. Because the world runs on mechanics—from cars to airplanes to pipes and refrigeration units—those able to service them are likely to always be in demand, no matter the overall economy.

The U.S. Department of Labor expects employment of installation, maintenance, and repair occupations to grow by seven percent between 2016 and 2026, resulting in 388,200 new jobs in that time.

While it’s impossible to know how new technologies will impact the opportunities available in the field (consider the wind turbine technician career, which is the second-fastest-growing occupation for the 2016–2026 timeframe, while it didn’t even rank in 2012), even established specialties like automotive service technicians and mechanics can expect solid growth, adding a projected 45,900 jobs by 2026.

While many of these job opportunities don’t technically require more than a high school education, applicants who don’t have formal training in the form of a degree or certificate will find themselves facing strong competition for entry-level jobs. “Of these workers,” says the BLS, “those who have completed formal postsecondary training programs or achieved ASE certification should enjoy the best job prospects.”

Take a closer look at: Mechanical Sciences career options

Career colleges and technical schools around the country offer a variety of degree- and non-degree-granting programs that help meet the surging demand for mechanical professionals and help students begin on the path to fulfilling careers in the field. Here is just a sampling of the fast-growing career options available:

 

Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians

Entry-level education: Part 147 FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician school

Median pay (2018): $63,060 annually

Job outlook (2016–2026): Growing as fast as average (5 percent projected growth) with a projected employment change of 7,500 jobs.

On-the-job training: Yes

Working environment: Most aviation mechanics and technicians work in full-time rotating 8-hour shifts in hangars or on airfields near major airports. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “General aviation mechanics and technicians typically have more flexible schedules than those working for airlines.”

Because airplanes are complex machines that are subject to intense, detailed federal regulations and maintenance schedules, there will always be a need for specialized aircraft and avionics mechanics and technicians. These mechanics and technicians maintain and repair aircraft, as well as perform regular inspections required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Aircraft mechanics and technicians:

  • Diagnose mechanical or electrical problems
  • Repair wings, brakes, electrical systems, and other aircraft components
  • Replace defective parts, using hand tools or power tools
  • Examine replacement aircraft parts for defects
  • Read maintenance manuals to identify repair procedures
  • Test aircraft parts with gauges and other diagnostic equipment
  • Inspect completed work to ensure that it meets performance standards
  • Keep records of maintenance and repair work

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians

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Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics

Entry-level education: Postsecondary non-degree award

Median pay (2018): $40,710 annually

Job outlook (2016–2026): Growing as fast as average (6 percent projected growth) with a projected employment change of 45,900 jobs.

On-the-job training: Short-term

Working environment: Most service technicians work full-time, including some evenings and weekends. They’re often on their feet for long hours and sometimes have to do their work in uncomfortable positions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that “automotive service technicians and mechanics, often called mechanics or service techs, inspect, maintain, and repair cars and light trucks. Although service technicians work on traditional mechanical systems, such as engines, transmissions, and drivebelts, they must also be familiar with a growing number of electronic systems. Braking, transmission, and steering systems, for example, are controlled primarily by computers and electronic components.”

Automotive technicians and mechanics:

  • Identify problems, often by using computerized diagnostic equipment
  • Plan work procedures, using charts, technical manuals, and experience
  • Test parts and systems to ensure that they work properly
  • Follow checklists to ensure that all critical parts are examined
  • Perform basic care and maintenance, including changing oil, checking fluid levels, and rotating tires
  • Repair and replace worn parts, such as brake pads, wheel bearings, and sensors
  • Perform repairs to manufacturer and customer specifications
  • Explain automotive problems and repairs to clients

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics

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Electricians

Entry-level education: High school diploma

Median pay (2018): $55,110 annually

Job outlook (2016–2026): Growing as fast as average (9 percent projected growth) with a projected employment change of 59,600 jobs.

On-the-job training: Apprenticeship

Working environment: Electricians generally work both indoors and outdoors in a variety of conditions, traveling between homes, businesses, factories, and construction sites to install, maintain, and repair power and communications systems.

Most all homes, businesses, and factories run on electrical power, communications, lighting, and control systems to control their lighting, temperature, appliances, and equipment. Electricians install, maintain, and repair these systems to keep people’s lives and jobs easier, more comfortable, and safe.

Electricians:

  • Read blueprints and technical diagrams
  • Install and maintain wiring, control, and lighting systems
  • Inspect electrical components such as transformers and circuit breakers
  • Identify electrical problems using a variety of testing devices
  • Repair and replace wiring, equipment, and fixtures using hand tools and power tools
  • Follow state and local building regulations based on the National Electrical Code
  • Direct and train workers to install, maintain, and repair electrical wiring and equipment

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Electricians

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Heating, Air Conditioning, Ventilation and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Entry-level education: Postsecondary non-degree award

Median pay (2016): $47,610 annually

Job outlook (2014–2024): Growing much faster than average (15 percent projected growth) with a projected employment change of 48,800 jobs.

On-the-job training: Long-term on-the-job training

Working environment: HVAC work can be uncomfortable and dangerous. Technicians often work in awkward or cramped spaces, outdoors in inclement weather, or in buildings that are uncomfortable because the air conditioning or heating isn’t working. This profession has one of the highest rates of injury across all occupations, according to the BLS.

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) mechanics and installers work on the systems that control the temperature and air quality in buildings like homes and businesses. Their work is important not only for comfort level, but because climate-controlled environments make it possible to store and transport food, medicine, and other perishable items. Some technicians may undergo additional training (formal or on-the-job) to specialize in specific HVCAR systems or products like commercial refrigeration, solar panels, or radiant heating.

HVAC mechanics and installers:

  • Use blueprints and design specifications to install and repair HVACR systems
  • Connect systems to fuel and water supply lines, air ducts, and other components
  • Install electrical wiring and controls and test for their proper operation
  • Inspect and maintain customers’ HVACR systems
  • Test individual components to determine necessary repairs
  • Repair and replace worn or defective parts
  • Determine HVACR systems’ energy use and make recommendations to improve their efficiency

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

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Industrial Machinery Mechanics, Machinery Maintenance Workers and Millwrights

Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent

Median pay (2018): $51,6300 annually

Job outlook (2016–2026): Growing as fast as average (7 percent projected growth) with a projected employment change of 32,100 jobs.

On-the-job training: Moderate to long-term on-the-job training

Working environment: Most of these workers work in factories, refineries, food-processing facilities, and power plants or on construction sites. They generally work full-time during regular business hours but may be on call for nights and weekends—often on an overtime basis.

According to the BLS, “Industrial machinery mechanics and machinery maintenance workers maintain and repair factory equipment and other industrial machinery, such as conveying systems, production machinery, and packaging equipment. Millwrights install, dismantle, repair, reassemble, and move machinery in factories, power plants, and construction sites.”

Industrial machinery mechanics, maintenance workers, and millwrights:

  • Read technical manuals to understand equipment and controls
  • Disassemble machinery and equipment when there is a problem
  • Repair or replace broken or malfunctioning components
  • Perform tests and run initial batches to make sure machines are running smoothly
  • Adjust and calibrate equipment and machinery to optimal specifications
  • Detect minor problems by performing basic diagnostic tests
  • Clean and lubricate equipment or machinery
  • Check the performance of machinery
  • Test malfunctioning machinery to determine whether major repairs are needed

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers

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Material Moving Machine Operators

Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent

Median pay (2018): $35,850 annually

Job outlook (2016–2026): Growing as fast as average (6 percent projected growth) with a projected employment change of 43,700 jobs.

On-the-job training: Varies by type of machine being operated

Working environment: The vast majority of material moving machine operators work as industrial truck or tractor drivers. They may work outdoors on the roadways or in construction sites, or inside warehouses or factories.

All machine operators are responsible for the safe operation of their vehicle or equipment when moving materials from place to place. Variations within the profession include conveyer operators and tenders, crane and tower operators, dredge operators, excavating and loading machine and dragline operators, hoist and winch operators, industrial truck and tractor operators, and underground mining loading machine operators.

Machine operators:

  • Set up and inspect material moving equipment
  • Control equipment with levers, wheels, or foot pedals
  • Move material according to a plan or schedule
  • Keep a record of the material moved and where it was moved
  • Make minor repairs to their equipment

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Material Moving Machine Operators

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Small Engine Mechanics

Entry-level education: High school degree or equivalent

Median pay (2018): $37,060 annually

Job outlook (2016–2026): Growing as fast as average (5 percent projected growth) with a projected employment growth of 3,800 jobs.

On-the-job training: Formal apprenticeship

Small engine mechanics diagnose, adjust, repair, or overhaul motorcycles, scooters, mopeds, dirt bikes, or similar motorized vehicles. Some may specialize in particular makes and models of bikes or modify and design motorcycles for racing and enthusiasts.

Small engine mechanics:

  • Replace defective auto and motorcycle parts using hand tools, arbor presses, flexible power presses, and power tools
  • Connect test panels to engines and measure generator output and other performance indicators
  • Listen to engines, examine vehicle frames, and confer with customers to determine the nature and extent of malfunction or damage
  • Dismantle engines and repair or replace defective parts including magnetos, carburetors, and generators
  • Remove cylinder heads and grind valves to scrape off carbon and replace defective valves, pistons, cylinders, and rings using hand and power tools
  • Hammer out dents and bends in frames, weld tears and breaks, then reassemble frames and reinstall engines

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Motorcycle Mechanics

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Plumbers, Pipefitters and Steamfitters

Entry-level education: High school degree or equivalent

Median pay (2018): $53,910 annually

Job outlook (2016–2026): Growing much faster than average (16 percent projected growth) with a projected employment change of 75,200 jobs.

On-the-job training: Formal apprenticeship

Working environment: Plumbers in particular are often required to work odd hours. Since they’re on call to handle emergency situations in homes and businesses, they might have to head out to a job site on nights, weekends, or holidays.

According to the BLS, “the movement of liquids and gases through pipes is critical to modern life. In homes, water is needed for both drinking and sanitation. In factories, chemicals are moved to aid in product manufacturing. In power plants, steam is moved to drive turbines that generate electricity. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair these pipe systems.”

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters:

  • Install pipes and fixtures
  • Study blueprints and follow state and local building codes
  • Determine the amount of material and type of equipment needed
  • Inspect and test installed pipe systems and pipelines
  • Troubleshoot systems that are not working
  • Replace worn parts

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters

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Wind Turbine Technicians

Entry-level education: Some college

Median pay (2018): $54,370 annually

Job outlook (2016–2026): Growing much faster than average (96 percent projected growth) with a projected employment change of 5,600 jobs.

On-the-job training: Long-term on-the-job training

Working environment: Technicians are generally climbing ladders to work atop turbines as high as 300 feet tall.

As green energy initiatives continue to grow, giant mechanical devices will crop up in landscapes across the country. These devices, called wind turbines, convert wind energy into electricity. Three major components make up the wind turbine: a tower, three blades, and a nacelle, which contains the equipment that generates electricity. Wind turbine technicians, or wind techs, install, maintain, and repair all three of these components.

Wind turbine technicians:

  • Inspect the exterior and physical integrity of towers
  • Climb towers to inspect or repair wind turbine equipment
  • Perform routine maintenance on wind turbines
  • Test and troubleshoot electrical, mechanical, and hydraulic components and systems
  • Replace worn or malfunctioning components
  • Collect turbine data for testing or research and analysis
  • Service underground transmission systems, wind field substations and fiber optic sensing and control systems

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Wind Turbine Technicians

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Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers

Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent

Median pay (2018): $41,380 annually

Job outlook (2016–2026): Growing as fast as average (6 percent projected growth)

On-the-job training: Moderate on-the-job training

Working environment: According to the BLS, “Welders and cutters may work outdoors, often in inclement weather, or indoors, sometimes in a confined area designed to contain sparks and glare. When working outdoors, they may work on a scaffold or platform high off the ground. In addition, they may have to lift heavy objects and work in awkward positions while bending, stooping, or standing to work overhead.”

The BLS says “Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers use hand-held or remotely controlled equipment to join or cut metal parts. Welding is the most common way of permanently joining metal parts. In this process, heat is applied to metal pieces, melting and fusing them to form a permanent bond. Because of its strength, welding is used in shipbuilding, automobile manufacturing and repair, aerospace applications, and thousands of other manufacturing activities.”

Welders:

  • Study blueprints, sketches, or specifications
  • Calculate dimensions to be welded
  • Inspect structures or materials to be welded
  • Ignite torches and start power supplies
  • Weld metal parts together
  • Monitor the welding process to avoid overheating
  • Maintain equipment and machinery

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers

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Stay tuned for the next edition of Career College Central to take a closer look at the state of information technology careers in 2019.

 

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