If you’re thinking about pursuing a STEM career, but you’re not sure exactly which profession might suit you, spend some time thinking about your personality, strengths and interests. If you have a creative spirit, enjoy solving complex problems and are detail-oriented, you might consider a career in engineering. Engineers work in a range of subfields, such as mechanical, electrical or civil engineering.
Additionally, if you’re able to see the bigger picture as well as the finer details, you might consider pursuing a career as an engineering manager. What does an engineering manager do and what’s the pathway for becoming one? Dive into this career guide to find out!
What Does an Engineering Manager Do?
An engineer figures out how to solve problems, such as by developing new technologies or infrastructure. Engineers also seek to improve existing technologies and infrastructure for the betterment of society, such as by figuring out how to make a bridge safer and more durable. It’s the responsibility of the engineering manager to oversee all of the projects that the engineers work on.
Engineering managers start out as engineers, and then work their way up to this senior-level role. As an engineering manager, it would be your responsibility to ensure that the work of the engineers under your supervision meets quality standards, functions as intended and complies with all regulations, such as safety regulations.
The Pathway to Engineering Management Positions
Engineering managers have a great deal of responsibility and are expected to have considerable credentials, including at least one degree, a license and extensive experience, often paired with one or more professional certifications. The process of becoming an engineering manager is not a short one, but it’s well worth the effort if you have a passion for STEM.
Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Engineering
After high school, the first step in the process of becoming an engineering manager is to earn an undergraduate engineering degree. You could choose to earn an engineering degree with a concentration, such as robotics or electrical engineering. However, if you want to keep your options open, you may want to earn a general engineering degree instead.
If you choose a general engineering degree without a concentration, you could decide to earn a graduate degree that includes a specialization. The quality of the program is more important than the specific type of engineering degree you earn.
Look for an engineering degree that has been accredited by the engineering accreditation commission of ABET — the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. This accreditation assures students that the accredited program follows a rigorous curriculum that prepares them for modern engineering challenges. Plus, a degree from an ABET-accredited program is a requirement to obtain an engineering license.
The specific curriculum will vary from one school to the next, but in general, you can expect to study the following topics as an engineering student:
- Concepts and methods of calculus and its applications in developing engineered solutions to real-world challenges
- The analysis of forces on systems in a static state and the real-world applications of these analyses, with a look at the laws of friction and internal forces in beams
- Fundamental competencies in electrical engineering, including the role of circuits in electrical engineering components, systems and devices
- The principles of kinematics and kinetics with regard to engineering systems and analyses
- Concepts and theories of internal force, stress, strain and strength of structural elements when under static loading conditions
You can expect to take a blend of classroom lectures and hands-on laboratory learning activities. In addition, you may have one or more capstone projects, which typically take place during your senior year. A capstone project is a major research project that is intended to demonstrate the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired up to that point in your academic career.
Capstone projects can be exciting for engineering students because you may be allowed to choose your own direction or area of focus for your project. You may work alone or in a team to accomplish your objectives under the guidance of your professor. Put your best effort into it, as you’ll want to list it on your résumé and be able to discuss it during interviews for your first entry-level engineering job.
Depending on the particular school and program you choose, your engineering degree might include courses in business competencies, such as production and operations management, project management and organizational behavior. These courses will prove particularly useful for an engineering student who aspires to become an engineering manager.
Acquire Your Engineering License
In all 50 states, engineers must have a license to practice. You’ll need to fulfill the requirements established by your state’s licensing board to obtain your license. Although each state’s requirements may be a little different, they all require a four-year engineering degree from an ABET-accredited program and successful completion of the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam.
The FE exam was established by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) and it is administered by Pearson VUE. It’s a lengthy exam comprising 110 questions. You’ll have six hours to complete it.1 It is strongly recommended that you spend plenty of time studying for the FE exam, including reviewing the NCEES’s recommended preparatory materials.
This exam is intended for engineering students who are nearing their graduation date or who have recently graduated. Once you obtain your FE license, you’ll be able to pursue an entry-level job in the field. Note, however, that you cannot officially call yourself an engineer until you’ve gained field experience and passed an additional exam.
After you obtain at least four years of post-graduate, professional work experience (full time), you will be qualified to sit for the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. Upon successfully passing the PE exam, you’ll officially be allowed to use the title “engineer” on your business card.
Acquire Entry-Level Work Experience in the Engineering Field
An engineering manager’s job is not an entry-level one. Following the successful completion of your FE exam, you should expect to gain plenty of real-world experience in the engineering field. Some of the entry-level positions you could pursue include the following:
- Engineering assistant
- Project analyst
- Sales engineer
- Entry-level field engineer
At this point in your career, you won’t be working in your dream job just yet. However, it’s important to maintain a strong work ethic and a positive attitude. Treat your entry-level job as if it were an audition for pursuing the next step up the career ladder. You’ll need glowing recommendations from your supervisors to continue progressing along your career path.
Earn a Graduate Degree in Engineering Management
It isn’t necessary to earn a master’s degree in order to obtain your PE license. In addition, some employers may be comfortable with hiring an engineering manager with only a bachelor’s degree, provided that they have considerable experience and an excellent track record. However, earning a graduate degree is strongly recommended for aspiring engineering managers.
A graduate degree will set you apart from other job candidates – not to mention enable you to develop the skills, knowledge and leadership capabilities you’ll need for this senior-level role. There is some flexibility regarding the type of master’s degree you could earn. For example, you might choose to earn a Master of Science in Engineering degree.
Earn a Professional Certification for Leadership Roles
Not all employers will require it, but you may want to earn a professional certification in addition to your PE license. The American Society for Engineering Management (ASEM) offers two certification options.
The Certified Associate in Engineering Management (CAEM®) credential is ideal for engineers who aspire to move into a management role. The Certified Professional in Engineering Management (CPEM®) credential is designed for established professionals who already have some management experience.
If you’re an aspiring engineering manager with a passion for solving complex challenges, consider applying for enrollment in the engineering degree program at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Science in Engineering with an Emphasis in Project Management degree is an accredited program that instills foundational competencies not only in engineering science and math, but also in business leadership and operational management.
1 Retrieved from National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, FE Exam in August 2022.
Approved by the Engineering Project Manager for the College of Science, Engineering and Technology on Oct. 31, 2022.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.