How To Become a Project Engineer

Female project engineering student reviewing blueprints at desk

Project engineering is an interdisciplinary field that blends aspects of project management with technical expertise in areas like engineering, manufacturing or construction. They are a management-level worker who is responsible for nurturing projects to fruition—from conception to implementation.

If you work well with other people and have a knack for keeping details in perspective, you may have what it takes to become a project engineer. The process of how to become a project engineer starts with earning your engineering degree. Take a close-up look at the process with this detailed career guide.

What Is a Project Engineer?

Project engineers can work in a range of industries, most notably construction/architecture, product design/test and manufacturing. A project engineer is responsible for overseeing the lifecycle of a project with the goal of delivering a project that is on time, within budget and designed to the necessary specifications. Essentially, these professionals manage many aspects of the project, including the budget, personnel and scheduling.

Project engineers must have a unique blend of technical expertise, management savvy and interpersonal skills. They outline the mission and scope of a project, identify the personnel who are best suited to bring it to fruition, troubleshoot problems along the way and inspire the team to make timely progress. The specific tasks of a project engineer will vary from one industry and project to the next. In general, however, these professionals may do any of the following:

  • Interpret the goals of a project and create a detailed plan for implementation
  • Acquire the necessary personnel, materials and equipment
  • Coordinate the work with all stakeholders, from personnel to internal stakeholders to clients
  • Serve as the manager of the team, track progress, report on progress to superiors and keep the project moving forward
  • Ensure that all aspects of the project comply with all regulatory and legal requirements, as well as any internal standard operating procedures (SOPs) of the company

Being a project engineer is as much about managing people as it is about managing a technical project. Effective project engineers are people who can inspire their teams to perform at their best. They also assume ultimate responsibility for the project’s successful completion.

Where Do Project Engineers Work?

The majority of project engineers hold office jobs. However, some of these professionals work at research laboratories, construction sites or industrial production plants. A project engineer may sometimes be expected to work overtime to meet tight deadlines.

As of 2020, there were nearly 200,000 employed project engineers in the United States. Their largest employers were as follows:1

  • Manufacturing companies – 34%
  • Architectural and engineering services – 27%
  • Government agencies, all levels – 9%
  • Scientific research and development – 6%

How To Become a Project Engineer: An Overview

Now that you know what a project engineer does, you may be curious about the process of how to become a project engineer. If you’re still in high school or even in middle school, you should talk to your school guidance counselor about your career aspirations. You may be able to adjust your current course load to prepare for your post-secondary education.

It’s ideal for aspiring project engineers to take advanced math and science classes. Strive to get on a track that will allow you to take calculus or at least pre-calculus in your senior year. Chemistry, physics and other science classes are also essential.

Since project engineers must manage people as well as technical projects, you shouldn’t neglect the humanities and social sciences. Courses in communications, English, social studies and psychology will serve you well. A foreign language can also be helpful, as engineers may sometimes travel overseas to complete engineering projects abroad.

The first major step in the process of how to become a project engineer is to earn an undergraduate engineering degree. There is no one universal project engineer degree you should earn; you could choose an engineering degree that specializes in electrical or mechanical engineering, for instance. 

After you earn a bachelor’s degree, you may decide to enter grad school immediately and earn your master’s degree in engineering. However, this isn’t mandatory. You can land an entry-level job with just a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

Do note that project engineering is a mid- to senior-level position. You’ll need to acquire at least a few years of full-time work experience as an engineer working on various projects before you can pursue a project management role.

Earning Your Undergraduate Engineering Degree

An undergraduate project engineer degree typically takes four years of full-time study to complete. You can expect a mix of classroom instruction and hands-on learning experience in laboratory classes. The specific curriculum will vary slightly from one school to the next. In general, you can expect to study the following topics:

  • The application of mathematics to engineering processes
  • Engineering design methodology and product development processes
  • Calculus and its application in the scientific and engineering fields
  • Electrical circuits, circuit analysis and power transfer
  • The principles of kinematics and kinetics in engineering systems

It’s a good idea to look for an engineering degree from an accredited university with a curriculum that also covers business and management topics. As a future project engineer, you’ll need to explore topics such as organizational management and behavior, as well as the principles of professionalism in scientific fields.

Should You Earn a Graduate Project Engineer Degree?

It isn’t strictly necessary to earn a master’s degree to become a project engineer. You could pursue this role with just a bachelor’s degree and at least a few years of work experience. However, if you’re finding it difficult to achieve a promotion or a new job at your dream company, you may later decide to return to grad school.

If you do decide to delay going to grad school instead of entering it shortly after graduating with your bachelor’s degree, then your work experience should give you an idea of your specialization interests. At the graduate level, you may decide to earn a degree that emphasizes a particular subfield of engineering, such as electrical, mechanical or civil engineering. 

At Grand Canyon University, you can turn your passion for STEM fields into purpose. Here, you can benefit from the full support of our learning community as you work toward your engineering degree. Apply today for enrollment in the Bachelor of Science in Engineering with an Emphasis in Project Management degree. This program encourages students to become innovative thinkers and ethical servant leaders. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to take your first step toward your future. 

1 Retrieved from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Architectural and Engineering Managers, Work Environment in December 2021.

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.