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A Career in Mechanical Engineering
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A Career in Mechanical Engineering

Information for school learners and students


A career in mechanical engineering is one of the most interesting careers to follow as it involves a tremendous variety of fields and activities. Opportunities for mechanical engineers are generally very good. 

Mechanical Engineering is concerned with the design, development, installation, operation and maintenance of just about anything that has movable parts. It involves the production, transmission, and use of mechanical power. 

Mechanical Engineers work in different industries and some job opportunities within these industries include:

  • Design: turning plans into new products or revising existing ones.
  • Production: planning and designing new production processes; maintaining equipment
  • Research and development: continually trying to find solutions to engineering problems, using new technologies when they become available.
Other fields of specialisation include:

Air conditioningHeat transferPower generation
AutomobileHeating and ventilationProcess design
AircraftHydraulicsProduct design
Applied mechanicsInstrumentationMachine design
AutomationMachine toolsPumping equipment
Bio-medicalMaterials handlingRefrigeration
Fluid mechanicsMiningSteam turbines
Gas turbinesNuclearTransportation

This list underlies the tremendous opportunities open to the Mechanical Engineer today. 

Mechanical Engineers provide the skills that industries require to compete in the world market. They utilise energy and raw materials together with machines and systems to create the products and materials on which the economy depends. Most of the moving man-made objects that you see around you, as well as those in factories and mines, are the product of mechanical engineering.  

Mechanical engineers develop and build engines that produce power from steam, petrol, nuclear fuels, and other sources of energy.  They also develop and build a wide variety of machines that use power, including heating and ventilation equipment; cars; machine tools; and industrial-processing equipment.  They’re involved in every phase in the development of a machine, from the construction of an experimental model to the installation of the finished machine and the training of the workers who use it. 

Many mechanical engineers concentrate on research and development because new types of machinery are continually in demand.  Mechanical engineers are involved in almost every other discipline of engineering.


Personal attributes of a Mechanical Engineer

A mechanical engineer needs to independently apply mature engineering judgments throughout decision-making with engineering problems. A mechanical engineer needs to accept responsibility for the decisions which he takes. He needs to apply engineering principles on alternative methods of mechanical engineering applications. He also needs to have the analytical ability for effective and appropriate engineering solutions to problems. He needs to apply the principles of quality and professional engineering standards.  

He needs to be able to conceive and optimize technical solutions outside the boundaries of text book applications. He needs to maintain a trust relationship in respect of team members and other people he is associated with in the workplace. He must not be inhabited in the ability to make independent engineering decisions. 

He should be a self motivated person with initiative to lead. He needs to be able to write clearly, concisely and effectively with technical reports. He should to be a team player as well as possess the ability to issue clear instructions to subordinates. He must be able to use technical and economic criteria in reaching effective technical solutions.  

Training - Universities

The Professional Engineer

To become a Professional Engineer, it is necessary to attend a university to take the four year degree of Bachelor of Science in Engineering in the discipline of Mechanical Engineering. This is followed by a three year training period of postgraduate employment in industry after which the young engineer can apply for registration as a Professional Engineer with the Engineering Council of South Africa. Those wishing to study Mechanical Engineering at a university should in general, be in possession of a school-leaving certificate with matriculation exemption with above average marks in mathematics and physical science at higher grade.

The following universities offer degrees in Mechanical Engineering:


Training – Universities of Technology

The Professional Engineering Technician

For those students who prefer a more practical orientated training, the schools of mechanical engineering at the various universities of technology offer courses structured on a basis of four semesters attendance at the university of technology followed by two semesters of experiential training leading to a National Diploma: Engineering: Mechanical. After a three-year (minimum) post-qualification employment period, the candidate may apply for registration as a Professional Engineering Technician with the Engineering Council of South Africa.

The Professional Engineering Technologist

After obtaining a National Diploma, the graduate may continue his studies for a further one-year to complete the B-Tech Degree. After a three-year (minimum) post qualification employment period, the trainee may apply for registration as a Professional Engineering Technologist with the Engineering Council of South Africa. Subjects studied are similar to those of university study, however, emphasis is less theoretical and more on the application of technology.Those wishing to study at a university of technology require a senior certificate or equivalent with above average passes in mathematics and physical science. However, other conditions of entrance can apply and prospective students not having these qualifications should apply to the university of technology of their choice for further details.The following universities of technology offer courses in Mechanical Engineering:

History of Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineering as a profession began in the eighteenth century with the advent of the Industrial Revolution when mechanical devices began to replace human or animal labour. The mechanical engineer, in collaboration with colleagues from the other disciplines, has been instrumental in the development of power generation, transport systems, space exploration, human comfort devices (air-conditioning etc), mining equipment and mechanical replacement parts for the human body. 

'There are dreamers; there are doers; and then there are both. We call those people engineers.'
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