Career Definition for a Forensic Engineer
Forensic engineers apply scientific methodology to investigate the failures of materials, components, products and structures. Forensic engineers are usually called upon to isolate the specific reason or reasons a product, device or substance failed in order to improve the longevity or performance of the product or to improve its safety profile. Forensic engineers often are used in product liability cases, a type of civil court case and, occasionally, criminal cases, to investigate and testify about the source of a product's design or an object's failure.
|Education||Bachelor's degree in engineering|
|Job Skills||Communication, critical thinking, attention to detail, mathematics|
|Median Salary (2019)*||$83,870|
|Job Growth (2016-2026)**||8% (all engineers)|
Source: *PayScale.com **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
To become a forensic engineer, you'll need at least a 4-year degree in engineering. If you want to be a forensic engineer in a specific specialty, you'll want to major in the relevant sub-field of engineering; some engineering specialties include electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, chemical engineering and computer engineering. Common courses in engineering include introduction to engineering, systems, distributed systems and fields, advanced mathematics and control theory; there is more specialized coursework for each engineering specialty.
Licensure and Certification
In addition to the required education, to become a forensic engineer, you'll need first to become a licensed engineer in the state in which you hope to be employed; licensure requirements vary by state, but they typically require several years of experience and culminate in the successful completion of the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Once you're a licensed engineer, you can complete the process to certify your specialty in forensic engineering; according to the International Institute of Forensic Engineering Sciences, this is a year-long process, where you'll show your experience in forensic engineering, fitness in technical knowledge and ethics and complete an oral and written exam.
Forensic engineers need a firm understanding of the scientific method in order to apply those principles to their investigations. Their jobs require an attention to detail and critical thinking, as well as the ability to communicate clearly, both verbally and in writing, for the purposes of gathering information about incidents and reporting their findings.
Economic and Employment Outlook
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), employment in engineering will grow by about 8% from 2016-2026, the average for all occupations. Salaries for forensic engineers will vary by where they are employed and their specialty within engineering. In 2019, PayScale.com reported forensic engineers earned a median annual salary of $83,870.
Alternative Career Options
Individuals seeking to become a forensic engineer may be interested in similar occupations, including occupational health and safety specialist as well as quality control inspector.
Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
People who work in this occupation look at workplaces to ensure they're run according to applicable rules and regulations, and in ways that are safe for people. They may take materials samples, evaluate workflow and processes, and look into workplace accidents. Occupational health and safety specialists may also develop workplace safety training programs for employees. The BLS reports that 25% of occupational health and safety specialists worked for local, state or federal agencies in 2017.
Employment typically requires a bachelor's degree in occupational health or a field like engineering or chemistry, followed by on-the-job training; some employers give priority to candidates with voluntary professional certification. The BLS reports that jobs in this field are predicted to increase 8% from 2016-2026, a rate that is average for all jobs during that same decade. The agency reported that occupational health and safety specialists earned median pay of $71,780 in 2017.
Quality Control Inspector
A quality control inspector looks at items to see if they've been manufactured according to the product blueprints, recommending changes to the manufacturing process to make corrections, if necessary. In addition to visual inspection, quality control inspectors may also conduct tests on items. Quality control inspectors may also keep records and prepare reports related to inspected products.
While many jobs require a high school diploma, job-seekers may have better chances of employment if they've completed some post-secondary education, such as in industrial subjects or lab sciences; quality control inspectors also receive on-the-job training. Experienced quality control inspectors may earn voluntary professional certification. Jobs in this field are predicted to decrease by 11% from 2016-2026, per the BLS, with workers earning median pay of $37,340 in 2017.