Product engineers are responsible for the overall design, production, development, and maintenance of manufactured goods. They're needed in a variety of industries, and most specialize in one type of product or area of engineering. These professionals often work full-time in offices, though they may sometimes need to visit production facilities.
They also need to be able to work well with a diverse group of individuals. On the plus side, salaries in this field tend to be higher than average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median annual salary of product engineers is $71,139 as of February 2020. However, some product engineers may require graduate-level education before they can advance in this career.
Career Requirements at a Glance
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree required; some employers prefer a graduate degree|
|Degree Field||Engineering (various specializations)|
|Licensure||Licensure as a Professional Engineer (PE) can be beneficial and may be required in some cases|
|Experience||At least 5 years of experience required for many positions|
|Key Skills||Strong math, creativity, and problem-solving skills; familiarity with programs like Sigmetrix CETOL 6 Sigma, SolidWorks and Rapid prototyping software as well as C++|
|Median Salary (2020)*||$71,139|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monster.com job posts (December 2012), *Payscale.com, O*Net Online
Step One: Choose a Specialization
Engineers typically specialize in one field of production, so prospective engineers should consider what types of products they want to create. Figuring out their career goals can determine which engineering specialty they focus on as undergraduates. Some of the specialties that product engineers might pursue include electronics, mechanical, aerospace, computer hardware, and industrial engineering.
Step Two: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
The most common degree specializations are electrical, electronics, mechanical, and civil engineering; however, training in one branch can often be applied to other branches of the field. For example, industrial engineering programs focus on general principles of product design, improvement, and manufacturing.
Courses may include production planning, ergonomics, material processing, thermodynamics, product design, and statistical quality control. Regardless of the specialization chosen, prospective engineers should seek out programs from ABET-approved schools.
Additionally, finding a relevant internship while pursuing a bachelor's degree may be highly beneficial. Students may wish to find out what relevant companies are near their schools before enrolling in a bachelor's degree program. Students who are able to complete an internship in a position closely related to their desired career may have an edge for any full-time jobs that open up at the company. Internships are available in a variety of fields, so students may have multiple options when searching for one that suits their needs.
Step Three: Gain Experience
Most mid-level positions require candidates to have multiple years of related experience, so aspiring product engineers should begin by finding relevant work that will help them appeal to employers. Larger companies may offer formal classroom instruction to accompany hands-on training.
Licensure candidates must gain at least four years of experience as engineering interns (EIs) or engineers in training (EITs). These entry-level positions entail working under the direction of experienced engineers.
Step Four: Obtain Licensure
Possessing an engineering license is not usually a hard requirement for product engineers, but some employers may offer advancement opportunities for those who are licensed. Professional engineers are required to earn state-regulated licensure through a licensing board, such as the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying.
Specific requirements vary according to state, but licensure generally requires candidates to hold a degree from an ABET-accredited school. The process begins with passing the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. After gaining four years of experience as EIs or EITs, candidates must then pass the Principles and Practices of Engineering exam to become professional engineers.
Step Five: Advance to a Product Engineering Position
As they gain experience and show proficiency, workers can finally become product engineers and advance in the field. Product engineers may be assigned to more complex projects and be allowed to work independently. Some engineers can go on to supervise product engineering teams or serve as technical specialists, while others may advance to managerial or sales positions. Engineers who are certified may have better job and advancement opportunities than those who aren't certified.
In summary, the process of becoming a product engineer consists of choosing a specialization, earning an engineering degree, gaining relevant work experience, obtaining licensure, and working to advance to a product engineering position.