Can a Mechanical Engineer Become a Structural Engineer?

by Kara Page; Updated September 26, 2017

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest disciplines in the field of engineering, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and mechanical engineers may specialize in areas such as internal combustion engines, industrial production equipment or machine tools. However, it is not uncommon for engineers to find they wish to switch disciplines. In the case of structural engineering, mechanical engineers may find they need to obtain another degree to begin working in this field.

Job Comparison

Mechanical engineers design and manufacture tools, engines and other types of mechanical devices, typically focusing on either machines that produce power, such as gas turbines, or machines that use power, such as elevators. Structural engineering is a branch of civil engineering that focuses on structures such as buildings and bridges. In some cases they may work on “un-building” structures either for demolition or repair.

Education Requirements

All entry-level engineering jobs require the worker possess a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in engineering, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Engineers typically earn their degree in the area in which they wish to work; mechanical engineers possess a mechanical engineering degree, and structural engineers possess a civil engineering degree. However, StateUniversity.com reports that while a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering will usually suffice to find work, structural engineers must possess a master’s degree in either civil or structural engineering. Therefore, a mechanical engineer with only a bachelor’s degree will not be able to find work as a structural engineer.

Mechanical to Structural

Mechanical engineers with a bachelor’s degree have two options when pursuing a master’s degree in structural engineering, according to Education-Portal.com. The first is to pursue a Master of Science in structural engineering, which offers courses that provide a background in civil engineering and focuses on structures. This degree qualifies engineers to work both as structural engineers or to find work in other areas of structural engineering, such as monitoring the health of structures. The second option is to pursue a Master of Engineering in with a focus on structural engineering, which is made up mostly of classes specifically focuses on becoming a structural engineer and obtaining the appropriate license.

Outlook

Structural engineers enjoy a significantly better job outlook than mechanical engineers, encouraging many to make the switch in order to find more job opportunities. The bureau reports that while mechanical engineers were forecast to see a 6 percent employment rate increase between 2008 and 2018, civil engineers, including structural engineers, will see an increase of 24 percent in their employment rate. This faster-than-average growth is due to the fact that the nation requires both more infrastructure for a growing population, as well as improvements on existing infrastructure.

About the Author

Kara Page has been a freelance writer and editor since 2007. She maintains several blogs on travel, music, food and more. She is also a contributing writer for Suite101 and has articles published on eHow and Answerbag. Page holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of North Texas.