Materials engineers held about 22,100 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of materials engineers were as follows:
|Transportation equipment manufacturing||15%|
|Computer and electronic product manufacturing||8|
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||7|
|Primary metal manufacturing||6|
Materials engineers often work in offices where they have access to computers and design equipment. Others work in factories or research and development laboratories. Materials engineers may work in teams with scientists and engineers from other backgrounds.
Materials engineers generally work full time. Some materials engineers work more than 40 hours per week.
Materials engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering or in a related engineering field. Completing internships and cooperative-engineering programs while in school may be helpful for gaining hands-on experience.
High school students interested in studying materials engineering should take classes in math, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics; and computer programming.
Entry-level jobs for materials engineers typically require a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Programs typically last 4 years and include classroom and laboratory work focusing on engineering principles.
Some colleges and universities offer a 5-year program leading to both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. A graduate degree allows an engineer to work as a postsecondary teacher or to do research and development.
Many colleges and universities offer internships and cooperative programs in partnership with industry employers. In these programs, students gain practical experience while completing their education.
Employers may prefer to hire graduates of engineering programs accredited by a professional association such as ABET. A degree from an accredited program is usually necessary to become a licensed professional engineer.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Licensure for materials engineers is not as common as it is for other engineering occupations, nor it is required for entry-level positions. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires
- A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
- A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
- Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
- A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam
The initial FE exam can be taken after earning a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE).
Each state issues its own licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their licenses.
Certification in the field of metallography, the science and art of dealing with the structure of metals and alloys, is available through ASM International and other materials science organizations.
Additional training in fields directly related to metallurgy and materials’ properties, such as corrosion or failure analysis, is available through ASM International.
Junior materials engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers may receive formal training in classrooms or seminars. As engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move on to more difficult projects where they have greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.
Eventually, materials engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Many become engineering managers or move into other managerial positions or sales work. An engineering background is useful in sales because it enables sales engineers to discuss a product’s technical aspects and assist in product planning, installation, and use. For more information, see the profiles on architectural and engineering managers and sales engineers.
Materials engineers typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Persuading interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Persuading interest which might fit with a career as a materials engineer, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Materials engineers should also possess the following specific qualities:
Analytical skills. Materials engineers often work on projects related to other fields of engineering. They must be able to determine how materials will be used in a wide variety of conditions and how the materials must be structured to withstand the requirements of those conditions.
Math skills. Materials engineers use the principals of calculus and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.
Problem-solving skills. Materials engineers must understand the relationship between the structure of materials and their properties and means of processing, and how these factors affect the product. They must also figure out why a product might have failed, design a solution, and then conduct tests to make sure the product does not fail again. This involves being able to identify root causes when many factors could be at fault.
Speaking skills. In supervising technicians, technologists, and other engineers, materials engineers must be able to state concepts and directions clearly. When speaking with managers at high-level meetings, these engineers must also be able to communicate engineering concepts to people who do not have an engineering background.
Writing skills. Materials engineers must write plans and reports clearly so that people without a materials engineering background can understand the concepts.
The median annual wage for materials engineers was $98,300 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $60,580, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $161,080.
In May 2021, the median annual wages for materials engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Computer and electronic product manufacturing||$112,330|
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||106,430|
|Transportation equipment manufacturing||102,080|
|Primary metal manufacturing||82,380|
Most materials engineers work full time. Some materials engineers work more than 40 hours per week.
Employment of materials engineers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
About 1,700 openings for materials engineers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
As demand for new materials and manufacturing processes continues to increase, more materials engineers are expected to be needed to help develop these products and systems. For example, new metal alloys are expected to be developed to make airplanes lighter and more fuel efficient. A greater focus on environmental sustainability also may create demand for materials engineers.
For more information about materials engineering career resources, visit
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