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How to Become an Engineering Manager

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Just as with other industries, engineering requires managers who can supervise other engineers and projects, spur on new development, and solve problems in an organization. Engineering managers are responsible for hiring staff, supervising employees, setting budgets and goals for projects, leading research and development projects, and checking the accuracy of the work produced under their supervision. They also coordinate and work with other departments within or outside their organization to ensure project completion and the use of best practices. Overall, they must troubleshoot roadblocks throughout projects and solve problems that hinder project completion, as well as lead the development of new products and services.

Large industry growth is expected in engineering, which includes civil engineering services such as the construction of large buildings, roads, and other infrastructure, in addition to mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and engineering consulting to different industries. It’s worth noting that as the nation’s infrastructure ages, it will need repair and expansion, generating greater demand for these services.

In order to become an engineering manager, one must have the proper education and training to know how to meet the various requirements of this position. An engineering manager must be well-versed in:

Experience and the proper degrees and licensing are essential for success in this field, while additional certifications may add to an engineer’s employability and specialized engineering management focus.

This guide provides a step-by-step path to becoming a engineering manager. The steps required are listed along with the time each step typically takes to complete and details such as admissions requirements, typical coursework, certifying organizations, and much more.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering or Engineering Management (4 Years)

Those seeking to become an engineering manager must first secure a bachelor’s degree in engineering management or the engineering field of their choice. There are many engineering fields to choose from, including:

  • Nuclear
  • Environmental
  • Electrical
  • Aerospace
  • Mechanical
  • Civil
  • Computer
  • Biomedical
  • Chemical
  • Geotechnical

Aspiring engineering managers should look for bachelor’s programs that are accredited by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET accreditation ensures a quality education that meets high standards in the field of engineering. ABET accreditation may also be required for some graduate programs, scholarships, grants, or employment opportunities. Students can earn ABET-accredited degrees online or on-campus, and those who choose online engineering management programs can typically complete practical requirements within their home communities or in nearby locations.

A bachelor’s degree in engineering management or another engineering field provides the education students need to secure employment, become licensed, earn certifications, and pursue a graduate degree. Students should seek programs that offer hands-on, collaborative learning, incorporating skills in mathematics, physics, logical thinking, oral and written communication, problem-solving, analysis, and evaluation. Some programs offer combined five-year bachelor’s and master’s degrees—an accelerated option for students who want to save money and time.

Admissions Requirements – Engineering Bachelor’s Programs

All engineering programs establish their own admissions criteria. Typically, the more rigorous the program, the more elevated the requirements, including steeper GPA and exam requirements, or even an admissions interview. Here are some examples of typical admission requirements from actual engineering schools:

  • Minimum high school cumulative GPA of 3.0
  • No deficiencies in fundamental engineering subjects such as mathematics, science or english
  • Successful completion of prerequisite high school courses such as chemistry, calculus, algebra, trigonometry, and physics
  • Minimum SAT or ACT scores
  • Admissions essays, essay answers or statement of purpose
  • Completion of the FAFSA (financial aid form)

Typical Courses – Engineering Bachelor’s Programs

Because engineering managers can choose a management degree or a degree in an engineering field, courses will vary depending on the area chosen. However, with most programs, there is a set of basic, core engineering courses required and general education. Some typical courses in undergraduate engineering programs are:

  • Calculus for engineers
  • Physics and labs
  • Principles of programming languages
  • Applied mathematics
  • Linear algebra
  • Micro and macro economics
  • Engineering design

In addition to the general education courses and core engineering classes, students will branch off into specialty courses for their specific field chosen. In the case of engineering management, the following courses are typical:

  • Introduction to engineering
  • Uses of accounting information
  • Microeconomic principles
  • Elements of intercultural communication
  • Organization and management leadership
  • Global engineering/sustainability/entrepreneurship
  • Probability and statistics for engineering problem solving
  • Lean six sigma methodology
  • Risk management
  • Introduction to systems engineering
  • Project management
  • System dynamics and thinking

Step 2: Get Practical Experience in the Field (1-4 Years)

Engineering management and engineering graduates who meet state practice requirements—including those related to engineer-in-training (EIT) or engineering intern (EI) licensing—can enter the engineering workforce, but only under the direction of a professional engineer (PE) as discussed below in Step 5. Professional work experience and practical co-op experience from academic programs can prepare new engineers to eventually become PEs themselves. Most board and professional certifications also require a certain number of years in the field.

Step 3: Earn a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management (2 Years)

The next step toward becoming an engineering manager is to obtain a master’s degree in engineering management (MEM or MsEM). Some may also seek to earn a masters in business administration (MBA) or technology management (MSTM). Graduate-level courses in engineering management are more specialized than those in bachelor’s programs. Engineering management programs usually focus on classes in economics of engineering, financial management, human resources management, quality control, and accounting. Taking a technology approach includes instruction in project management, operations management, health issues and safety, and general management principles.

Admissions Requirements – Engineering Management Master’s Programs

The following admissions requirements are taken from real schools across the United States. Note that requirements can vary significantly from one program to the next. For example, some master’s programs only admit candidates who have three or more years of professional work experience as an engineer, while others admit students right from bachelor’s programs.

  • An ABET-accredited bachelor’s of science degree in engineering or a related field
  • Minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 on the last 60 hours of undergraduate coursework
  • Official score reports from the GMAT, GRE, or MAT meeting the minimum score requirements
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Official undergraduate transcripts
  • Professional resume or curriculum vitae including required number of years of work experience
  • Statement of purpose
  • Required essays

Typical Courses – Engineering Management Master’s Programs

Students earning master’s degrees in engineering management complete courses specifically designed to promote evaluation, problem-solving, management, and communication skills. Here are some examples of engineering management master’s program courses:

  • Creativity and problem solving
  • Ethics and values in science and technology
  • Organizational learning
  • Decision and risk analysis in engineering
  • Engineering management science
  • Economics and financial studies for engineers
  • Engineering management strategy
  • Financial studies for engineering
  • Organizational behavior
  • Technical project management

Step 4: Establish State Licensure (timeline Varies)

Most engineering managers cannot practice independently without being licensed. According to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), licensing requirements are set by individual states, which means they can vary. The Council advises students to examine licensing requirements in the state where they intend to secure a position as an engineering manager. Students can research state requirements through the NCEES.

Some states require engineering students and recent graduates to earn special engineer-in-training (EIT) or engineering intern (EI) licenses by passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam, which tests for a minimum level of competency in the engineering field chosen.

Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam for Engineers-in-Training

The FE exam verifies that candidates have the fundamental skills and engineering knowledge necessary to work in the field. The NCEES offers FE exams in several concentrations including

  • Chemical
  • Civil
  • Electrical and computer
  • Environmental
  • Industrial and systems
  • Mechanical
  • Other disciplines

Engineering students and recent graduates should take the exam that best fits their area of concentration. According to NCEES, these exams explore knowledge in some of the following areas, depending on the engineering concentration:

  • Math
  • Probability and statistics
  • Computational tools
  • Instrumentation and data acquisition
  • Mass transfer and separation
  • Chemistry
  • Materials science
  • Engineering economics
  • Statics
  • Electricity, power, and magnetism
  • Circuit analysis
  • Signal processing
  • Electronics
  • Power
  • Electromagnetics
  • Properties of electrical materials
  • Fluid mechanics/dynamics of liquids and gases
  • Safety, health and environment
  • Material/energy balances
  • Engineering sciences
  • Environmental science and chemistry
  • Materials science
  • Thermodynamics
  • Water resources
  • Heat and energy transfer
  • Chemical reaction engineering
  • Process design and economics
  • Safety, health and environment
  • Process control
  • Ethics and professional practice

Undergraduate engineering curricula are often designed with FE exam requirements in mind. Students seeking licensure can usually find this information by searching online or by contacting the program director.

Step 5: Become a Professional Engineer (at Least 4 Years)

A professional engineering (PE) license is a voluntary, but valuable credential. Professional engineers typically enjoy higher earnings and advancement potential than non-credentialed peers. They are able to complete a wider range of tasks such as managing major projects, mentoring EIT and EIs, practicing independently, and serving the public directly.

PE Licensing Requirements

Engineers must meet the following criteria to become licensed professional engineers:

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam for engineers
  • A passing score on the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam (see below)
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least four years

Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) Exam for Engineers

This exam is designed for engineers who have gained a minimum of four years post-graduate work experience. NCEES offers the PE exam in 17 different concentrations including the following:

  • Agricultural and biological engineering
  • Architectural
  • Environmental
  • Chemical
  • Mechanical
  • Civil
  • Mining and mineral processing
  • Nuclear
  • Software
  • Structural

Engineers can prepare for the exam by reviewing PE exam specifications and studying the reference materials and supplied guide. Students are also encouraged to familiarize themselves with their state licensing board’s registration procedures before registering for a PE exam.

According to NCEES, each exam explores knowledge in its own area of concentration. Topics covered can be found by clicking on the specific exam at NCEES under PE Exam and then finding the exam specifications on each corresponding page. The exams explore knowledge in some of the following areas, depending on the concentration:

  • Measurement
  • Signals, transmission, and networking
  • Final control elements
  • Control systems
  • Safety systems
  • Computer systems
  • Hardware
  • Embedded systems software
  • Computer networks
  • Mass/energy balances and thermodynamics
  • Heat transfer
  • Kinetics
  • Mass transfer
  • Plant design and operation
  • Building systems integration
  • Electrical systems
  • Mechanical systems
  • Structural systems

Step 6: Consider Board and Professional Engineering Management Certifications (8 years or more)

Similar to the certification as a professional engineer, board and professional certifications are another significant way to advance a career in engineering management by focusing on niche areas in the field. These certifications demonstrate that an engineering manager is an expert in the field and can serve an organization well. The following are the most common types of advanced certifications.

Engineering Manager Professional Certification (EMPC)

The American Society for Engineering Management (ASEM) offers an Engineering Manager Professional Certification (EMPC). The program “provides a formal method for recognizing the knowledge and experience of professionals involved in the complex task of technical and engineering management, regardless of where they may be in their career.” This promotes using a common language and concepts by the various engineering managers around the world. Knowledgeable and skilled professionals through ASEM confirm a participant’s competency in the given area on a global scale. Benefits of having this credential include the recognition that a candidate knows how to reduce turnover in organizations, enhance productivity, promote innovation, and meet financial and project goals.

Requirements – Certified Professional in Engineering Management

Candidates for the EMPC must pass an exam. In addition, they must hold a bachelor of science in engineering management from an ABET-accredited program or BS or BA in a related engineering field with a minimum professional experience of four years. If a candidate holds a master of science in engineering management from an ASEM-certified program, three years of professional experience are required. If the master of engineering management is from a non-ASEM-certified program, four years of experience are required. In addition, if the candidate holds a PhD in technology, industrial and systems, or engineering management, no exam is required and three years experience is required.

A copy of the candidate’s degree transcripts and a curriculum vitae or resume documenting work experience with contact information of the supervisor to validate experience are required with the application.

Professional Engineering Manager Certification

The SME offers a professional engineering manager certification for advanced technical engineering managers to validate their skills and experience by obtaining professional certification. Certification is valid for three years.

Requirements – Professional Engineering Management Certification

Candidates must pass an exam. In addition, they must hold a bachelor of science in engineering with a minimum experience of five years. If a candidate holds a bachelor of science in engineering management from an ABET-accredited program or a masters in engineering management from a non-ASEM certified program, four years of professional experience are required. If the master of engineering management is from a ASEM-certified program, three years of experience are required. In addition, if the candidate holds a PhD in engineering management, no exam is required and three years experience is required. Notably, SME also offer an Associate Engineering Management Certification.

Graduate Certificates – Engineering Management

A number of engineering schools offer graduate certificates in engineering management. These certificates may give engineering managers an edge when competing for jobs or advancements. Programs can be found on campus or online. Examples of some certificates include:

Career and Salary Projections for Engineering Managers

Engineering management students may be interested in finding out career and salary statistics as well as projected earnings and job growth for the future. The field of engineering management is a lucrative career choice and has normal growth patterns for future job opportunities.

Engineering Manager Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2016) architectural and engineering managers earned a mean annual salary of $143,870 with higher wages reaching upwards of $207,000 per year. Industries with the highest concentration of these fields are:

  • Architectural, engineering, and related services
  • Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing
  • Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing
  • Communications equipment manufacturing

States with the most positions for engineering managers are California, Texas, Michigan, Illinois, and New York. In more detailed terms, here’s a breakdown of salary data in the category of architectural and engineering managers:

United States (178,390 architectural and engineering managers employed): $143,870 average

  • 10th percentile: $86,000
  • 25th percentile: $108,040
  • 50th percentile (median): $134,730
  • 75th percentile: $167,290
  • 90th percentile: $207,400

Also, data from PayScale (2017)—a site for self-reported salaries—suggests that engineering project managers earn the highest salaries in corporations such as URS Corporation, Inc, Kleinfelder Incorporated, and HDR Incorporated. Skills that tend to increase salary ranges include contractor management, product development, budget management, and Microsoft Project.

Job Outlook for Engineering Managers

The BLS (Oct. 2017) projected that architectural and engineering management employment opportunities will increase six percent between 2016 and 2026. However, manager positions in the engineering services industry are expected to increase by a rate of 13 percent in the same decade. On the other hand, manufacturing architectural and engineering manager positions are expected to decline six percent. By comparison, all occupations across the country are expected to have an average growth of seven percent between 2016 and 2026.

Helpful Resources and Professional Organizations

Finally, professional and educational engineering organizations support students and professionals throughout their careers. They provide career and training information, professional networking opportunities, continuing education courses, and more. Now-and-future engineer managers may find the following agencies helpful:

Featured Engineering Management Programs

Arizona State University

  • Online BSE - Engineering Management
  • Construction Management (MS) - Online
  • Engineering: Engineering Management (MEng) - Online
Southern New Hampshire University

  • Online MBA - Engineering Management
  • Online MBA - Project Management

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