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What are the 5 Major Categories of Engineering?

Jun 18, 2023 · 5 minutes to read

Engineering is an in-demand STEM field that can become a lucrative career. There are many opportunities available to engineers in a diverse range of industries. If you enjoy creative problem solving, math, and working with others, you can likely work as an engineer in areas as varied as construction, medicine, technology, renewable energy, and many others.

Most engineering jobs fall into one of five major categories: Civil Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. Here we’ll take a closer look at each of these disciplines.

1. Civil Engineering

Civil engineers design, construct, and maintain physical structures used by the public. This includes roads, bridges, tunnels, dams, public transit systems, and other similar projects. This is probably the most recognizable type of engineering that the general public is familiar with. Many civil engineers today specialize in building sustainable and eco-friendly projects.

Some of the earliest engineers were likely civil engineers. Historical structures such as the Great Wall of China and Roman aqueducts are early feats of civil engineering. The Panama Canal, Hoover Dam, and the Eiffel Tower are more modern examples.

2. Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineers use chemistry, biology, math, and physics to design and manufacture materials and products. They may create industrial or commercial chemicals, make pharmaceuticals, or perform experiments in a lab. Many chemical engineers also focus on making more eco-friendly products, such as alternative fuels or safer insecticides.

Engineers within this field are in high demand. A wide range of industries rely on chemical engineers to help them develop their products.

3. Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineers design, test, and maintain electrical equipment and electronics. They work on both small and large projects, from the microchips used in computers to the complex satellite orbiting the earth. Though most electrical engineers work in an office or lab environment, they may also work on-site for some projects.

Electrical engineering is a relatively new branch of engineering. It was introduced in the late 19th century as our understanding of the science behind electricity and knowledge of how to control it began to grow. Telegraph networks were some of the first projects that electrical engineers worked on.

4. Industrial Engineering

Industrial engineers design equipment, products, buildings, information systems, and more. Their design work is often focused on reducing costs, improving product quality, and increasing efficiency. They often need to prioritize safety and productivity within their projects.

Due to the broad nature of their work, industrial engineers are often qualified to work in a variety of industries, unlike the other categories. It’s not uncommon to find industrial engineers working in fields as diverse as apparel, entertainment, finance, or manufacturing, just to name a few.

5. Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineers develop, build, and maintain mechanical systems and other devices in motion. This is another diverse field of engineering, which requires creativity, problem solving, and analytical skills to succeed.

Like civil engineering, mechanical engineering has ancient roots. These engineers use some of the oldest simple machines—like wheels, springs, screws, and axels—to create the complex ones we use today. And similar to industrial engineering, mechanical engineering is also a diverse field. Mechanical engineers may work in variety of industries, from automotive to aerospace.

What is the job outlook for engineers?

Engineers are in demand across a wide range of industries. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that job growth for engineers will increase by about 3% between 2019 and 2029, about as fast the average for all occupations.

However, engineers have an advantage over other occupations in their earning potential. The BLS puts the median salary for engineers at $83,160 as of May 2020. This is nearly double the median annual wage for all occupations. Petroleum engineers had the highest median salary at just over $137,000 per year.

How can engineers protect themselves on the job?

No matter what field of engineering you enter, it’s important to consider how you might protect your professional reputation. Engineers are responsible for designing, building and maintaining a variety of products and structures. They may also give others advice that is used to make decisions. Anything can go wrong, even to the most careful and conscientious engineer.

Professional Liability insurance for engineers can help you protect your professional reputation and finances. Also known as Errors and Omissions (E&O) insurance, this type of policy protects your business against claims of negligence, misrepresentations, or mistakes. Professional Liability claims are typically made by clients who allege some form of financial damage as a result of your services, products or employees.

A lawsuit brought by a client can be expensive, even if you are not at fault. Professional Liability for engineers covers the legal costs associated with related claims, including settlements and judgements. Otherwise, you would be left to pay these expenses out of pocket and potentially need to dip into your business and personal accounts to cover the bill.

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