Materials engineers and metallurgists work to create new materials, which other engineers then use to create specific products. Some examples from ancient times include ceramics and glass, while modern-day material innovations include synthetic rubber and carbon fiber composites. A new material can have applications in many different industries, so materials engineers have the distinction of creating the proverbial building blocks of other people's inventions.
Materials engineers -- including metallurgists, who are materials engineers that work with metals and alloys -- usually must complete a bachelor's degree before starting their careers, since companies will rarely hire someone who doesn't have one. Pursue a degree in materials engineering if possible, which most universities with a strong engineering base offer. If you can't get into the materials engineering major then a different engineering degree will suffice, especially a general degree like mechanical, electrical or chemical engineering. Getting a degree is very important because the only way to get a materials engineering job without one is to have prior industry experience -- for example, by having developed your own successful product or gotten a job from a friend or family member -- which might not be feasible.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, materials engineers -- including metallurgists -- earned a median income of $85,150 in 2012. The top 10 percent earned $130,020 or more, with the very best-paying jobs found in aerospace and the federal government. The bottom 10 percent earned $52,900 or less -- still far above the overall U.S. median income of $34,750. Materials engineers also tend to enjoy employment benefits packages that lower-wage earners and independent contractors often don't get. These benefits include employer-based health insurance and retirement account contributions, which add considerably to the value of an engineer's employment.
The employment outlook is positive for those desiring a career in materials engineering. The BLS projects slower-than-average job growth for materials engineers, with the number of total jobs growing 9 percent between 2010 and 2020. However, the BLS says employment prospects will remain high because many materials engineers are older and likelier to retire during the decade, increasing turnover in the field and creating many new opportunities for younger engineers.
Industries and Work Settings
Materials engineers work in nearly all industries, but especially in areas where the development of new materials figures prominently into the business. Sectors that commonly employ materials engineers include the federal government, health care, technology and architecture. Materials engineers in these areas often work in factories and laboratories, though they usually have their own offices too, where they work on their designs and reports and review technical documents.
- BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Job Outlook
- BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Pay
- BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: How to Become a Materials Engineer
- BLS Occupational Employment Statistics: Materials Engineers
- BLS Occupational Employment Statistics: May 2012 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
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