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Materials Engineers Careers: Employment & Salary Trends for Aspiring Materials Engineers

Materials Engineers at a Glance

Materials engineers work in a variety of industries such as aerospace product and parts manufacturing, architectural engineering, communications equipment, and petroleum and coal products manufacturing. They are responsible for assessing materials and designing machinery and processes to create materials to be utilized in strictly regulated products. In addition to designing materials, materials engineers are responsible for finding new uses for existing materials. Materials managers may specialize in several different materials, while some may specialize in just one material such as graphite, plastics, glass, or metal alloys.  

Materials engineers are versatile professionals. They conduct training sessions on new materials and applications, they supervise production processes, and they also manage technical staff. Materials engineers often write for technical publications and they also teach in colleges and universities.

Materials engineers typically work 40 hours a week, but overtime is not uncommon. Approximately 14.3% of the workforce works part-time and very few ME’s are self-employed.

Schools to consider:

Employment Trends

Job Outlook: Below average increase
Annual Openings: 1,390
Percent Growth: 4%
Total Jobs Held: 22,000
Projected Employment: 22,000 by 2016
The Best 500 Jobs Overall Ranking: 440

Source: “Best Jobs for the 21st Century,” JIST Publishing 2009. Farr, Michael and Shatkin, Laurence, Ph.D.; “Salary Facts Handbook,” JIST Publishing 2008. Editors @ JIST.

Unfortunately, aspiring materials engineers can expect declining employment in this field thanks to a decline in production among manufacturing industries. The good news is -- America's push to become more environmentally conscious will create jobs in the areas of biomaterials and nanomaterials. Although the professional, scientific, and technical services industries pay much less than federal, state, and local government positions, these industries are expected to experience above average growth in the coming years.

Salary Trends

In 2009, materials engineers earned an average salary of $77,170 per year. This figure represents a 15.7% increase over 2008 ($75,960). Materials engineers in the 90th percentile can expect to earn around $112,140 per year, while 75th percentile materials engineers can expect to earn $92,210 per year. Entry-level materials engineers can expect to earn an impressive starting salary of around $47,140 per year.

Degrees and Training Programs

A bachelor’s degree or higher is required for entry into this field. All states require licensure in order to work with the public. Currently, 60% of all materials engineers have a bachelor’s degree, while 16% have a master’s degree. Undergraduates typically receive a Bachelor of Science in Engineering with a major in Materials Engineering and graduate students usually receive a Master of Science in Materials Science Engineering.

Aspiring materials engineers will have their pick of around 1,830 ABET accredited engineering programs at colleges and universities across the country. Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), Inc. accreditation is based on a program's curriculum, facilities, and faculty.

Coursework Required

Undergraduates will complete 124 credit hours in engineering core courses, materials engineering major courses, and mathematics, chemistry, physics, general education, and a foreign language. Just a few core courses include dynamics, thermodynamics, and scientific programming. Major courses may include everything from physical metallurgy to transport and kinetics in materials processing.

Graduate students will spend a significant amount of time completing lab coursework as well as 30 hours of core courses, and a master’s research report. A small percentage of master’s degree holders advance to the highly competitive Ph.D. program.  

Did you know that materials engineers earn the highest average salaries in places like Maryland and Virginia, but the highest concentration of workers in this field work in places such as Washington and Ohio? Washington and Ohio ME’s earn roughly $82,500-$91,920 per year, while Maryland and Virginia ME’s earn around $102,450-$103,310 per year.