Guide to College Majors in Engineering Management
--Henry G. Stott
What Is Engineering Management?
Engineering managers occupy a unique position in their industry. They combine their management expertise with engineering knowledge to lead teams of specialists in highly technical tasks. Most engineering managers focus on product development, materials management, production processes, and workforce reliability. Management engineers must also possess strong communication skills so they can relate to their colleagues and subordinates.
As the popularity of engineering continues to grow and demand for trained engineers increases, online engineering management degrees (often classified under technology management) have become increasingly popular. Working engineers who are ready to transition into management positions can now study part-time without giving up valuable income or career experience. A degree in engineering management (most often a master's degree) qualifies you for a wide spectrum of positions, ranging from the academic to the technical. Individuals that excel in this field possess a strong combination of scientific knowledge and a passion for problem solving. E-learning and distance courses provide the pathway for a satisfying career in the engineering industry.
The breadth of opportunity is one of the most attractive facets of this specialty. Fields that require this experience include:
- Manufacturing management
- Technical consulting
- Chemical process consulting
As a prospective managing engineer, your career path can vary greatly. You can get a full-time bachelor's degree in technical management before you ever set foot in an office or lab, or you can earn a master's degree online while you work. Depending on the discipline, internships and apprenticeships may be available. These positions offer real-world exposure to the field of engineering and an idea of the skills necessary to be successful.
Trends in Engineering Careers
The future for engineers overall continues to be bright, according to CNN Money Magazine. Marilyn Mackes, director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, recently said of the engineering field, "A number of disciplines are posting salary increases and many are regaining ground that was lost in the past few years in their salaries." According to a NACE salary survey, engineering disciplines ranked in the top ten of all employment opportunities reviewed.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that graduates of bachelor's degree programs in engineering earn some of the highest starting salaries in the country. Many engineers report very high job satisfaction. Managing engineers enjoy the opportunity to reap the benefits of their technical backgrounds while participating in lucrative business ventures as leaders and as entrepreneurs.
Career Education in Engineering Management
Before embarking on the journey towards a college degree in engineering, it is important to evaluate whether this career would be a good fit. Prospective engineers should possess the following traits, to some degree:
- A love for solving challenging problems
- The ability to visualize solutions using computer modeling and design tools
- Strong scores on standardized tests like the SAT
- The ability to apply abstract thought to problem-solving
Typical Engineering Management Courses
Plenty of choices await prospective engineering managers, and most colleges and universities offer a wide variety of courses:
- Managerial Science. This field provides a broad overview of management fundamentals, helping the student build a strong foundation in engineering management specifically.
- Marketing. Students in this course are exposed to the business and retail aspects of engineering management. They learn how common business practices and communication skills apply to the engineering field.
- Accounting. Finance-oriented students will learn the fundamentals of money management and the integral accounting processes that keep everyday operations functioning correctly.
- Materials Handling and Plant Layout. Students gain firsthand knowledge of the system that transports and process products during a typical workday, and how each area of the plant contributes to the overall success of the operation.
- Computer Science. Information technology plays an increasingly large role in most industries today. This course equips the prospective management engineer to utilize IT appropriately.
- Physics and Chemistry. These courses are integral to a proper understanding of how engineering works and how the theories are applied to daily tasks.
- Systems Engineering. This course allows students to study in depth the various processes and systems that allow the mechanisms of engineering to function daily.
Online Degrees in Engineering Management
Engineering management is probably the most suitable, among all engineering specialties, for online study. Students can view hypothetical situations in real time and craft management decisions that solve the problems presented. New technologies allow instant communication among classmates and faculty through chat rooms, instant messaging, and email. Technology management degrees generally require less of a focus on lab work and more on communication and problem-solving, reducing the need for hands-on study.
Certificate Programs in Engineering Management
Many professionals with a bachelor's degree in engineering can prepare themselves for management positions by enrolling in engineering management certificate programs. Engineering management certificate programs allow participants to build important skills that complement their technical abilities. By applying these new talents to their projects, graduates can increase profitability for their employers and expand their own earning potential. Most certificate programs allow students to work part-time and, in many cases, attend class online.
Engineering management certificate programs also offer students the opportunity to build professional networks, even when meeting online. These personal networks provide a wellspring of ideas and resources throughout a graduate's career, especially when looking for new jobs.
Many colleges now offer online certificates in project management to accommodate the needs of professional engineers who must take on daily oversight responsibilities for their company's projects. In many cases, credits earned during the successful completion of an engineering management certificate program can be applied towards later degree programs.
Graduate Degrees in Engineering Management
Graduate programs in engineering management allow professionals to build upon the skills they developed during their undergraduate years. Participants absorb the best practices from the business world while immersing themselves in cutting-edge technologies and techniques from the field of engineering.
The higher-level coursework of a graduate engineering management program emphasizes project work and intensive research. Students collaborate in groups and study their own personal dynamics and management styles. Engineering management graduate students enjoy more direct access to faculty than they had as undergraduates. They often work closely with professors on groundbreaking research projects.
Graduates of master's degree programs in engineering management can expect to earn significantly higher salaries and land more promotion opportunities than their colleagues who hold only bachelor's degrees in engineering. Many technology and pharmaceutical companies prefer to employ engineering management graduates, since line engineers tend to work better when reporting to an experienced engineer than when they must answer to someone they view as an uninformed, "pointy-haired" boss.
Professionals who want to segue from positions in the business world to careers in academia can enroll in PhD programs in engineering management. Unlike some disciplines, where tenure-track faculty members spend all their time on campus, many engineering management faculty continue their involvement with the private sector. In fact, many esteemed engineering management professors serve as board members and advisors to Fortune 500 companies.
Engineering Management Concentrations
Depending on her educational background and prior work experience, an engineering management major can usually customize her professional development by selecting specific courses that complement her career. Engineering management students can increase their earning potential significantly by focusing on some of these hot specialties:
- Crisis, Emergency, and Risk Management. When engineering management professionals in this sector do their jobs well, citizens hardly notice. That's because the very best crisis and risk managers use sophisticated computer models and training scenarios to prevent catastrophes. Government agencies and insurance companies employ skilled engineering managers to lead teams of researchers to fully understand weaknesses in construction, civil, and military programs.
- Economics, Finance, and Cost Accounting. It may seem like overkill to hire an engineer to oversee a team of accountants. But a skilled engineering manager can use his communication skills to motivate his staff members while relying on his problem-solving skills to find new processes to automate or streamline procedures.
- Engineering and Technology Management. With the continued growth of the technology sector, many engineers have seized the opportunity to enhance their management skills to pursue higher paying jobs. At the height of the tech bubble, businesses were content to hire energetic newcomers. Today's mature tech companies expect their managers to possess a thorough understanding of best practices for leadership and staff development.
- Environmental and Energy Management. As oil prices skyrocket and fossil fuels become scarce, utility companies and auto manufacturers are scrambling to meet the energy needs of future generations. Engineering management specialists travel the world to deploy innovative new systems that generate power from wind, water, and other renewable sources. Other engineering managers lead teams that design efficient cars, computers, and generators, to prevent us from irreversibly damaging the planet.
- Information Security Management. While previous generations feared the work of international military spies, today's threats involve industrial espionage. Intellectual property thieves try to steal company secrets, while hackers attempt to swipe customer identities. Engineering managers lead teams of experts who keep company data secure by staying many steps ahead of the criminals. Using techniques like encryption and diversion, engineers contribute to the law enforcement effort by drawing criminals into the open, where they can be caught and prosecuted.
- Knowledge Management. Many workers in small offices get a handle on a company's trends by hanging around the water cooler. Today's international conglomerates often employ tens of thousands of workers, spread out over a few continents. When the water cooler is the size of the Pacific Ocean, engineering management specialists step in to design systems and processes that keep team members informed about their projects, no matter what country they happen to be in at the moment.
- Management and Reliability of Infrastructure Systems. Engineering management specialists oversee the operation of power lines, canals, dams, drawbridges, and other vital pieces of infrastructure that we often take for granted. By leading teams of planners and researchers, engineering managers can maximize taxpayer investment in these operations by building reliable facilities that perform efficiently over the long haul.
- Operations Research and Management Science. At first, this specialty can seem like an exercise in corporate navel gazing. In fact, engineering managers can analyze the ways that companies communicate and operate in order to make recommendations for efficiency. As a result, companies run more smoothly and employees don't have to waste as much time on repetitive tasks.
- Software Engineering and Information Systems Management. Today's complex software requires development teams of hundreds or even thousands of skilled programmers. Engineering management graduates coordinate the efforts of specialists so that their final product runs smoothly.
What Can You Do With a College Major in Engineering Management?
Engineering management students develop skills in mathematics, the sciences, communications, and humanities. Therefore, an engineering management degree qualifies professionals for a diverse array of jobs, including:
- Engineering Project Manager. This professional has direct authority over the actions of everyone on the work site. A combination of engineering knowledge and business acumen is essential.
- Senior Lead Analyst. This specialist ensures that engineering teams reach the most efficient outcomes on their assigned tasks.
- Cost Systems Analyst. A combination of financial management knowledge and engineering skills is necessary for this position. These individuals have a direct impact on the bottom line of large-scale projects.
- Construction Management Engineer. A construction management engineer has authority over the planning and building of a wide variety of structures in the construction industry. Issues he or she deals with daily would include: manpower, materials, and machines.
- Industrial Management Engineer. This specialist ensures that industrial emissions are moving safely through the production system.
Certification, Licensure and Associations
Many engineering managers take the licensure exam given through the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. Before earning the right to apply for the exam, an engineering manager must:
- Complete a four-year bachelor's degree through an accredited program
- Earn four years of qualifying experience
- Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
- Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam
Most engineering management students meet most of those qualifications during their undergraduate studies, or through work experience between their undergraduate and graduate years. Though not required by every employer, professional certification can benefit engineering managers who can use their designation to inspire greater confidence among their staff members.
American Society for Engineering Management
ASEM serves as a national sounding board and forum for engineering managers to exchange information and interact with peers. The group also consists of several national chapters that meet regularly. The society is also committed to adapting new technologies to increase the flow of new ideas and encourage advances among the membership base.
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