Doug Bonderud

Mar 17th 2023

The 5 Types of Engineering: Exploring Creative Career Opportunities


Engineers solve problems by creating new solutions or improving current processes. While every engineer leans on the lessons of professionals past, individuals in this industry are known for thinking outside the box and developing innovative approaches that change the world for the better.

If you have an interest in engineering, however, the scope and scale of this career choice can be daunting. To help home in on your best fit, here’s a breakdown of the five types of engineering — civil, chemical, electrical, industrial and mechanical — along with their industry outlooks and potential position possibilities.

Building a Better Future: How to Get Started as an Engineer

If you’re considering a career in engineering, education comes first. Most entry-level engineering positions expect a bachelor’s degree, while more in-depth roles may require a master’s degree. Post-secondary engineering programs are typically four years long, but some schools offer condensed two-year programs. Once you’ve obtained an engineering degree, you may be required to apply for a professional license certification in your state before you can begin work as a professional engineer.

Equipped with the basics of education and licensing expectations, prospective problem-solvers should consider which type of engineering aligns with their preferences, passion and potential.

1. Civil Engineering

Civil engineers are responsible for designing, building and maintaining infrastructure projects. These may include transportation corridors, freeway interchanges, new neighborhood planning or efforts to repair and modernize existing infrastructure. Projects such as the Lincoln Tunnel, the Interstate Highway System and Boston’s “Big Dig” were made possible in part thanks to the efforts of civil engineers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job market for civil engineers is growing as fast as average (7%) and the median salary is $88,050 per year as of 2021. Subdisciplines within civil engineering include transportation, environmental and structural engineering.


Transportation engineers are often found building or improving road, train, subway or waterway systems. From increasing the efficiency of current transport frameworks to building better and safer options, transportation engineers keep traffic moving.


Environmental engineers look to reduce the impact of issues such as air and water pollution while finding ways for businesses to become more sustainable. This could look like developing new practices that adjust material compositions or changing current processes to help companies achieve environmental goals set out by internal policies or required by compliance legislation.


Structural engineers design and assess construction plans to ensure buildings, bridges and other pieces of infrastructure can stand the test of time. They can often be found overseeing construction sites to monitor progress or double-checking calculations to ensure end results align with initial designs.

2. Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineers use a combination of skills from the disciplines of chemistry, physics, mathematics and microbiology to help create and improve products. These products may include pharmaceuticals, foods, plastics and fuels.

As noted by the BLS, job opportunities for chemical engineers are growing much faster than average (14%), and the median salary is $105,550. Types of engineers under the chemical branch include biochemical, process safety and pharmaceutical engineering.


Biochemical engineers look for new and more efficient ways to convert chemical compounds into usable products. They also investigate methods to improve sustainability and reduce environmental impact.

Process Safety

Process safety engineers are tasked with evaluating current chemical processes and determining where they can be improved. Common improvements include reduced risk to staff, reduced environmental impact or greater product yields.


Pharmaceutical engineers focus on all aspects of the pharmaceutical process, from the safety of manufactured drugs to the labeling and bottling of these products for use.

3. Electrical Engineering

If a product or system contains electrical connections or electronic parts, electrical engineers were likely involved in its creation. These engineers have expertise in everything from IT components to communications systems and the underlying connections present in cars, airplanes and spacecraft.

BLS data indicates that current electrical engineering job growth is slightly slower than average (3%), and the average salary is $101,780 per year. Career paths within electrical engineering include computer, IT and controls engineering.


Computer engineers are often tasked with designing, testing and improving computer hardware. They may find roles as developers of new hardware for technology companies or as quality and efficiency testers within enterprise IT departments.


These types of engineers focus on the software and systems side of technology to help companies improve the performance of their information technology systems. For example, they may be responsible for pinpointing and resolving system issues or developing new software to streamline business processes.


Controls engineers are responsible for the design, development and testing of control systems found in manufacturing plant systems, vehicles or communication solutions.

4. Industrial Engineering

Industrial engineers focus on improving the efficiency of complex environments, such as manufacturing or processing plants, by developing new processes and systems. For example, an industrial engineer might explore new ways to reduce waste on a manufacturing line without negatively impacting output performance.

According to the BLS, industrial engineering jobs are growing faster than average (10%), and the median salary is $95,300. Potential options for industrial engineers include manufacturing, supply chain and systems engineering.


Manufacturing engineers may specialize in a variety of areas, including everything from the design and development of industrial robots to the creation of specialized machinery that improves process efficiency.

Supply Chain

Supply chain engineers are now in high demand owing to the significant supply chain challenges brought on by Covid-19. These engineers help create and implement supply chain strategies that reduce the risk of delays or unexpected complications.


Systems engineers focus on the implementation and assessment of systems within an organization. These systems may include software, hardware and machinery or a combination of all three. The goal of systems engineers is to ensure disparate components of business systems work in unison.

5. Mechanical Engineering

One of the broadest engineering disciplines, mechanical engineering includes the design, creation and testing of machinery, equipment and sensors that are used in everything from industrial processes to day-to-day applications.

Although the BLS reports that the mechanical engineering field is growing more slowly than average (2%), the median pay is $95,300 per year. Common mechanical engineering opportunities include acoustic, automotive and aerospace engineering.


Acoustic engineers focus on sound and its impact in the real world. For example, they might assess the vibration of bridges caused by car travel and the impact of those vibrations on the structural integrity of the surrounding infrastructure.


Automotive engineers help design, develop and test new processes in vehicle manufacturing. These engineers may be responsible for creating new vehicle features, assessing current vehicle performance or evaluating existing safety protocols.


Aerospace engineers may design aircraft, spacecraft or satellites and their components, and are typically responsible for the testing of these designs to ensure they meet functional expectations and can perform under real-world conditions.

Engineering is a broad field with myriad career possibilities, but every type of engineering can make an impact on the way we live. It’s an exciting space — and one that’s perfect for someone looking to flex both their creative and technical skills.

Ready to explore the different types of engineering opportunities? Come build the future with Northrop Grumman. Discover our engineering jobs here.