How Do I Become an Engineering Manager?

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While most engineers work on projects in a particular subdiscipline of engineering (e.g., chemical, mechanical, industrial), engineering managers specialize in seeing projects to completion. Whether the goal is to construct a dam, develop a microchip, or build a waste management facility, there’s an engineering manager on staff to make sure the project is completed safely and efficiently.

This is a complex form of management. While other managers are concerned with staffing procedures and financial bottom lines, engineering managers have to also take into account structural properties, regulatory guidelines, and operational logistics. Engineering managers need to be masters of two worlds: business and science. Those two worlds often butt heads and rarely speak the same language, but that’s exactly why the world needs engineering managers: to act as translators and experts in overseeing the construction of complex and critical engineering projects.

There are numerous paths to becoming an engineering manager. Some choose to work as a technical engineer for years before pursuing additional management education and working in management roles. Others know from the start that they want to work in engineering management and dedicate themselves to the management aspect of the profession from the start. In keeping with the ethos of this profession, we’ve sought out the most efficient and effective path forward.

Read on to get a step-by-step guide to becoming an engineering manager.

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an Engineering Manager

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

After graduating from high school, aspiring engineering managers will need to earn a bachelor’s degree. While some choose to specialize in a particular area of engineering (mechanical, chemical, etc.), the most linear path to this profession is to major in engineering management. In any case, it’s important that the program is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

Admissions requirements for undergraduate programs will vary from school to school, but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater); SAT and/or ACT scores; letters of recommendation; and a personal statement.

The University of Illinois at Chicago has an ABET-accredited bachelor of science (BS) in engineering management that offers a robust introduction to the fundamentals of mechanical and industrial engineering, supplemented with financial and managerial topics. Required courses include topics such as financial engineering; work productivity analysis; manufacturing process principles; safety engineering; operations research; and stochastic processes and queuing models. Instruction takes place at the school’s Chicago campus. The program consists of 128 credits and base tuition for non-residents is $24,276 per year.

Arizona State University has an ABET-accredited bachelor of science in engineering (BSE) in engineering management that can be completed entirely online. As a bridge between the business and engineering schools, the program gives students a breadth of engineering science and design, coupled with skills in business analytics. Featured courses include topics such as engineering administration; risk management; system dynamics and thinking; project management; and Six Sigma methodology. The program consists of 120 credits and base tuition for non-residents is $15,528 per year.

Step Two: Consider Initial Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)

While engineers who work in purely technical engineering subdisciplines (electrical, mechanical, chemical, etc.) begin to pursue state licensure through Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam offered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), these exams do not have a specific subcategory for engineering management. Engineering managers who wish to focus purely on their craft and prove their competency through peer-reviewed certification will need to look elsewhere.

The American Society for Engineering Management (ASEM) offers initial certification as a certified associate in engineering management (CAEM). It’s designed for young professionals and recent graduates preparing for early technical management or supervisory assignments.

Applicants need at least a BS in engineering management, but no work experience is required. Once deemed eligible, applicants may sit for the CAEM exam. Exam fees are $150 for members of ASEM and $250 for nonmembers. CAEM-holders must recertify every three years. This requires a $100 fee and the completion of 45 professional development hours (PDHs).

Step Three: Gain Early Work Experience (Optional, One to Four Years)

After graduating from university, many engineering managers choose to gain early work experience before continuing their education. While working at this stage is not a requirement to advance in one’s career, the benefits are many.

First, entry-level work allows a recent graduate to put their newly-learned skills into practice for the first time. Second, this work experience may shape what particular avenue of engineering management one wishes to pursue. Third, early work experience can boost one’s applications to graduate school (see step four below), and in some cases, an employer may subsidize part of the tuition. Work experience is often the best education money can buy—quite literally getting paid to learn—and it gives young professionals the networking and experience they need to take charge of their careers.

Step Four: Earn a Master’s Degree (Two to Three Years)

After earning a bachelor’s degree and gaining early work experience, many engineering managers pursue graduate-level education. Previously, that graduate-level education took one of two routes: either a master’s of business administration (MBA) to boost management skills or a master of science (MS) in a particular engineering discipline to boost technical understanding. But today there are a number of concurrent degree programs that offer the best of both worlds.

Admissions requirements for graduate-level programsl vary from school to school, but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater); GMAT and/or GRE scores; work experience; letters of recommendation; and a personal statement.

Arizona State University offers an online concurrent degree program that awards students both an MBA and an MS in industrial engineering. It’s designed for working professionals who want to develop their business acumen while also staying current in a technical field. The curriculum includes eight courses from the MBA program and eight courses from the MS in industrial engineering program, but can be completed more quickly—and more cheaply—than if one were to pursue both degrees independently. The program consists of 56 credits and costs approximately $17,020 in total for non-residents.

Purdue University has teamed up with Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business to offer an online concurrent degree program that culminates in both an MBA and an interdisciplinary master of science in engineering (MSE). Students may add a concentration in engineering management and leadership (ENML) to further cement their education in the field. Courses include topics such as systems analysis and synthesis; manufacturing economics; engineering economic analysis; and economic decisions in engineering. The dual program, with an ENML concentration, consists of 63 credits and costs approximately $1,330 per credit.

Step Five: Consider Further Professional Certification (Optional, Four Years)

In the complex field of engineering, with its deep pools of talent, advancement and distinction require extra work. Without the yardstick of the NCEES’s FE and PE exams, engineering managers may need to look elsewhere to distinguish themselves. Professional certification through official peer-reviewed methods can move an engineering manager’s resume to the top of the stack, increase their chances of landing larger projects, and boost their salaries.

The American Society for Engineering Management (ASEM) offers professional-level certification as a certified professional in engineering management (CPEM). In addition to an undergraduate degree in engineering management, applicants need at least four years of professional work experience. Once deemed eligible, applicants must pass the CPEM exam. Exam fees are $250 for ASEM members and $300 for non-members. CPEM-holders must recertify every three years by paying a $100 fee and completing 45 professional development hours (PDHs).

Helpful Resources for Engineering Managers

Engineering is an evolving scientific field, and so is management. That’s why engineering managers share their experiences and learn from each other through an ongoing conversation taking place across multiple forms of media. To listen in on that conversation, check out some of the resources below.

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