An engineer uses mathematics and science to solve technical problems. Engineers develop the way something is made or functions. Often, the applications are for commercial products. Examples include such products as computers, engines, chemicals, manufacturing facilities and appliances. A person can often obtain an intern position in a certain engineering field, which helps determine the person's career path.
An engineer's salary is determined in part by the type of engineering position held. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, engineers can specialize in 17 different fields per the Federal Government's Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. Examples of these fields include aerospace, biomedical, chemical, civil, electrical, computer, industrial, environmental and mechanical. All 17 fields require basic engineering skills plus knowledge of the particular field. For example, a chemical engineer must have math and design skills but also needs a strong background in chemistry. Environmental engineers must have knowledge of the makeup of chemicals such as car emissions and understand how to determine the impact on water, air, soil, wildlife and humanity.
Interns can make a good salary while seeking a permanent career in a specialized field. Engineering companies need people with basic engineering knowledge to perform routine tasks. For example, an environmental engineering firm may need to take water samples every day from a certain location. The intern can quickly learn how to properly handle the samples, which allows more senior engineers to focus on other work. Intern salaries have many variables such as the level of education. A senior in college may garner a higher wage than a sophomore simply because a senior has more core knowledge. According to Jobweb, a site dedicated to career information for new graduates, the average engineering intern salary is $18.26 an hour as of 2009. Computer sciences had a slightly lower rate of $17.20 for an intern position.
Once an engineer moves out of the intern position, salaries can jump substantially. However, salaries vary considerably by field and may be a consideration when finding an intern position. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides 2008 salary information for the different fields. The highest average salary is a petroleum engineer at $108,020 a year, followed by computer hardware engineers at $97,400 a year. On the lower end are agricultural engineers at $68,730 a year and $72,490 for some health and safety positions.
Jobweb states that the number of intern opportunities is decreasing--up to a 21 percent decrease in 2009. A slow economy is believed to be the cause of the reduction in intern positions. While internships are decreasing, hourly pay is increasing for the positions available. From 2008 to 2009, the hourly salary increased 4.9 percent with employers stating that they intend to offer $17.13 an hour for an intern job. Another benefit may be that organizations are revamping internship programs to attract the best candidates and perhaps plan for better transitions into the organization on a permanent basis.