Systems engineers combine principles of mechanical, industrial, materials and other forms of engineering to develop a design that meet a specific need for a client. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that the need for engineers in the less common specialties like systems engineering would increase by roughly 7 percent from 2008 through 2018.
Entry into the field of systems engineering requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology provides approval for systems engineering programs in the United States. As of March 2011, 13 colleges offered accredited programs in the specialty: the Air Force Institute of Technology, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Case Western Reserve University, George Mason University, Lehigh University, Oakland University, the University of Pennsylvania, Washington University, the University of Virginia and the United States Air Force, Military and Naval Academies. Some prospective systems engineers may choose to gain a degree in a related field of engineering like mechanical engineering. These students generally complete design projects and take electives that relate to systems engineering to prepare themselves for their careers while in college.
Systems engineers must receive a license from their states to provide consulting and design services to the public. The license for a systems engineer is known as the professional engineering designation. Each state creates its own set of eligibility criteria to determine which candidates receive the designation. States typically require systems engineers to pass an examination developed by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. The examination lasts for up to eight hours and consists of 80 multiple-choice questions.
All systems engineers have the opportunity to pursue voluntary certification through the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). Some employers prefer to hire systems engineers who carry these credentials or restrict their hiring to such individuals. The INCOSE offers four primary types of certification, each with its own experience and educational requirements. Candidates for any of the INCOSE certifications must pass a written examination. Higher-level certifications also require engineers to supply professional references.
Some supervisory or lead design jobs in systems engineering require additional schooling, such as a master's in the field. Engineers who wish to teach systems engineering must generally hold a doctorate in engineering. To create the designs used to develop systems for testing and implementation, systems engineers need the ability to use computer-aided drafting software as well as knowledge of physics, calculus, geometry and mechanics. Systems engineers often compose reports detailing the function of the designs they create, requiring written communication skills.