Mechanical Sciences Careers: Helping Students Succeed

Throughout 2017, Career College Central will focus on a specific career area in each edition, delving into mechanical sciences in the second quarter. In the Careers: Helping Students Succeed series, we will look at the personality traits that predict success in each field, address the various learning styles common to students who choose these programs, and explore employment predictions for various industry career paths.


Who chooses a mechanical sciences career path?

Enjoyment, fulfillment and success don’t always come from sitting behind a desk. For those who need to work with their hands, feel the rumble of machinery under their feet and experience the satisfaction of a broken system whirring back to life, careers that fall under the mechanical sciences designation are tantamount to success.

A lot of times, the people who feel stifled in a suit and tie feel the same way inside a traditional classroom. Fortunately, many mechanical sciences careers begin with training that’s hands-on rather than theoretical — students and apprentices are able to spend time under the hood of a car, atop a wind turbine or on a construction site rather than in a lecture hall.

Mechanical science work isn’t all oil changes, forklift operation and rewiring — it can mean working on Formula One racers, electric cars, solar and renewable energy sources, or being involved in building a new football dome. It’s a field full of problem-solving; the culmination of years of experience; and the upkeep of enviable, specialized skills. It can be solitary, almost meditational work or jovial, boisterous collaboration.

It means helping others stay safe and comfortable, combining a passion with a profession, and uncovering job opportunities almost anywhere you live.

Because the world runs on mechanics — from cars and airplanes to pipes and refrigeration units — those able to service them will always be in demand. Even as technology promises to change the way our vehicles, homes and offices run, the need for mechanical science persists. In 2014, there were an estimated 260 million running cars on U.S. roads. Construction of homes and commercial buildings is flourishing. New energy-efficient technology is opening up new career opportunities every year — employment of wind turbine technicians, for example, is the fastest-growing occupation in the U.S.

Many people who choose a mechanical sciences career path have felt drawn to it since childhood, when they spent Sunday mornings under the hood of a classic car with a grandparent, but others only begin to consider the career choice as an adult. For those trying to determine whether they’d enjoy a mechanical sciences career day in and day out, the following considerations can be helpful.

Personality traits of successful mechanical professionals

When it comes to helping students decide on a career path, written personality tests alone can only go so far. While they may provide a handful of career options the student has never considered before (or confirm options they’d already been considering), the questions are often either too specific or too vague to be truly meaningful. Plus, it’s common for test takers to answer based on what they wish were true of their personality and predilections, rather than what is actually true — whether consciously or not. Admissions professionals can work with students to discuss aspects of their personalities, work habits and life goals to determine which fields would be right for them and which specific professions within those fields might be a good fit.

For students looking to begin a career in mechanical sciences, the following personality traits can help predict happiness and success in the field:

Active and tough: Mechanical science workers are far from sedentary. While there is generally some desk-based work involved in the job, like ordering parts, filling out forms and invoicing, the majority of a mechanic’s job is hands-on. Whether their days are spent under the hood of a car, on the wing of an airplane or driving around town to service varying HVAC systems, mechanical workers are often getting their hands dirty and working up a sweat.

Customer-focused: Mechanical science workers have skills that are foreign to many people. It can be intimidating for the general population to take their cars in to get serviced, because they worry about being confused, taken advantage of or surprised with an exorbitant bill. A great mechanic is someone who can put these customers at ease and treat them all fairly and equally. A warm, friendly personality; the ability to translate technical jargon into understandable terms; and compassion for customers who feel out of their element are all crucial to success in the field.

Technically minded: These days, mechanical science isn’t all physical parts like gears, wires, filters and ducts. As technology infiltrates more and more systems, things like motors, thermostats, pumps and fans are all run by computers. So while mechanics still need to be comfortable tightening, fastening and retrofitting, they also need to be comfortable reading and understanding the technology that supports so many car, airline and building systems.

Mechanically intuitive: Diagnostic computers can only do so much. Being able to see, hear and feel how an engine or system is running and understand a problem or potential problem is almost second nature to many mechanical scientists. Often, this ability is innate, but the right training and experience can turn it into a true skill.

Practical and logical: Being able to isolate where and why a problem started and how it affected the systems around it is a crucial skill for almost any area of mechanical science. The ability to think through breakdowns and solutions in the correct order is vital to mechanical problem-solving.

Patient and composed: Workers in this field often run into situations where their first (and second, and third …) attempt to solve a problem or fix an issue doesn’t work. As an expert on mechanical systems, this can be frustrating — but the best employees don’t deal with it by throwing tools or kicking tires. They let the stress roll off their backs, call in a co-worker or supervisor to talk through new potential solutions, and try again. The satisfaction of eventually getting it right is thrilling to most mechanics, technicians and operators.


Teaching mechanical sciences students

School doesn’t have to be stressful! Today’s students don’t want to feel like they’re slogging through months of rote memorization and frustration just to get the credentials they need to start a career. They want to feel fulfilled by their education, gain real knowledge and build connections with people along the way. One of the best ways to help them do so is through an understanding of various students’ learning styles.

As technology has evolved alongside our understanding of how students learn, it has gotten easier for instructors to develop multimedia curricula that touch on all seven of Howard Gardner’s seven intelligences, incorporating exercises and modules that work best for each type of learner.

Among students who choose programs leading to careers in the mechanical sciences, two learning styles are most common: physical and logical/mathematical.

Physical learners: Physical learners do best when they’re able to use their bodies and hands in the classroom. Instructors can use hands-on learning, working models and professional computer programs to simulate real-world mechanical science. These students thrive in instances where real-world aviation, automotive, electrical and metalwork equipment/tools can be used for training purposes.

Logical/mathematical learners: Logical learners aren’t necessarily afraid to think outside the box, but they want to know why and how it makes sense to do so. For them, problem-solving isn’t about throwing solutions at the wall to see what sticks, but rather about understanding why A+B=D when it should equal C. According to Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory, these learners need to “understand the underlying principles of some kind of causal system.”

Due to the nature of many mechanical sciences training programs, especially those completed on the job, it makes sense to incorporate physical and logical learning in the classroom by way of hands-on equipment training and diagnostics.

            Living to work: Mechanical sciences career options

Whatever success means to someone, there is a way they can achieve it in the mechanical sciences field. Career colleges and technical schools offer many degree and nondegree programs that help meet the demand for qualified mechanics, electricians and welders while helping students begin on the path to fulfilling sciences careers where they can work days, nights, weekends, full time or part time, in any number of environments. Here is just a sampling of the career options available: 

Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians

Entry-level education: Part 147 FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician school

Median pay (2016): $60,270 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Little or no change (1 percent projected growth)

On-the-job training: Yes

Working environment: Most aviation mechanics and technicians work in full-time, rotating eight-hour shifts in hangars or on airfields near major airports. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “General aviation mechanics and technicians typically have more flexible schedules than those working for airlines.”


Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics

Entry-level education: Postsecondary nondegree award

Median pay (2016): $38,470 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing as fast as average (5 percent projected growth)

On-the-job training: Short-term

Working environment: Most service technicians work full time, including some evenings and weekends. They’re often on their feet for long hours, and sometimes have to do their work in uncomfortable positions.



Entry-level education: High school diploma

Median pay (2016): $52,720 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing much faster than average (14 percent projected growth)

On-the-job training: Apprenticeship

Working environment: Electricians generally work both indoors and outdoors in a variety of conditions, traveling between homes, businesses, factories and construction sites to install, maintain and repair power and communications systems.


Heating, Air Conditioning, Ventilation and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers

Entry-level education: Postsecondary nondegree award

Median pay (2016): $45,910 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing much faster than average (14 percent projected growth)

On-the-job training: Long-term on-the-job training

Working environment: HVAC work can be uncomfortable and dangerous. Technicians often work in awkward or cramped spaces, outdoors in inclement weather, or in buildings that are uncomfortable because the air conditioning or heating isn’t working. This profession has one of the highest rates of injury across all occupations, according to the BLS.


Industrial Machinery Mechanics, Machinery Maintenance Workers and Millwrights

Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent

Median pay (2016): $49,100 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing much faster than average (16 percent projected growth)

On-the-job training: Moderate to long-term on-the-job training

Working environment: Most of these employees work in factories, refineries, food-processing facilities, power plants and on construction sites. They generally work full time during regular business hours but may be on call for nights and weekends — often on an overtime basis.


Material Moving Machine Operators

Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent

Median pay (2016): $33,890 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing slower than average (3 percent projected growth)

On-the-job training: Varies with type of machine being operated

Working environment: The majority of material moving machine operators work as industrial truck or tractor drivers. They may work outdoors on the roadways or in construction sites, or inside warehouses or factories.


Plumbers, Pipefitters and Steamfitters

Entry-level education: High school degree or equivalent

Median pay (2016): $51,450 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing faster than average (12 percent projected growth)

On-the-job training: Formal apprenticeship

Working environment: Plumbers especially are often required to work odd hours — since they’re on call to handle emergency situations in homes and businesses, they might have to head out to a job site on nights, weekends or holidays.


Wind Turbine Technicians

Entry-level education: Some college

Median pay (2016): $52,260 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing faster than average (108 percent projected growth)

On-the-job training: Long-term on-the-job training

Working environment: Those with a fear of heights need not apply. These technicians are generally climbing ladders to work atop turbines approaching 300 feet tall.


Welders, Cutters, Solderers and Brazers

Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent

Median pay (2016): $39,390 annually

Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing slower than average (4 percent projected growth)

On-the-job training: Moderate on-the-job training

Working environment: According to the BLS, “Welders and cutters may work outdoors, often in inclement weather, or indoors, sometimes in a confined area designed to contain sparks and glare. When working outdoors, they may work on a scaffold or platform high off the ground. In addition, they may have to lift heavy objects and work in awkward positions while bending, stooping or standing to work overhead.”



Join Career College Central in Q3 for Information Technology Careers: Helping Students Succeed.



SIDEBAR: Gardner’s Seven Learning Styles

·       Visual/spatial

·       Aural/musical

·       Verbal/linguistic

·       Physical/kinesthetic

·       Logical/mathematical

·       Social/interpersonal

·       Solitary/intrapersonal

(place near the middle section — “Enjoying the Journey” please)


SIDEBAR: What leads to mechanical mistakes?

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, 80 percent of all maintenance mistakes involve human factors. If not caught, these oversights and errors could lead to accidents. Stay sharp, put safety first, and avoid these 12 common causes of mechanical mistakes:

·       Lack of communication

·       Complacency

·       Lack of knowledge

·       Distractions

·       Lack of teamwork

·       Fatigue

·       Lack of resources

·       Pressure

·       Lack of assertiveness

·       Stress

·       Lack of awareness

·       Expected, yet unwritten, rules of behavior



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