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Essential skills profile

This profile contains a list of example tasks that illustrate how each of the 9 essential skills is generally performed by most workers in this occupation. The levels of complexity estimated for each task are ranked between 1 (basic) and 5 (advanced).

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Mechanical Engineers(2132)

Mechanical engineers research, design and develop machinery and systems for heating, ventilating and air conditioning, power generation, transportation, processing and manufacturing. They also perform duties related to the evaluation, installation, operation and maintenance of mechanical systems. Mechanical engineers are employed by consulting firms, by power-generating utilities and in a wide range of manufacturing, processing and transportation industries or they may be self-employed.

Reading Help - Reading
  • Read e-mail from co-workers, colleagues, customers and vendors. For example, they may read e-mail from suppliers giving details about the availability of products and services. (1)
  • Read safety labels on machinery that describe shielding and guarding hazards and methods of protection. (2)
  • Read letters and notes. They read letters from suppliers describing products and services, and meeting notes summarizing discussions with clients or contractors. (2)
  • Read brief descriptions and instructions on forms to understand work requirements. For example, they read summaries of customers' requests for work to be completed and mechanical engineering project details in work initiation forms. (2)
  • Read about the application, performance, troubleshooting and maintenance of equipment in technical manuals. For example, they may read technical manuals during the design phase of projects to find out how machinery can be modified for specific applications. (3)
  • Read articles in trade magazines such as Plant Engineering and Maintenance and newsletters to keep current with trends and new product in their respective industries. For example, they may read studies of global robotics markets or articles about scheduling plant shutdowns. (3)
  • Read lengthy standards, codes and procedures. For example, they may read standards documents published by the American Society for Testing and Materials to understand equipment fabrication requirements, standards published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers to identify technical requirements for engineering drawings, or their own organizations' standard operating procedures to identify business process requirements. They then assess which standards are relevant to the projects at hand. (4)
  • May read 'invitation to tender' documents to prepare proposals to conduct work. For example, they may read lengthy tender documents requesting proposals to replace ventilation systems. They provide detailed descriptions of clients' technical requirements, diagrams and drawings, text that explains or presents the drawings and tables of outcomes to be achieved. Mechanical engineers read tenders carefully to get a thorough comprehension of new projects to be able to address all aspects of the work in the proposals. (4)
  • May read scientific journals and complex mechanical engineering textbooks. They evaluate the quality of research and extract information relevant to their work. For example, they may read research reports published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers or articles from the Journal of Dynamic Systems, Measurement and Control, to keep abreast of the latest research in their specialty areas. The journal articles are highly technical, may be lengthy and are written for engineers. (5)
Document use Help - Document use
  • Complete work order and change work order forms to notify key parties about projects. For example, they complete work orders when oil refineries, power generation or food processing plants request infrared scans of their electrical systems or motor control centres. The forms indicate the work to be completed or revised and project, customer and work team requirements. (2)
  • Enter data into tables and spreadsheets. For example, they enter the numbers of hours worked into cost control tables to monitor labour costs. (2)
  • Consult product specification books to identify the capacities, dimensions and prices of particular pieces of equipment. The specification books contain lengthy lists with headings and subheadings and tables with abbreviations and codes. (3)
  • Interpret data presented in graphs. For example, the results of reliability studies to assess the cause of machinery problems. (4)
  • Interpret radiographs, sonographs and other material inspection scans and images. For example, they look at x-ray images during the inspection of piping joints. (4)
  • Take information from complex scale engineering drawings illustrating how equipment and components work to calculate installation requirements and ensure the plans meet mechanical engineering standards. For example, they evaluate manufacturing, industrial and power generation equipment scale drawings to identify areas within the drawings that require revision before projects can proceed. (5)
Writing Help - Writing
  • Write notes to summarize conversations conducted during meetings with clients and co-workers. (1)
  • Write e-mail to clients, co-workers, colleagues, suppliers and contractors. For example, they write to clients to ask for technical details such as the capacity of their boilers, project managers to inform them of equipment delivery delays and the implications for project timelines, suppliers to request technical data about equipment and contractors explaining design requirements for projects. (2)
  • Write letters. For example, they write cover letters to accompany reports submitted to clients. They also write short business letters to architects or contractors to answer their questions about building code requirements. (2)
  • Write descriptions and explanations on forms and on work orders. For example, they write descriptions of clients' equipment problems. (3)
  • Write preventive maintenance reports which summarize problems identified, services performed and solutions recommended. They also write post-project assessment reports that summarize observations of project teams. (3)
  • May write proposals in response to 'invitations to tender.' They describe their proposed approaches in persuasive language and define roles, responsibilities, deliverables, timelines and costs. They must clearly address all facets of projects in a well-organized and easily-followed fashion. (4)
  • Write lengthy analytical reports for clients. For example, they may write reports discussing the air quality of buildings in which they analyze air quality measurements, identify problems, suggest solutions and make recommendations. They present technical information so that it can be understood by clients who are not engineers. (5)
Numeracy Help - Numeracy Money Math
  • Prepare travel reimbursement claims including living expenses, airfare charges, travel costs charged at per kilometre rates and applicable taxes. (2)
  • May prepare invoices and approve payments of suppliers' and contractors' invoices. For example, they may prepare invoices that include labour charges at per hour rates, and materials, travel expenses, taxes and discounts. (3)
<Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math
  • Prepare schedules for clients' projects such as conducting vibration analysis studies of equipment in oil refineries and pulp and paper mills. They calculate the expected number of person hours required to complete jobs and establish schedules that identify the key activities, timelines and project deliverables. (2)
  • Compare cost options for clients to help them determine best prices. For example, they compare the short and long term costs of repairing equipment versus replacing it. (3)
  • May adjust project budgets. For example, they may review weekly and monthly cost reports, to monitor costs such as labour, materials and consultancy expenses. They compare budgeted amounts to actual costs and project costs forward to see if projects will be over or under budget, identify trends and prevent cash flow problems. (3)
  • Monitor budgets for the development, design and construction of large, multi-million dollar mechanical systems. They must account for complications caused by unanticipated costs like changes to mechanical system design or delay in deliveries; and consider quantities of a variety of materials and supplies to track expenditures. They consult with team members to review in detail why costs may be higher than expected and make budget revisions as projects proceed to avoid losing additional time and money. (4)
Measurement and Calculation Math
  • Take measurements from scale drawings. For example, they may measure scale drawings of component parts to verify fit within allowed spaces or may measure scale drawings of pipes to ensure that they fit within electricity generation systems. (2)
  • Calculate areas and volumes. For example, they may measure project sites to identify obstacles which might complicate the installation of pieces of equipment. They may calculate the volume of rooms to identify the level of ventilation required to meet acceptable air quality standards. (4)
  • Make indirect measurements using trigonometry and geometry. For example, they may apply trigonometric principles to calculate the position of antennae in relation to satellites or measure vibration of equipment at inaccessible points. They may also calculate the curve or trajectory of robots using principles of geometry and trigonometry. They may obtain the coordinates in space to establish the relative positions of antennas, satellites and reflectors by using theodolites and applying principles of triangulation. (5)
Data Analysis Math
  • Track data for many performance and maintenance parameters using maintenance tracking programs. They track the number of failures, mean time between failures, labour and material costs that were required to maintain equipment over specified time periods. They use these analyses to determine if equipment operation can be improved to reduce the long term costs. For example, they may analyze used-oil analysis chemical reports to find out how much machines are wearing and to predict when bearings need to be replaced or gear boxes overhauled. (3)
  • Identify quality parameters, set up data gathering systems, collect and analyze data. For example, they may monitor lead levels in drinking water following water pipe reconditioning. They collect samples at regular intervals to ensure that lead levels meet acceptable standards and are declining as the system ages. (3)
  • May monitor productivity data of people and machines. For example, they track work productivity by monitoring the number of change orders, source control documents, waivers, work instructions and written reports created and issue weighted outputs that recognize the relative difficulty of tasks to develop monthly performance benchmarking data for management and clients. They may also calculate production rates of robots by averaging their productivity over a number of trials and compare them to the desired levels of productivity of the assembly line. (3)
  • Collect data and develop statistics to describe equipment and system functionality. For example, they conduct reliability studies during equipment testing to establish how it performs under various controlled conditions. (4)
Numerical Estimation
  • May estimate the life of machines and equipment. For example, they may estimate the length of time until machine failures. They consider their knowledge, experience and the analysis of monitoring data to predict the time until failures occur. Clients depend on mechanical engineers to make accurate predictions so that they can take measures to prevent unnecessary and costly plant shutdowns. (3)
  • May estimate costs for mechanical design and construction projects. They consider previous experience with similar jobs. Making accurate estimates is important for mechanical engineers to be able to effectively plan and manage budgets. Inaccurate estimating invariably leads to client dissatisfaction and financial loss for engineering firms. (4)
  • Estimate durations of development, fabrication, construction and repair tasks. For example, they may estimate project completion times by considering how well projects have adhered to planned timelines, and the past and future utilization of personnel and materials. They may estimate the time required to repair system malfunctions based on clients' descriptions of the problems and the mechanical engineers' experience with similar problems. Accurate estimates are essential for business success and satisfied clients. (4)
Oral communication Help - Oral communication
  • Interact with clients by phone or in person to identify client needs, discuss project requirements, obtain information about mechanical systems, inform them of problems or delays encountered and provide progress updates. (2)
  • Consult with colleagues to obtain their input on challenging work problems. (2)
  • Contact suppliers to verify product availability, obtain equipment specifications and negotiate timely deliveries. For example, they may call suppliers to locate equipment that can handle high temperatures. They find out if such equipment exists, when it can be delivered or if the suppliers can provide suitable alternatives to meet their needs. (2)
  • Communicate their expectations to contractors. For example, they describe their expectations for conducting jobs properly, quickly and within the agreed upon scope and budget. (2)
  • May conduct job interviews to select engineering and technical staff for their organizations. (2)
  • Interact with their supervisors or managers for advice and direction, to discuss work and provide updates. (2)
  • May negotiate service contracts with clients, suppliers and contractors. They must be able to get a clear understanding of clients' needs. Mechanical engineers try to get the best deals for their organizations while meeting client needs and maintaining positive relationships. (3)
  • May make presentations on research findings and highly technical and complex topics to large groups. (4)
  • Facilitate discussions with their co-workers to co-ordinate work and brainstorm solutions to problems encountered. They may motivate work teams and may be responsible for ensuring engineering teams produce quality work within tight timeframes. (4)
  • Make presentations to clients, executives and colleagues on topics such as analysis reports, project scope descriptions, budget estimates and company capabilities. Mechanical engineers answer questions and justify their recommendations. (4)
Thinking Help - Thinking Problem Solving
  • Encounter team conflicts. They meet with the individuals involved, reinforce the fact they are on the same team and discuss options for solving the conflicts that maintain quality and safety. (2)
  • Find that engineering plans cannot be implemented due to unexpected financial or physical barriers. For example, a mechanical engineer may find that beams are blocking locations where pipes should pass. The mechanical engineer consults a civil engineer to find out if it is possible to move the beams and reviews engineering plans to identify alternative ways to pass the pipes. (2)
  • Find that machine or equipment components do not fit together well. For example, an engineer in a manufacturing facility finds that bearings on a conveyor belt are looser than the desired push fit. The engineer determines the correct dimensions for the bearings, revises the drawings, makes note of design changes and notifies the millwrights and others who will be affected by the changes. (3)
  • Encounter project delays. For example, they may learn that essential pieces of equipment will be shipped late. They determine the consequences to their project budgets and schedules and identify strategies, such as locating alternate vendors and accelerating other areas until the equipment arrives, to minimize the effects. (3)
  • Are faced with cost overruns in mechanical engineering projects. They consult with team members to review in detail why the costs are higher than expected. They brainstorm to identify less expensive methods and materials that meet the clients' specifications and timelines. (3)
  • May find that completed jobs do not meet safety and regulatory standards. For example, after school pipes and fittings are replaced, a mechanical engineer may find that lead levels are unacceptable. The engineer convenes a team to brainstorm and identify the sources of lead contamination. The engineer implements measures to deal with the high lead levels and communicates these plans to clients. Once the lead contamination is gone the engineer monitors the installation to see that lead does not exceed acceptable levels. (3)
  • Lose time and money when equipment they have installed malfunctions or fails to perform as expected. For example, following testing, mechanical engineers may determine that equipment is not performing as expected. They consult industry standards which describe potential problems that can be encountered, how to investigate them, potential solutions and remedial actions. They analyze data and formulate and investigate hypotheses to find the source of the problems. They re-design the equipment and conduct additional testing to demonstrate that the new pieces of equipment are of acceptable quality. (4)
Decision Making
  • Decide which products to purchase and contractors to select. For example, they review catalogues to determine if the parts are standard or must be customized and consider costs, volume discounts, delivery times and past experience with product vendors. When selecting contractors they consider factors such as work quality, safety records, reputation and ability to deliver on time. If two bids are technically equal, mechanical engineers select the lowest bid. (2)
  • Decide which measuring tools and methods to use. For example, they may decide where to place sensors within machines to get the best measurements when conducting vibration analysis. They consider their previous experience, machine layouts, the horizontal or vertical orientation of machines and the shapes of bearings to determine the sensor placements. (2)
  • Decide which materials and equipment to use for engineering projects. They take into account client specifications, industry norms and cost. For example, they may decide the most appropriate steam flow meters to use by considering available technology, the level of precision needed, availability and costs. (3)
  • Decide the appropriate codes and standards to apply when completing client projects. They use their technical knowledge and experience to select the most appropriate codes such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineering Codes and the International Organization for Standardization 9001 standards. (3)
  • Decide which clients have priority when multiple clients are experiencing technical difficulties simultaneously. They consider the types of services required, the time of the calls and the production losses and costs for the clients. For example, one robot out of operation in a car assembly plant can shut down the entire production and may cost ten thousand dollars per hour to the client. (3)
Critical Thinking
  • Judge the accuracy and completeness of mechanical engineering drawings before forwarding them for implementation. They ensure that the drawings adhere to required codes and standards and that the information is complete and presented in a clear and concise manner. They check that sufficient details have been provided for work to proceed. (3)
  • May assess employee performance by evaluating the skill sets, strengths and limitations of employees. Engineers' abilities to accurately assess employees influences employees' and team productivity, which ultimately affects the organizations' overall success. (3)
  • Judge the functionality or serviceability of equipment. They analyze evaluation data and apply International Organization of Standardization standards to calculate fault severities and consider codes such as the American Society for Mechanical Engineering, pipeline, structural steel codes, provincial boiler and pressure vessel acts and client limitations such as linguistic or financial barriers. Accurate judgements are vital to customer satisfaction and the credibility and profitability of the engineering firm. (3)
  • Conduct operations, environmental, safety and construction audits to assess quality, conformity with standards, safety and environmental risks. For example, they conduct operational audits in manufacturing plants and construction sites to verify that the organizations meet all provincial and federal regulations. They may also conduct environmental audits to check that organizations have spill containment procedures in place, that all tanks are double-walled and that organizations are following recycling and composting guidelines. If they fail to think critically, mechanical engineers' credibility will be damaged and their organizations can suffer serious consequences. (4)
Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Mechanical engineers are autonomous and have flexibility to plan their work schedules within frameworks established by their managers. They determine how to organize their work to meet deliverables and timelines of team-based projects. They may need to coordinate and integrate job tasks with other engineers and technical staff. Mechanical engineers often have to reshuffle their schedules to meet clients' requests and deal with problems caused by mechanical failures. (4)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Mechanical engineers may contribute to long-term and strategic planning for their organizations. They frequently assume project management roles for large projects and plan, assign and coordinate work of co-workers, contractors and vendors. They plan jobs, decide what tasks need to be done, draw up work schedules, and may be responsible for overseeing others' work, providing training and evaluating employees' work performance.

Significant Use of Memory
  • Remember portions of codes and standards that they refer to on a regular basis such as plumbing, fire safety, American Society for Mechanical Engineering, pipeline, structural steel, industry-specific codes, provincial boiler and pressure vessel acts, and International Organization of Standardization 9001 standards.
  • Remember past project successes and problems to integrate what they learned into new projects. For example, they implement previous design successes into new designs and recall the reasons for time delays in past installations.
  • Remember specifications that they work with on a regular basis such as equipment passwords and computer programming language codes.
Finding Information
  • Contact vendors or consult their catalogues and websites to obtain equipment specifications, prices and delivery options. For example, they may search for information about pump capacities and prices of fans. (1)
  • May consult organizational intranets to access organization-specific information required for their work. For example, they locate project work templates such as job initiation forms and job task numbers, reports of previous projects and lists of equipment inventories. (2)
  • Find technical information about materials and engineering methods. They consult colleagues and experts in other engineering disciplines. For example, they may consult colleagues with expertise in welding or parts manipulation to find information about unfamiliar applications or they ask metallurgical engineers about the properties of alloys to determine which materials to use for their projects. (3)
Digital technology Help - Digital technology
  • Use databases. For example, they consult vendor databases in Access for equipment specifications to identify models that meet their needs. They also access client contact information, project histories, maintenance services performed and problems encountered by using search features of customer management software programs. (2)
  • Use financial software. For example, they may prepare project and annual operating budgets using the basic features of financial software programs such as QuickBooks. (2)
  • Use communications software. For example, they may use Outlook to exchange e-mail with attached documents with co-workers, colleagues and clients. (2)
  • Use word processing software. For example, they use Word to write letters to clients, vendors and contractors using standard templates. They also write analysis reports and books of specifications containing tables of contents, heading levels, tables, graphs, imported pictures and bulleted lists. (3)
  • Use graphics software. For example, they use PowerPoint to present the results of analysis reports by using text, tables, graphs, pictures and animations. (3)
  • Use spreadsheet software. They set-up or create spreadsheets such as Excel to collect data and create schedules and budgets. For example, they plan project budgets, complete expense reports, monitor project expenditures, project schedules and person-hours worked. They may create models to solve complicated math equations by using advanced features of spreadsheet software. (3)
  • Use statistical analysis software. For example, they may conduct reliability studies and data analyses using the advanced features of statistical analysis software such as SPSS. (3)
  • Use computer-assisted design, manufacturing and machining software. For example, they may draw mechanical plans using AutoCAD. They create three-dimensional models using advanced features of three-dimensional modelling software and enter data of the architectural and engineering plans and of existing structures into the software before drawing the mechanical structures. (3)
  • Use Internet software. For example, they use Internet Explorer to find information on new products and technologies using search engines. They may also move large electronic files to customers using Internet file transfer protocol. Mechanical engineers may access web servers remotely using virtual private network protocols. For example, they access and analyze vibration monitoring data at customer locations via the Internet. They also download data from customer sites to their servers for further analysis. (3)
  • May use other software. For example, they may plan, schedule and monitor projects using the advanced features of project management software. They may view digital site photographs using image viewer software. They may use various specialized software to identify the preventive maintenance required for machinery and equipment, conduct vibration analysis of machines and develop reports of thermal imaging and measurement. (3)
  • May do programming, system and software design. For example, they may program robots using Programmable Logic Controllers such that the robots can interface with other robots and existing equipment. (5)
Additional information Help - Additional information Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Mechanical engineers typically coordinate and integrate their work within teams of engineers and technicians working on common projects. Mechanical engineers often assume project management roles in which they co-ordinate the involvement of other engineers, contractors, technicians and suppliers.

Mechanical engineers may be responsible for assigning work tasks to team members, and oversee others' work, providing training and evaluation of employees' work performance. (3)

Continuous Learning

Continuous learning is integral to the work of mechanical engineers as the field is diverse and influenced by ongoing technological change. New technologies change work processes and skill requirements. Engineers identify their own learning needs and determine their own learning goals. They attend conferences, workshops and courses; read professional journals, magazines, textbooks, technical manuals and newsletters; and they consult with co-workers and colleagues. Continuing education credits are mandatory for engineers to maintain their P. Eng licences in some jurisdictions. (4)

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