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Air-Conditioning Engineer Job Description, Career as an Air-Conditioning Engineer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Bachelor's degree

Salary: Median—$67,110 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Air-conditioning engineers are mechanical engineers who work on systems that cool, heat, purify, circulate, humidify, and dehumidify air. Climate control systems are used in a wide range of indoor areas, from office buildings to tractor-trailer cabs. These systems help people work and live with maximum comfort and safety. Air-conditioning also helps machines and other equipment work properly. For instance, the humidity level in a print shop must be controlled so that the paper does not shrink and the ink prints clearly. Also, computer systems need to be kept at a certain temperature and humidity.

Air-conditioning engineers work on systems for homes, offices, hospitals, schools, stores, factories, theaters, airplanes, trains, ships, and cars. Each interior area has its own set of problems that the engineer must solve. For example, a space vehicle that is burning hot on one side from the direct rays of the sun and–400°F on the other side presents unique air-conditioning problems. Engineers can also encounter problems when developing systems for large areas such as glass-enclosed shopping malls.

Air-conditioning engineers work for manufacturers of air-conditioning equipment and for engineering and contracting firms. They work in industries that use air conditioners, such as the aerospace industry. Engineers also work for colleges, universities, and government agencies. Some have their own businesses.

Air-conditioning engineers usually specialize in a particular area of engineering, such as research and development. In this area, engineers design, test, and develop new kinds of air-conditioning equipment. Air-conditioning engineers who work in production plan every step of the manufacturing process. They estimate the costs of labor and supplies and often supervise the manufacturing of equipment. Other engineers work in sales. They work with customers to determine their needs and then sell them the appropriate air-conditioning systems. Engineers also supervise the installation, operation, and maintenance of air-conditioning systems. Some work as independent consultants who advise manufacturers, contractors, architects, and others on air-conditioning problems.

Education and Training Requirements

To become an air-conditioning engineer you need at least a bachelor's degree in engineering. Most air-conditioning engineers have degrees in mechanical or electrical engineering. Some colleges have courses in air-conditioning engineering, but training in one of the traditional engineering fields provides adequate training. If your college has a work-study program, you might be able to combine job experience in the air-conditioning industry with your formal training. Some engineers go on to get a master's or doctoral degree. A master's degree requires an additional one or two years of full-time study, and a doctoral degree often involves four years of full-time study. Some engineers do graduate work on a part-time basis once they have their bachelor's degrees and a job. Employers usually encourage their employees to take courses that will improve their job performance, and they will often pay tuition. In addition, engineers need to continue studying and reading throughout their careers in order to keep up with advances in air-conditioning technology.

Engineers who offer their services to the public or whose work affects life, health, or property must be licensed by the state in which they work. They generally need a degree from an approved engineering college, about four years of work experience as an engineer, and a passing grade on a state examination before becoming licensed as a professional engineer.

Getting the Job

Your college placement office can give you information about getting an engineering job. If you take part in a work-study program in college, you may be able to continue working for your employer after graduation. You can also apply directly to companies that hire air-conditioning engineers. Many employers advertise job openings in newspapers, Internet job banks, and trade and professional journals.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Advancement in this field generally depends on education and experience. Many air-conditioning engineers become heads of research teams, managers, or even executives. Some start their own consulting or contracting firms. Mechanical engineers, including air-conditioning engineers, are projected to have an average rate of employment growth through 2014. Openings will result from a demand for new or upgraded energy-efficient climate control systems. The number of new jobs created each year also depends on the state of the economy.

Working Conditions

Working conditions vary depending on the area in which the engineer is employed. Air-conditioning engineers working in research and development generally spend most of their time in offices and laboratories. They usually work forty hours per week. Engineers working in production usually spend more of their time on production lines or at construction sites. They often work rotating shifts. Most sales engineers travel frequently, and their hours are more flexible. Engineers can expect to work extra hours at times, especially when deadlines must be met. They also spend additional time learning about new developments in the field.

Engineers must be creative, innovative problem solvers. They should be good at science and mathematics and have the communication skills necessary to get their ideas across to other engineers, air-conditioning technicians, architects, and customers. They should also be able to work well in teams.

Where to Go for More Information

Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute
4100 North Fairfax Dr., Ste. 200
Arlington, VA 22203
(703) 524-8800

Air Conditioning Contractors of America
2800 Shirlington Rd., Ste. 300
Arlington, VA 20006
(703) 575-4477

American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers
1791 Tullie Circle NE
Atlanta, GA 30329-2305
(800) 527-4723

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings vary depending on the education and experience of the air-conditioning engineer, the location, and the type of job. Air-conditioning engineers earn salaries that are close to the salaries of materials engineers. In May 2004, the median annual salary of a materials engineer was $67,110. In 2005 the average starting salaries for a materials engineer with a bachelor's degree was $50,982 per year. Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.

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