Best Job for Mechanical Engineers in High-Rise Buildings


I wish someone had told me about the job options for a mechanical engineer when I was looking for my first job. There are many jobs you can choose as a mechanical engineer but if you are interested to work in high-rise buildings and skyscrapers, which job is the best for you?

I've been working for over 7 years in high-rise buildings and I'm a friend to many different engineers working together on construction projects. I've seen what they do, how they do and how they earn. Hence, I can list out all mechanical engineering jobs in high-rise buildings for you.

But, to make it more interesting, I'm going to rank them from what I think is the less interesting one to the best one (guys, just my opinion so don't bash me on the ranking). Let's go.

Rank 10

BIM Modeler

Full-time or part-time on site.

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More and more building construction projects are coordinate services using 3D drawings. Hence, BIM modelers are in demand now. Many people don't realize that BIM modelers are actually earning a lot these days. As a BIM modeler, you need to produce 3D coordination drawings using software such as Autodesk Revit and Solidwork.

Usually, you join a mechanical company and start with 2D drawings and learn how to use the 3D software first. Otherwise, you also can join a 3D modeling company that provides outsourced services to other companies.

The starting salary for a 3D modeler is lower than other mechanical-based engineers because it's all about skills and experiences. Top 3D modelers are able to quickly understand what should be drawn, discussed and give advice to people who are working on the construction work.

Rank 9

M&E Coordinator

Full-time on site.

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M&E coordinators are with the main contracting company that handles the civil and structure work of a building construction project. Hence, you'll be hanging around with a lot of civil and structural engineers.

Every construction project has one or two M&E coordinators depending on the scale of the project. M&E coordinators are important to make sure the engineers from different trades are synchronized and coordinated to avoid double handling or redoing works.

An M&E coordinator also starts from low pay because not much value is provided until you are able to pull all M&E companies together which is not an easy task. You'll need to have strong people relationship skills and knowledge about each M&E service. When you are able to pull it off, you'll get paid handsomely.

Rank 8

Mechanical Consulting Engineer

On site when needed only.

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All M&E services within a building are designed and controlled by one or more mechanical consulting engineers depending on the scale of the project. As a mechanical consulting engineer, you'll also need to approve the drawing, material and method statement submitted by M&E contractors. Furthermore, you'll need to seek authorities' approval where applicable.

There are a lot of consulting companies out there. Consulting companies are made of different kinds of engineers including mechanical, electrical, civil & structure and more, depending on the size of the company.

Because consulting engineers are not full-time on the construction site, they generally earn lesser than project engineers who have site allowances. Junior consulting engineers are good in theories but they often lack actual installation experiences.

Rank 7

Project Engineer for Rainwater Management System

Part-time on site.

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You are most likely a project engineer working in a rainwater management company. The rainwater management work is not considered a major M&E service in most buildings. It's a relatively small scope of work. Hence, you can expect to handle multiple projects at the same time.

Rainwater management is important in high-rise buildings. The system needs to effectively channel rainwater from the roof to the underground drain.

Depending on how many projects are assigned to you, the starting salary can be higher than most project engineers due to the high travel allowances. You'll be learning more about time management and resources management than technical know-how.

Rank 6

Project Engineer for Security and Camera System

Part-time on site.

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Every building needs security and camera or CCTV system. The system involved the building entrance gate security (auto gate or boom gate), CCTVs, motion detectors, magnetic doors and more, depending on the project requirement.

To work on the security and camera system of a building, you need to join a security and camera company and work as a project engineer. Similar to rainwater management, the security system is a relatively small scope of work within a building and you also can expect to handle multiple projects at the same time.

Again, your starting salary is depending on how many projects you can handle. Your total earning can be more than other project engineers due to travel allowances. Often, you'll be working more on electrical wiring than mechanical.

Rank 5

Project Engineer for Building Automation System (BAS)

Part-time on site.

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There are many building automation companies out there. Although the system is not a big scope of work in a building, a lot of testing and troubleshooting work need to be done at the later stage of the construction when all M&E services are connected.

Almost all new high-rise buildings have building automation or building management system to improve the overall energy efficiency of the building. All M&E services are centralized at the building automation system which the building operator can monitor and control remotely from a room.

As a project engineer in charge of the building automation system, you are heavily leaning towards programming and wiring works. Starting salary is quite good considering not many competitors, relatively speaking.

Rank 4

Project Engineer for Lifts and Escalators

Part-time on site.

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Lift and escalator works are highly specialized. A building may only have 6 lifts and a few escalators but they are extremely important in high-rise buildings. Just look at the lift system in the Burj Khalifa.

You'll be working as a project engineer in a lift specialist company. You can expect to run between different projects at the early stage of the construction. Later, you'll need to spend more time with your team on site for testing and commissioning work.

Working with lifts is considered a higher risk job since the lift shaft is a confined space. A lot of safety aspects are involved Hence, the starting salary can be higher than other project engineers. You'll not be involved in the coordination with other trades since lifts are pretty much isolated by themselves.

Rank 3

Project Engineer for Fire Protection

Full-time on site.

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Needless to say, fire protection is extremely important in all buildings, not to mention high-rise buildings. The fire protection system involves fire alarms, smoke detectors, fire hydrants and other active and passive systems.

You'll be working as a project engineer in a fire protection company, full-time working on the construction site. Fire protection is needed everywhere in the building. So, you are most likely to be spending 2-3 years on one project site.

The starting salary of a project engineer in charge of the fire protection system in a construction building is somewhat average. You may have site allowances on top of the basic salary which in total can be higher than most junior accountants and executives. You'll learn all the control systems of fire protection equipment.

Rank 2

Project Engineer for Sanitary and Plumbing

Full-time on site.

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The sanitary and plumbing scope of work in a high-rise building is huge. Some of the work involved toilet pipes, hot water for showers, water tanks for normal water supplies and the water supply for the fire protection system.

Some people have the impression that working with sanitary and plumbing pipes is smelly and stinky. However, you are constructing the pipes without any waste and thus, they are not smelly until a later stage (defects).

The starting salary is similar to the fire protection job. As a project engineer handling the sanitary and plumbing system, you may also have site allowances that push your total earnings higher than most jobs. Plumbing pipes use gravity flow. So, you'll learn a lot about the principle of gravity flow and prevent airlocks.

Rank 1

Project Engineer for Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

Full-time on site.

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The HVAC system is a must for all buildings. Not only it provides comfort, but it also prevents mold growth, maintains a healthy oxygen level and keeping all machinery running without overheating. The HVAC system is the largest service in a high-rise building.

You'll be working as a project engineer in an HVAC company. Usually, you'll be assisting a senior or a manager in a construction project unless the project is small in scale. Your system can be found everywhere in a building and hence, you need to spend all of your time on the construction site.

The starting salary of an HVAC project engineer can be higher than other project engineers due to the wider scope of work. However, you'll also be involved in more works from air conditioners to ventilation fans, pipes, ducts, control panels and wiring works. The HVAC system is considered the most complicated M&E service in high-rise buildings.

The HVAC system can be viewed into two major systems; heating & cooling and ventilation. Air conditioners may look simple but if involved chillers and VRFs, it needs a strong technical background to pull off. The ventilation system is not any easier than the air conditioning system. Basement smoke extraction system and stairwell pressurization system are part of the building safety system. The HVAC system has a lot of control panels that will train you on automation and electrical. Fans and ducts are heavy on mechanical movement and supports.

Furthermore, you may be involved in sensors and instruments depending on the nature of the project that you're working on. In my opinion, working on the HVAC system of high-rise buildings is the most challenging yet rewarding job.

Conclusion

Although I've been an HVAC project engineer, I do think other jobs are amazing and cool. You may see plumbing works as a boring job but when it comes to the hot water system, the technical involvement is just as much as the HVAC system.

Besides, project engineers working on the fire protection system have a strong sense of responsibility, knowing that they are building a system that is going to save hundreds of lives in case of an emergency. If you are a lift specialist, everybody pretty much is listening to you because lifts are a very specialized job.

Other services are also pretty awesome like the building automation system that has all the fancy technologies and the security system that can peek at people while testing.

In the end, it boils down to your interest. I have to apologize because there is no “best job” but “your job” which I mean the job you are interested in and love to work for a very long time. Nevertheless, I gave you the outlook of each job so that at least you know these jobs existed. Back then, I have no idea.

Honorable mentions:

  • Project engineers for the photovoltaic system (solar panel)
  • Green building consulting engineer
  • Electrical engineer (not mechanical but still cool af).

Check out my post about what I do being a project engineer.


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Yu Chang Zhen

I enjoy working on air conditioners and ventilation fans because Malaysia is a very hot country.

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