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Is Engineering Employment in Danger or Is It Being Redefined?

Is Engineering Employment in Danger or Is It Being Redefined?

In this year’s Machine Design Salary and Career Report coming out in October, we captured some impressive numbers for engineering salaries. According to our survey, since 2014 our readers have seen an 11.5% increase in their salaries and the average salary for 2016 is very close to $100,000. Our report comes hand in hand with the fact that our engineers are getting older. The average age of the engineer is now 53 and we’re seeing a steady decline in the number of engineers 35 and younger. In talking with some of our readers, they believe that engineers are not finding jobs in the U.S. and that more work is being outsourced to contract firms in the United States or in other countries. However, different labor reports point to another cause, which may be the redefining of engineering job titles.

For the traditional engineering professions, the growth is expected to be slow for the next few years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there will be 3% growth from 2014 to 2024. This will add 67,200 new jobs in the engineering sector—lower than the expected average growth rate for all occupations, which is around 7% for 2014 to 2024. If broken out to individual professions, aerospace engineers will see a 2% decline, mechanical engineers will see a 5% increase, and petroleum engineers will see a 10% increase. Little to no change is expected for electrical and industrial engineers. These predictions are based on the traditional definitions of the engineering professions. The BLS notes that the slowdown in growth can be partially attributed to the decline in drafting and technician occupations due to the improvements in technology. The increase of design software and digital equipment has redefined job titles.

Independent job reports have a more promising outlook on the engineering job market. Kelly Services, an outsourcing and consulting service, has predicted an 11% increase overall for engineers. They conclude that nearly 249,000 jobs will become available by 2023. The majority of these jobs will go to civil and mechanical engineers, but leaning toward the infrastructure, oil & gas, renewable energy, medical devices, automotive, and aerospace industries. The World Economic Forum also predicts a rise for engineering jobs. Its prediction is that new and emerging roles will help redefine many jobs, especially in the areas of data collection and analysis. Engineering specialties such as materials, nanotech, robotics, geospatial information systems experts, and commercial and industrial engineers will see a rise in demand.

My belief is that we are in a time of flux for many of the engineering professions. Our use of technology has caused many of these niche professions to meld. A mechanical engineer in today’s engineering world needs to be concerned as much with electrical and computer technology as they are with their own jobs. The BLS reports are based on how we have typically defined engineering roles, yet other reports indicate that new roles are being created and that perhaps engineers coming out of college now need to focus on applying for these new roles. We also should be tracking how many engineers are hired into nontraditional jobs and revisit what we consider an “engineering profession” to be.

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