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Engineering Job Growth: Is It Time to Shake the Magic 8-Ball?

Sept. 19, 2017
Job growth for electrical and mechanical design is expected to explode—at least, for some.

The numbers behind the latest projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in job growth for electrical and mechanical design may or may not surprise you, based on your profession. Here in the U.S., we’re constantly bombarded with articles and research papers detailing the need for more engineers in nearly every discipline.

Academic institutions are regularly adopting the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum in grade schools and even some colleges to encourage entering the job market in one of those areas. That’s under the assumption those jobs will be in high demand, but the BLS paints a slightly different picture over a 10-year spread between 2014 and 2024.

To get a better understanding of what those numbers mean, we’ll break the two professions (electrical and mechanical) down into two separate categories, each with their own outline, so it’s easier to understand and to give you a better idea of where they stand in the next seven years.

Electrical Engineering Jobs by the Numbers

Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree

2016 average salary: $96,270 per year

The BLS has posted the numbers for the projected job outlook for electrical and electronics engineers in its Occupational Outlook Handbook, published back in December of 2015 with projection numbers for the years of 2016 and 2017. It is important to note that the OOH is published biennially and the information/data therein reflects its projections.

That being said, the outlook for electrical and electronics engineers is not that encouraging considering there is no growth projected through 2024. More accurately, the employment percentage change is 1.4%, meaning the 315,900 jobs engineers had in 2014 will be reduced by 100 by 2024, as they will not be in high demand over the next seven years to the target date.

The BLS explains that the reduction in job numbers in this market is due to slow growth and/or the decline of numbers needed for the manufacturing sector. That being said, it predicts that more companies and manufacturers will cease to rely on in-house engineers and move to contracting to save money. On the plus side, technological innovation will likely drive the demand for more numbers of electrical engineers in the R&D sector, paving the way for competitive earning based on the skill sets they’ve acquired on the job or through increased education.

Jobs will shift away from traditional roles in the manufacturing industry to those in developing advanced solar arrays, semiconductors, communications technologies, and distribution systems related to new technologies. Of course, the salary for those new occupations will also rise, with R&D gaining an average of $113,100, the semiconductor industry averaging $100,000, the electromedical/control instrument manufacturing industries averaging $96,000, the power industry averaging $92,000, and contracted engineers bringing in an average of $91,000.

Mechanical Engineering Jobs by the Numbers

Entry-Level education: Bachelor’s degree

2016 average salary: $84,190 per year

Mechanical engineers will fare a little better than their EE counterparts as the BLS brings a better-projected outlook of a 5% increase in their demand in the next seven years. The numbers are better across the board with 277,500 in the job market back in 2014, which will increase by 14,600 by 2024—an average increase, but an increase nonetheless. Mechanical engineers also have a wider job market compared to EEs, as their profession allows them to work in a myriad of industries and on different types of projects.

While mechanical engineers retain their traditional job markets—manufacturing, automation, aviation, and automotive industries—they will also need to adapt as new technologies are introduced, meaning they likely will need additional education. The BLS projects these new industries where MEs will be in high demand will include R&D, the alternative energy industry, and the remanufacturing industry (essentially, rebuilding old tech for new purposes).

Nanotechnology will also offer a new growth path as new mechanical systems will need to be designed for the implementation of the new technology, especially in the medical and microchip industries. Additional education in computational design, simulation, and other software tools will undoubtedly be required for these positions.

The pay scale for these new job tiers break down as follows: R&D averages $96,000, the aerospace product/parts manufacturing industry averages $93,000, computer/electronics manufacturing averages $89,000, ME contracting averages $86,000, and machinery manufacturing averages the lowest at $75,000.

While the job projections for both disciplines—electrical and mechanical—are on par with today's, it’s not reflective of other engineering fields. In fact, these two are ranked decidedly lower than most others: Biomedical engineers are at the top, with a project growth outlook of 23.1%, and environmental comes in at 12.4%. At the bottom of the growth index are Nuclear engineers (surprisingly) and, believe it or not, aerospace engineers—who ironically earn more annually than any of the others (averaging $100,000 per year).

It makes sense, though, that with any engineering profession, the disciplines must keep pace with the technology if they want to remain relevant. That means increased education, and engineers by design never stop learning. The projected numbers for the 2014 to 2024 outlook may seem bleak for some, but nothing is written in stone, and those numbers may change. Engineers are inquisitive, adaptive, and are constantly learning new skill sets, so if you’re in one of the professions currently getting short shrift, you shouldn’t worry about the future.

About the Author

Cabe Atwell

Engineer, Machinist, Maker, Writer. A graduate Electrical Engineer actively plying his expertise in the industry and at his company, Gunhead. When not designing/building, he creates a steady torrent of projects and content in the media world. Many of his projects and articles are online at element14 & SolidSmack, industry-focused work at EETimes & EDN, and offbeat articles at Make Magazine. Currently, you can find him hosting webinars and contributing to Penton’s Electronic Design and Machine Design.

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