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The Unequal Job Future for Engineers

References Cited

Recruiting and Retaining Engineering Talent, The Coming War for Engineering Talent, The Visibility Mandate for Engineering Operations

The discrepancy in 18-year job outlook for different types of engineers might surprise you.

In America, we’ve been told we’ll face a dearth of engineers in the near future. We’ve learned to encourage students to major in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, as that’s where the job growth will be. Over the next few decades, we expect to see newly developed materials for 3D printing and for aircraft and vehicles in general.

And of course technology pushes onward, which should mean good news for software control and systems engineers and even for drafters working in CAD.

But U.S. Bureau of Labor’s projected job growth for some of these fields doesn’t line up with what we think we know.

Little growth, with a few exceptions

The Bureau of Labor predicts employment for mechanical engineers to grow only 5% from 2012 to 2022, slower than average for all U.S. occupations. No surprise that job prospects are best for those who stay on top of related technology in their field, but the statistic doesn’t seem to reflect the engineering shortfall we’ve been led to expect.

Mechanical engineers will still be needed to design the machinery that will continue to be in demand as machines replace more expensive human labor in various industries, according to Bureau of Labor.

Electrical engineers won’t see job growth either, as electrical engineering jobs are projected to increase 4% through 2022, largely in engineering services firms. “More companies are expected to cut costs by contracting engineering services rather than directly employing engineers.

“Electrical engineers will also experience job growth in computer systems design, as these industries continue to implement more powerful portable computing devices,” according to the report.

Employment for drafters is expected to hold steady through 2022, as advances in technologies like CAD will mean greater efficiencies, with fewer drafters needed.

But due to ever-increasing need for software and people who understand it, software control and systems engineer jobs, along with all software engineering jobs, should increase by around 20% through 2022.

Surprisingly, the Bureau of Labor predicts little or no job growth in materials engineering, with the report making no mention of need for new materials in the future or of technologies like 3D printing.

The biggest job growth, aside from systems software and control engineering, is in store for environmental engineers, with employment expected to grown 15% through 2022.

The Takeaway

So why do the Bureau of Labor’s numbers tell a different story from the one we think we know, or, in the case of materials engineering, the story we might logically infer?

At first blush, heck even at second blush, the discrepancies in job growth for different types of engineers are confounding. But really the statistics—including mention of the growth of contracting—paint a picture of the changing American jobscape over the next two decades.

The increase for environmental engineering jobs has its roots in news like that of the drought in western states and in the continued ramifications of climate change.

Technological advances continue to create efficiencies that streamline the need for mechanical, electrical engineers, and drafters. Mechanical and electrical engineers who keep on top of technological changes in their field are expected to be most employable.

Perhaps technology that allows engineers to design specific materials within a CAD system will take away from materials engineers’ roles. Or perhaps materials engineers will be tasked with creating environmentally conscious materials and thus be termed environmental engineers.

All engineering fields will continues to evolve in ways not quite obvious, ways we might not even consider today. The outlook merely reiterates the needs for engineers of all stripes to stay on top of changes in their fields.

Do you agree with the Bureau of Labor’s job outlook for various engineering fields? If not, how do your thoughts differ? Let us know.

 

 

For the past 15 years, Jean Thilmany has been writing about and following the computer-aided engineering technology industry, which includes PLM. She’s written for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Chemical Society, among others.

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