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Engineering Careers: What the Near Future Holds
After taking a series of hits during the Great Recession, the engineering profession has finally entered its year of rebuilding. Computer, petroleum, electrical, and environmental engineers along with physics majors with postgraduate degrees in engineering are seeing a surge in employment prospects. Thanks to production technology development, the post-Hurricane Sandy infrastructure update, and increasing concern over climate change and the energy crisis, unemployment for engineering graduates is down to 2 percent as of December 2012. The future of engineering careers has never looked rosier. But will this trend continue into the next decade?
If Bureau of Labor Statistics figures are anything to go by, the answer is a qualified yes. The projected rate of change in engineering employment over the next decade is 11 percent—about as fast as the average projected rate for all occupations in the US. This will, however, be dependent on specialization, with some fields outperforming others in terms of employability.
While opportunities and competition for engineering jobs will remain in rough balance, domestic employment growth will be tempered by globalization in the form of outsourced (off-site) engineering work and the influx of skilled but lower-paid foreign engineers. Other limiting factors include declining or slow-growing manufacturing industries and future cutbacks in government funding for defense research and development.
The BLS expects a slower-than-average growth outlook for aerospace, agricultural, chemical, computer hardware, electrical and electronics, industrial, materials, and mechanical engineering jobs. Civil, health and safety, marine, mining and geological, nuclear, and petroleum engineering jobs, on the other hand, will undergo no significant increase or decrease within the next ten years.
The post-industrial American economy means a slow-but-steady decline in manufacturing in favor of the various service industries; however, engineers will still be called upon to design, improve, and test manufacturing processes and products. Engineering careers will remain relevant in manufacturing so long as manufacturing technologies continue to advance and employers continue to demand high output and productivity.
The two specializations that hold the highest promise in terms of growth in job outlook are biomedical (62%) and environmental engineering (22%). Engineering graduates will also remain in high demand in consulting and in R&D services industries—sectors that remain stable even during recessions.
Prospects for Advanced Engineering Degree Holders
As is the case for workers in technical and scientific fields, engineer employability grows in proportion to one’s knowledge of up-to-date, industry-relevant technology. Engineers who miss out on continuous education can find themselves at a disadvantage come promotion or layoff time. What’s more, the preference is largely for “engineers who think like businesspeople”—a background in strategy, planning, and management is a plus.