By TPM | June 11, 2018
Over the last few years, it feels like engineering has lost some of its mojo. The “E” in STEM just isn’t as sexy as it with the media as it used to be. There’s a narrative that says that thirty years ago, our best and brightest students were often going off to get degrees in engineering with dreams of working in Detroit; today, those same opportunities lie in Silicon Valley via degrees in computer science, statistics, or data science.
You won’t have to look hard to find conflicting stories about the demand for engineers. On the one hand, some will tell you that since the Great Recession, things have never been the same for the engineering job marketing. On the other, just check out this discussion on Reddit among current engineers telling a new grad that the demand is great and their firms can’t find enough qualified candidates.
When looking at these anecdotal sources, it’s hard to get a handle on the truth. That’s why I’ve been taking a look at data released earlier in 2018 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to try to get a better handle on this issue. Have opportunities in engineering plateaued, or even worse, decreased? Or maybe it’s true that there are opportunities in computer and electrical engineering due do the demand to pump out the great creations of companies like Google and Apple. However, the best days of mechanical and petroleum engineers have come and gone, just like the best days of manufacturing and the oil industry. BLS has data on all of this, which allows us to better see what’s really happening in the field of engineering. The following projections for engineering employment are as of 2016 and are for the next 10 years, so they are very current.
Current Levels of Engineering Employment
First, here’s a look at the overall employment picture for engineers as of 2016. The reality is that for students that love the idea of engineering for the sake of building things, employment is still strong. The top 3 fields are civil, mechanical, and industrial engineering. Several electric and computer engineering fields are also in the top 10. It’s great to see that overall, there are nearly 1.7 million people employed in engineering jobs in the United States.
Projections for Engineering Employment
In terms of 10 year projections, the picture is similarly strong. Another 140,000 engineering jobs overall are expected to be added, with most of the current careers in a similar place to where they are now. Some individual careers are growing a little slower, some faster. For example, petroleum engineering is expected to see above average growth over the next 10 years.
So we’re at about 1.7 million engineering jobs today and looking to add about 140,000 or roughly 8%. How does that compare with the rest of the economy according to BLS for that 10 year period? It’s right on par for what they would expect. Eight percent is considered the average. So while engineering job growth is not setting the world on fire, it is growing at roughly the same rate at the rest of the economy meaning the suggestions that engineering is a bad field to enter are off the mark.
Salaries for Engineering Careers
When looking at salaries, the story does become a bit clearer. While all these engineering jobs have salaries that are well above the United States average income, some of the most specialized fields are also the jobs that command the highest salaries. Here, computer and electrial engineering do much better than “traditional” engineering fields with average salaries of $115,000 and $99,000 respectively. Nothing approaches petroleum engineer, which is the best paying engineering job, coming in at an average salary of $128,000. By contrast, the average mechanical engineer has a much lower salary of $84,000.
Is the Engineering Job Market Still Strong?
Bureau of Labor Statistics data supports the idea that the engineering is still a great choice for students making their career Decisions today. Due to continued job growth, by 2026, nearly 2 million people will be employed as engineers in the United States. The salaries for these jobs are well above the American average, but there is significant variance across the different engineering fields, so it’s worth considering what fields may support a strong salary when making a career choice.