Kelly Services’ latest Engineering Employment Outlook forecasts what the U.S. engineering labor market will look like by 2023 as well as takes a snapshot of employment conditions today, including top jobs and salaries. The demographics and skill sets of the engineering workforce will also continue to evolve.
The United States will need nearly 250,000 more engineers over the next 10 years to work in high-growth sectors and industries such as oil and gas, aerospace, and renewable energy, with employers to make more than a third of new engineering jobs available in metropolitan areas such as Houston, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
That translates to an 11 percent expansion rate in the U.S. engineering labor market from now through 2023, according to Kelly Services‘ latest Engineering Employment Outlook, which forecasts work conditions in the coming decade and also takes a snapshot of the current situation for engineers. The Troy, Mich.-based workforce solutions company says civil engineers will be in highest demand and 10 metropolitan areas will command around 35 percent of total engineering job growth over the next decade, including San Francisco, San Jose, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas, New York/New Jersey, and Boston.
Nearly 46,000 more civil engineering hires will be made through 2023, followed by mechanical engineering, with around 25,500 jobs. That growth reflects the two disciplines’ continued standing as the number one and two biggest engineering fields today, at 16 percent and 14 percent of the total U.S. engineering labor market, respectively. The “big four” fields of civil, mechanical, industrial, and electrical engineering account for 51 percent of the approximately 2 million engineers working across the nation today, which in turn represents about 1 percent of the country’s total labor force.
Kelly Services predicts that demand for architectural and engineering managers will supplant electrical engineering from the big-four occupations in terms of job additions from now through 2023. The company, one of the nation’s largest engineering staffing providers, also notes that biomedical engineering employment will experience a 56 percent growth rate, the fastest among all disciplines. Employers will also have a high need for environmental, petroleum, and nuclear engineers, while the manufacturing sector will only have modest growth for engineering employment.
Engineers will be expected to work expertly in biotechnology, industrial automation, and sustainability, as well as oil and gas exploration and production, which alone will fuel a 17 percent job market expansion for civil, mechanical, industrial, and electrical engineers in Houston. The city is predicted to add close to 15,000 new engineering jobs over the next 10 years.
New engineers will also be fiercely sought during the latter half of this decade to replenish what is now a highly mature engineering workforce across the country, in which more than half of all employed engineers are 45 or older. Lagging college enrollment into engineering, which is failing to keep pace with the number of retiring baby boomer engineers, will only exacerbate the need for engineers, boosting career prospects to even more lucrative heights than the $85,000 median annual salary engineers command today. Currently, petroleum engineers ($123,947), architectural/engineering managers ($123,115), and aerospace engineers ($103,459) garner the top salaries among all engineers.
For young engineers just embarking on their careers, Kelly Services says they are starting off at a $53,400 median salary, while citing a 2013 National Association of Colleges and Employers salary survey that reported seven out of the 10 highest-paying bachelor’s degrees belonged to engineering majors. In Kelly Services’ own survey of employers, more than three out of every four respondents (77.6 percent) have plans to hire new engineering graduates, which trailed only business school graduates.
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The engineering workforce continues to be dominated by men. Kelly Services reports that women earn just 20 percent of all engineering degrees that are awarded in the country, but represent a mere 13 percent of the U.S. engineering workforce. The firm’s outlook comments that women are “exceptionally underrepresented” in mechanical engineering, especially, where females account for only 7 percent of the workforce in the field.
U.S. employers will have to look for more and more engineers who come from outside the United States, Kelly Services says. It notes that at the moment roughly one-third of all those who hold engineering degrees in the United States were born outside the country, while 54 percent of all engineering doctorates and 44 percent of master’s degrees are being earned by non-resident students. In electrical engineering, foreign nationals dominate full-time graduate students at 70 percent.
Aside from needing traditional technical skills, employers will be seeking more engineers who are creative and can innovate and apply new thinking, says Kelly Services, as future engineering challenges will be more complex and global in nature. New technologies also will influence demand for engineers who have specialized skill sets in embedded software, advanced manufacturing, and energy technologies, among others, and who can solve problems in nontraditional ways that include crowdsourcing.
Soft skills, such as ability to verbally communicate with others, obtain and process information and analyze data, and organize work and make decisions, will also be big differentiators among engineering career candidates. Favored will be those engineers who understand how organizations “really tick,” express themselves clearly and professionally, show strong teamwork and project management, and are flexible to changing demands, according to Kelly Services’ outlook.
The report notes, “When one person has all of those capabilities, he or she is no longer just another engineer, but [a] sought-after engineering talent.”