What the future will hold for engineering has been on our minds a lot lately. And judging by the amazing response to this article, we’re not the only ones.
But of course, as engineers, we know that pure speculation won’t cut it. We want to see the data. So, here’s some jobs data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that gives us a glimpse of what may be in store.
Engineering jobs outlook by the numbers
Demand for drafters will decline as engineering software improves
Through 2024, employment of drafters will decline by 3%. The BLS notes: “Although drafters will continue to work on technical drawings and documents related to the design of buildings, machines, and tools, new software programs are making drafters and related professionals more efficient, thus requiring fewer workers.”
Demand for electrical and electronics engineers has stalled overall, but will grow in engineering services firms
The next eight years will likely see “little or no change” in the number of jobs available to electrical and electronics engineers.
However, there won’t be a flat-out plateauing of the job market. While the manufacturing industry is expected to see a decline, engineering services firms — particularly those that serve the solar, semiconductor, and communications markets, as well as computer systems designers — are predicted to see job growth.
Materials engineers are in the same boat as electrical and electronics engineers
Growth here is expected to be about 1%. Like electrical and electronic engineers, most materials engineers are employed in manufacturing, which will slow. However, also there will be plenty of opportunities for materials engineers in certain industries, like aerospace manufacturing and in the development of new medical and scientific products.
Chemical engineers will see a small increase as manufacturers demand new products
While manufacturing on the whole may see a slight decline, there’s another force at work. Consumers in many of the industries that chemical engineers serve are demanding a wider variety of products than ever before.
For example, for the past year or so, the Food Processing Suppliers Association (FPSA) has been interviewing experts from different parts of the food and beverage industry about current trends and challenges. Almost every one of them has noted the rapid growth in the number and diversity of products on grocery store shelves. This means engineers must design both processes and products to meet these growing demands.
Industrial engineers will also experience a small increase
Talk to anyone in any area of manufacturing today about their current goals, and they will undoubtedly say improved efficiency (again, see the aforementioned FPSA interview series). Although job growth is predicted at only 1%, the BLS notes that “firms in a variety of industries will continue to seek new ways to contain costs and improve efficiency.”
Demand for mechanical engineers will grow, especially for those familiar with the latest technologies
Mechanical engineers will experience job growth of 5%, which is about average across all industries. This growth will be driven by demand for engineers “who stay abreast of the most recent advances in technology.”
Civil engineers will see more opportunities as our infrastructure ages
Bridges, roads, dams, airports — the U.S. infrastructure is getting older and becoming in more need of rebuilding and repair. This will result in 8% job growth for civil engineers.
Demand for petroleum engineers will grow quickly, thanks to recovery in the domestic oil market
At 10%, the growth rate for petroleum engineer jobs will outpace the average of all jobs, and most of the others on this list. This will be due to higher oil prices and “increasing complexity of oil companies’ operations.”
Environmental engineers will be more in demand as companies in all sectors focus on sustainability
Sustainability is no longer just a buzzword. Companies across the board are investing more in recycling, water management, and other eco-friendly practices. This will result in 12% growth, which is much faster than average.
Biomedical engineers will have the best job prospects of all
If you’re just starting out, you might want to consider biomedical engineering. The combination of “growing technology and its application to medical equipment and devices, along with an aging population,” will make for 23% growth in this field.
What does all of this mean for the future of engineering?
Take a moment to examine this list. One trend that emerges is that several of the more traditional engineering jobs (e.g., drafting) are in decline, while newer types of engineering (environmental, biomedical) are growing like gangbusters.
Here’s are two things we think these data mean for the future:
- Engineering will continue to evolve. Engineers today are tackling a huge range of problems and projects (check out this list of 11 amazing engineering innovations of 2016). In addition, new tools are changing how engineering is done. For example, software is improving to make engineers more efficient, as well as to shift the focus from drawings to data.
- Engineering will become more multidisciplinary. Environmental and biomedical engineering are multidisciplinary pursuits. They require people to develop broad expertise and work with others from outside fields.
We think both of these are very positive indicators of what the future might look like. What do you think?