Based on the most recent findings from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), engineering career opportunities are poised to grow significantly faster than the average for all professions over the next six or seven years. The engineering unemployment rate is also impressively low.
But while opportunities within engineering are increasing, the skills and experience needed to sufficiently fill these roles are lacking.
Take the industrial engineering career, for example. There are about 55,264 available positions posted on the internet month over month in this realm of engineering. BUT only 7,985 (about 14%) of these highly skilled engineering occupations are filled each month.
Folks in engineering careers today are also more likely to be leaving sooner rather than later. Top-level and/or C-suite engineers are getting older and a large portion of relatively younger engineers are not staying as long as previous generations.
With escalating demand for skilled engineers and a good portion of that workforce likely to leave sooner rather than later, the lack of essential skills to meet and sustain rapidly progressing engineering employment needs are likely to become a real pain point in the near future.
New Engineering Career Options
According to an engineering career examination conducted by the BLS in 2018, it’s projected that about 140,000 additional engineering occupations will be added to the market in the next five years. Employment opportunities for civil, mechanical, industrial, and electrical engineers, in particular, are projected to skyrocket by 2026.
The challenge hiring managers face is that the skills and experience needed to fill the average engineering career today are more extensive and specialized than ever before. Widespread and rapidly developing technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics require a variety of engineers to deploy successfully. Contrary to popular belief, these innovations are not eliminating jobs, they’re creating them.
Because of the diversity of requirements needed to sustain AI and robotics, engineering career tracks for people that know “machine learning” algorithms, for example, are 9 times more favorable and in demand than the average for all occupations. In addition to high demand for engineers that can build AI, robots, and cobots, we now have engineering occupations dedicated to selling, training, and restoring them.
Engineering Unemployment Rate & Turnover
Because of the snowballing demand for engineers, the unemployment rate across the range of engineering careers continues to be much lower than the national average. The engineering unemployment rate in December of 2018 was significantly less than the average for all occupations at just 2.7%.
But although the engineering unemployment rate is low, turnover is high and becoming more frequent. We see high rates of abandonment in advanced engineering careers even before candidates enter the workplace. Technological advancements have led to exceedingly high productivity expectations and potential engineers often aren’t receiving the training and career guidance necessary to succeed.
Demographics also play a role in the high turnover rate across the scope of engineering career options. Women in engineering, for example, leave the profession at a much higher rate than men.
Recruiting for senior and management-level positions is also becoming more and more challenging. Professionals that have reached this level in their engineering career are not as easily (or quickly) replaceable. What’s more, folks in managerial-level engineering occupations are oftentimes baby boomers, many of whom are anxious to retire sooner rather than later. To add another layer of complexity, millennials (i.e. people born between 1977-1998) are also tending to stay in positions for shorter and shorter periods of time.
In addition to age and cultural factors, the high turnover rate is also caused by the speed at which new technology is rolled out today. The amount and complexity of new roles and responsibilities ingrained in pretty much every engineering career today are getting more and more difficult to keep up with.
The high turnover but low unemployment rates also stem from companies continuously seeking inventive ways to reduce costs and boost efficiency. Oftentimes, achieving these challenging goals falls on engineers.
Overview of Engineering Career Growth by 2026
Engineering employment options are expected to soar by 2026 according to BLS forecasts. In order from the most to the least amount of new positions opening up for each general, overarching engineering career, here’s a breakdown of the most in-demand engineering occupations.
- Civil engineers – 32,200 new positions
- Mechanical engineers – 25,300 new positions
- Industrial engineers – 25,100 new positions
- Electrical engineers – 16,200 new positions
- Engineers, all others – 8,500 new positions
- Electronics engineers, except computer – 5,100 new positions
- Petroleum engineers – 5,100 new positions
- Environmental engineers – 4,500 new positions
- Aerospace engineers – 4,200 new positions
- Computer hardware engineers – 4,000 new positions
- Chemical engineers – 2,500 new positions
- Health and safety engineers, except mining safety engineers & inspectors – 2,200 new positions
- Biomedical engineers – 1,500 new positions
- Marine engineers and naval architects – 1,000 new positions
- Nuclear engineers – 700 new positions
- Mining & geological engineers, including mining safety engineers – 600 new positions
- Materials engineers – 400 new positions
- Agricultural engineers – 200 new positions
- Total new engineering employment opportunities projected by 2026 – 139,300
With openings in engineering occupations on the rise, it’s no surprise that the number of managers across the breadth of fields will also increase. In fact, managerial-level engineering careers are set to climb from about 23,000 to 26,400 by 2023. This means there will be approximately 13,000 new management openings in the next 4 years (aka about 2,600 new positions every year) in the engineering space.
New Engineering Occupations & Average Salary by Discipline
Civil Engineering Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = Median of $84,770 in May 2017
- New Civil Engineering Jobs by 2026 = 32,200 new positions ripe for the pickin’
- % Increase = 11% (faster than the average growth rate across all professional careers)
Mechanical Engineering Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $85,880 in May 2017 (but should increase as demand increases)
- New Mechanical Engineering Careers by 2026 = 25,300 brand-new positions
- % Increase = 9% (about the same as the average growth rate across U.S. professions)
Industrial Engineering Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $85,880 (comparable to mechanical engineering)
- New Industrial Engineering Employment by 2026 = 25,100 new positions
- % Increase = 10% (faster than average growth rate)
Electrical Engineering Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $95,060
- New Electrical Engineering Careers by 2026 = 16,200 new positions
- % Increase = 7% (equivalent to the national average for occupations in every sector)
Engineers, All Other Occupations Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $99,310
- New Engineers “All Other” Jobs by 2026 = 8,500 new positions
- % Increase = 1-2% (slower growth rate than the average for all occupations)
Electronics Engineering (not including computer engineers) Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $102,180
- Electronics Engineering Occupations by 2026 = 5,100 new positions
- % Increase = 7% (consistent with the average rate of employment growth for U.S. professions)
Petroleum Engineering Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $132,280
- New Petroleum Engineering Employment by 2026 = 5,100 new positions
- % of Increase = 15% (significantly faster than average for U.S. professions)
Environmental Engineering Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $86,800
- New Environmental Engineering Careers by 2026 = 4,500 new positions
- % Increase = 8% (about as fast as the average for all occupations)
Aerospace Engineering Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $113,030
- New Aerospace Engineering Occupations by 2026 = 4,200 new positions
- % Increase = 6% (about as fast as the average for all occupations)
Computer Hardware Engineering Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $115,120
- New Computer Hardware Engineering Careers by 2026 = 4,000 new positions
- % Increase = 5% (about as fast as the average for all occupations)
Chemical Engineering Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $102,160
- New Chemical Engineering Employment by 2026 = 2,500 new positions
- % Increase = 8% (about as fast as the average for all occupations)
Health & Safety Engineering Occupations (except mining safety engineers & inspectors) Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $92,190
- New Health & Safety Engineering Jobs (Not in Mining) by 2026 = 2,200 new positions
- % Increase = 2% (much slower growth rate than the average for all occupations)
Biomedical Engineering Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $88,040
- New Biomedical Engineering Employment by 2026 = 1,500 new positions
- % Increase = 7% (about the same as the average for all occupations)
Marine Engineering and Naval Architectural Occupations Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $90,970
- New Naval & Marine Engineering Careers by 2026 = 1,000 new positions
- % Increase = 12% (faster than the average for all occupations)
Nuclear Engineering Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $105,810
- New Nuclear Engineering Employment by 2026 = 700 new positions
- % Increase = 4% (17,700 currently, so slower than the average for all occupations)
Mining & Geological Engineering (including mining safety engineers) Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $94,240
- New Mining & Geological Engineering Occupations by 2026 = 600 new positions
- % Increase = 8% (only 7,300 jobs in 2016 so this % is about as fast as the average for all occupations)
Materials Engineering Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $94,610
- New Materials Engineering Employment by 2026 = 400 new positions
- % Increase = 2% (27,000 jobs in 2016 so this % is slower than the average for all occupations)
Agricultural Engineering Career Outlook
- Average Annual Salary = $74,780
- New Agricultural Engineering Jobs by 2026 = 200 new positions
- % Increase = 8% (2,700 jobs in 2016 so this % is about as fast as the average for all occupations)
Summary of BLS Projections
The average employment growth rate for the following engineering careers is poised to be significantly faster than the overall average for all U.S. occupations:
- Civil Engineering
- Industrial Engineering
- Petroleum Engineering
- Marine Engineering and Naval Architectural
The following umbrella engineering careers have a projected growth rate comparable to the average for professions across the country today:
- Mechanical Engineering
- Electrical Engineering
- Electronics Engineering
- Environmental Engineering
- Aerospace Engineering
- Computer Hardware Engineering
- Chemical Engineering
- Biomedical Engineering
- Mining & Geological Engineering
- Agricultural Engineering
Compared to the average growth rate for all U.S. professions, new employment in the following realms of engineering is expected to be slower than average:
- Engineers, All Other Occupations
- Health & Safety Engineering
- Nuclear Engineering
- Materials Engineering
Top-paying engineering careers, in order from highest to lowest annual average salary, are as follows:
- Petroleum engineers
- Computer hardware engineers
- Aerospace engineers
- Nuclear engineers
- Electronics engineers (excluding computer electronics)
External Factors Impacting Engineering Career Prospects
Outside factors also have a substantial influence on the employment forecast for different engineering occupations. Because petroleum engineering is tied to the oil industry, for example, oil prices could be a major game-changer for these folks in the years ahead. Oil and gas companies often take certain actions to protect themselves against high oil prices. Common ways of maintaining revenue during these times include investing in new facilities, broadening production operations, and exploring new business undertakings.
Similarly, because electrical engineering is contingent on the ebb and flow of the manufacturing industry, employment in electrical engineering is moderated by demand in specific manufacturing verticals. Like the electrical engineering career, demand for electronics and chemical engineers also depends on manufacturing needs.
The employment prospects for the biomedical engineering career is also highly dependent on external variables. But because of the medical needs of an aging baby-boomer generation, employment prospects for biomedical engineers continue to look promising.
The rise in engineering career opportunities can be attributed to:
- A lack of experienced engineers in the market
- Increased need to navigate new and emerging technology
- The high turnover rate in the industry as a whole
As technological advancement increases, so do opportunities in the different engineering career pathways. But although there are new jobs created day-in and day-out and a relatively low engineering unemployment rate, it’s incredibly competitive to lock down a qualified candidate today.
Small business owners waste approximately 40% of their time on things that don’t generate income, such as hiring. Recruiters are also experiencing a 40% increase in time to hire. So how can you start preparing your talent pipeline? What are some “hacks” to simplify recruiting in the near future?
- Emphasize employee wellbeing and satisfaction in your brand.
- Leverage the insight and knowledge of engineering managers and senior leadership.
- Take advantage of talent pools targeting passive candidates instead of “transactional recruiting” techniques, which 74% of companies are still relying on.
- Use new global freelancing platforms to connect with qualified candidates remotely and improve your competitiveness.
In short, there’s plenty of engineering jobs, just not enough skills to meet the demands of these positions. Finding engineering candidates with the right education, experience, and technological competency—and who also mesh with company culture—is more important than ever.
How are you preparing for the robust and hyper-competitive engineering environment just beyond the horizon?