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Engineering Boom: Career Growth on Upswing

by Brian O'Connell, ©
August 22, 2006
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Engineers are known for turning ideas into reality, but for industry professionals, the real trick is turning their career ambitions into reality.

Fortunately, the engineering sector is co-operating, with the industry ramping up for boom-like growth in the next few years.

According to the U.S. Labor Department Occupational Handbook, career prospects for engineers are bright and getting brighter as 2007 beckons. Technology is fueling a huge portion of that job growth. “Changes in technology continue to push companies to update products and services at a faster pace, which fuels new jobs,” says the Labor Department. “There’s demand for researchers in electrical engineering, so that companies can stay competitive. Bio-science engineering is a huge growth area. As the population continues to age, the demand for improved medical devices (like artificial organs) and procedures (like corrective laser surgery) continues to increase the demand for engineers.”

Supply and demand also works out in an engineer’s favor. At a speech at the Library of Congress last April, Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates said, "There just aren't as many graduates with a computer-science background. [That] creates a dilemma for us, in terms of how we get our work done."

Perhaps that explains why unemployment among engineers was 2.5% in 2004, in line with the 2.8% rate for all professional occupations. In 2003, 4.3% of engineers were unemployed compared with 3.2% for all professionals. A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston shows that unemployment for U.S. engineers should remain at these lower levels - - over twice as low as the national unemployment averages through August, 2006.

The data also tells the story, especially for younger engineers. The spring survey of the National Association of College Employers (NACE) found that nearly 9 out of 10 employers have experienced an increase in competition for new college engineering hires. "In fact, more than 20 percent told us that they have raised or plan to raise their starting salaries to entice potential employees," said NACE Executive Director Marilyn Mackes.

Geographically, the Northeast U.S. is doing the most hiring of engineers, boasting a 25% hike in hiring rates out of school. But many areas of engineering are industry-centric and thus particular to geographic areas—for example, petroleum engineering jobs tend to be located in areas with sizable petroleum deposits, such as Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alaska, and California. Others, such as civil engineering, are widely dispersed, and engineers in these fields often move from place to place to work on different projects.
Salary-wise, chemical engineering offers the highest starting salaries for graduates – at around $50,000 -- 60,000 and higher for PhD’s (see Table II). Aeronautical engineers fare particularly well – a senior engineer at Northrop Grumman Corp. can earn $100,000.
Signing bonuses? New engineering hires can expect them, too. Civil engineers command on average $3,900 in bonuses, while electrical engineering and mechanical engineering posts can get up to $6,000 in signing bonuses.
Sector-wise, about 40% of all engineering jobs take place in the manufacturing sector. According to the U.S. Labor Department industry profile, government is big on hiring engineers, at places like the U.S. Department of Defense, Transportation, Energy or N.A.S.A.

While the engineering job sector isn’t all roses, there is ample evidence to suggest that it is, by and large, flourishing. In our next article, we’ll take a look at what skills engineers need to land that dream job.

TABLE: Engineering Careers Breakdown
In 2004 engineers held 1.4 million jobs. The distribution of employment by engineering specialty is as follows:

Total, all engineers 1,449,000 100%
Civil 237,000 16.4
Mechanical 226,000 15.6
Industrial 177,000 12.2
Electrical 156,000 10.8
Electronics, except computer 143,000 9.9
Computer hardware 77,000 5.3
Aerospace 76,000 5.2
Environmental 49,000 3.4
Chemical 31,000 2.1
Health and safety, except mining safety 27,000 1.8
Materials 21,000 1.5
Nuclear 17,000 1.2
Petroleum 16,000 1.1
Biomedical 9,700 0.7
Marine engineers and naval architects 6,800 0.5
Mining and geological, including mining safety 5,200 0.4
Agricultural 3,400 0.2
All other engineers 172,000 11.8
Source: U.S. Labor Department    


Table II: Average Salaries for Engineers: 2006.

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about the author

Brian O’Connell is a writer with 12 years experience covering business news and trends, particularly in the financial, Internet and technology, and career management sectors.



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