March 31, 2010

Is Demand for Engineers Going Up or Down? Yes and No. It Depends.

I'm an Engineer by profession.   I sometimes hear conflicting arguments about the demand for Engineers in the USA both today and in the future.   On one hand I see many Engineers laid off and trying to find work.  But then I also often hear people talking about high demand for Engineers or how we need more Engineers.  To find the truth on the matter I did a little research on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website. 

The BLS has projections of employment growth and job prospects for various occupations.   They estimate the jobs in the industry and forecast if the number of jobs will increase or decrease and by how much.   Keep in mind these are just forecasts but they are based on trends and industry wide factors.   They should be a fairly realistic expectation but of course there is margin of error with any kind of forecast.

Engineers as a whole are expected to have job growth over the next decade that is  "about as fast as average".   So that means that the job growth for Engineers will be about equal to the increase in jobs in general.

But Engineers are specialists and there are several distinct occupations within the broad field.   The job prospects for the various Engineering specializations varies considerably.

Here is the expected job growth over the next decade for each Engineering  specialty from the BLS:

Aerospace 10%
Agricultural 14%
Biomedical 72%
Chemical -2%
Civil 24%
Computer hardware 4%
Electrical 2%
Electronics 0%
Environmental 31%
Health and Safety 10%
Industrial 14%
Marine 6%
Materials 9%
Mechanical 6%
Mining 15%
Nuclear 11%
Petroleum 18%

Those numbers mostly look good since all but one of them is positive.  But job growth on average should be in the 7-13% range due to population growth.   If we assume that population growth is 7% then a 6% job growth for Mechanical engineers doesn't even keep pace with population growth.

Here is how the growth in Engineering jobs per specialty exceeds a 7% baseline growth:

Aerospace 3%
Agricultural 7%
Biomedical 65%
Chemical -9%
Civil 17%
Computer hardware -3%
Electrical -5%
Electronics -7%
Environmental 24%
Health and Safety 3%
Industrial 7%
Marine -1%
Materials 2%
Mechanical -1%
Mining 8%
Nuclear 4%
Petroleum 11%

Those results are more mixed with several more fields falling below average growth rates.  Its great that there is such high demand for Environmental and Biomedical Engineers but there really aren't that many jobs in those specialties relative to the entire profession.   To put the job growth in more perspective lets look at it sorted by the size of each Engineering field.

I've added another column on the right to show the current number of jobs for each specialty in the 1000's.

Growth # jobs
Civil 17% 278
Mechanical -1% 238
Industrial 7% 214
Electrical -5% 157
Electronics -7% 143
Computer hardware -3% 74
Aerospace 3% 71
Environmental 24% 54
Chemical -9% 31
Health and Safety 3% 25
Materials 2% 24
Petroleum 11% 21
Biomedical 65% 16
Nuclear 4% 16
Marine -1% 8
Mining 8% 7
Agricultural 7% 2

Take a look at just the top 6 specialties that is where 80% of the jobs are.    Four of the top six specialties will see job growth that does not keep up with average.

Next time you hear someone talk about the demand for Engineers you should take it with a grain of salt since not all Engineering jobs are in the same demand.


  1. Several years ago (mid-1970s), when there were massive layoffs of engineers in areospace industry, I consulted the
    BLS Handbook and found that there was a continuing demand for aerospace engineers. I was curious about the discrepancy and asked a lecturer at a job finding seminar about it. The lecturer said that BLS is run by intellectual pigmies. Since then I question everything the publish.

  2. this doesn't even say anything about all of the jobs!


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