Industry Outlook

As the world changes with the latest technologies and as we grow accustomed to the luxuries they afford us, there will be an increased demand for highly skilled, innovative professionals to continue the trend. These advancing technologies will put pressure on industry to improve and update their current systems—whether for production facilities or corporate offices—if they are to stay competitive.

Overall, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) predicts average growth for all engineers through 2028, although job prospects can vary by specialty. Some traditional engineering sectors will see slower than average growth. Types of engineers included in this category are aerospace engineers, electrical/electronics engineers, and petroleum engineers. Additionally, materials engineers are expected to experience little to no change. The DOL says that industrial engineers will see the greatest increase in employment. Those with specific skill sets may fare better than others in some sectors. For example, aerospace engineers with software skills, including C++, and stress and structural engineering expertise, will have better job prospects through 2028 than those who do not.

Opportunities in the chemical engineering sector will derive mainly from new fields in the sector, such as nanotechnology, alternative energies, and biotechnology. Computer hardware engineers who have a higher-level degree and knowledge or experience will see the most opportunities in this field. Civil engineers will find employment opportunities involving renewable energy and drinking water projects, along with more traditional areas like road and bridge construction.

According to the DOL, electric and electrical engineers are more likely to find employment with engineering services firms, since more companies are expected to cut costs by contracting engineering services rather than directly employing engineers.

The biggest opportunities for material engineers may be found at companies or organizations that are interested in replacing expensive laboratory testing with more cost effective computer modeling and simulations.

Biomedical engineers will benefit from increased demand for biomedical devices and procedures, such as hip and knee replacements, primarily from the aging Baby Boom generation. According to the DOL, this generation seeks to maintain its healthy and active lifestyle, so is turning to doctors for biomedical solutions to allow them to remain active. In addition, says the DOL, the general public has become more aware of medical advances, leading to an increase in the number of people seeking biomedical advances for themselves from their physicians. The breadth of the activities that biomedical engineers can take part in, thanks to the diversity of the training they receive, also will be advantageous for this specialty.

Environmental engineers will be needed to help local governments improve water quality and the efficiency of water use. Cleanup of contaminated sites and wastewater treatment are also areas that will keep environmental engineers busy during this time. Environmental engineers with a master's degree in environmental engineering will have the advantage in the job market.

Despite the average growth forecast for most engineering sectors, faster than average growth is expected for industrial engineers. Because their work is versatile and can reduce costs, engineers in this field have excellent prospects through 2028. Additionally, industrial engineers will discover new opportunities in less traditional industries such as healthcare.

Although the outlook for engineering employment varies by specialty, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic had a negative effect on employment overall. The economic slowdown that resulted from business closures, travel restrictions, and social distancing measures intended to slow the spread of the disease dampened hiring and growth. In April 2020, for example, industry employment dipped nearly 13 percent year-over-year, falling to its lowest level since January 2016. In addition, engineers, like workers in many other fields, adopted new safety protocols or shifted to remote work platforms to continue their jobs.

As of late 2020, the engineering services industry in the U.S. was valued at $204 billion, with nearly 144,000 business and more than 1 million employees. Steady growth in the engineering services industry is expected in the coming years due to the rollout of several COVID-19 vaccines in early 2021. The rebounding economy will increase consumer spending, which will in turn grow the demand for production needs. As described by research group IBISWorld, through 2025 there will be steady demand for engineering services "due to a rising level of private investment in large-scale projects and recovery in oil and natural gas prices." Another contributing factor to this growth will be the expected rise in private nonresidential construction.

There will continue to be good opportunities for engineers in the near future. A Professional Engineering magazine article noted that collaboration among engineers, even those that might have previously been from rival firms, increased during the pandemic and work was accomplished quickly and efficiently. Taking a wider networking approach to engineering projects is expected to carry forward into post-pandemic times. The article also notes that after the pandemic is contained, there will be "increased demand for engineering that fights, prevents, and treats diseases, such as ventilators, anti-bacterial surfaces, temperature monitoring devices, and other high-tech solutions."