Now more than ever, engineering is a multidisciplinary profession. Whether they’re simulating seismic forces on the world’s tallest buildings or designing nanomanufacturing processes, engineers must take into account the perspectives of multiple stakeholders.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the 2013 job market for engineers from the points of view of a recruiter, an engineering employer, a community economic development leader, a college placement adviser and a recent engineering graduate.
Recruiter’s View: High Interest in a Select Few
Recruiters see 2013 as another rebuilding year for the engineering profession, which took its knocks through the Great Recession.
“Employers are taking advantage of the engineer marketplace selectively,” says Jack Smith, president of the Milwaukee office of Sanford Rose Associates, a network of independently owned executive search firms. “There’s some churn and replacement, but not a great deal of growth.”
Smith says there's high demand for electrical engineering and physics majors with postgraduate engineering degrees. By contrast, he sees slack in the demand for civil engineers, chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, manufacturing engineers and even aerospace engineers. In these fields, “there are a ton of people out of work and on the market,” he says.
Engineering firms are telling recruiters that in 2013, they'll want to hire engineers who think like businesspeople. “Employers want engineers who have been involved with strategy and planning and know their way around balance sheets and income statements,” Smith says. “It’s not easy to find them.”
Employer’s View: Seeking Sensitive, Client-Centered Engineers
Civil and environmental engineering firms foresee jobs growing out of the need to adapt to global warming and the attendant stresses on the built environment. “Climate change is becoming more and more real,” says Sepi Asefnia, president of Sepi Engineering & Construction, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based firm with nearly 40 engineers. “I think government will take more preventive action to protect people and cities.”
Like many engineering firms, Sepi seeks to distinguish itself with superior client relations. “I don’t hire engineers who lack interpersonal skills,” says Asefnia, who plans to hire as many as seven more engineers in 2013. “We want the client to feel that we’re going to find the best options for them.”
Community Developer’s View: Looming Shortage of Energy Engineers
Blessed by a geographic concentration of resources, whether of nature or of human talent, some communities are expecting substantial growth in engineering jobs in 2013 and beyond.
For example, a workforce analysis of the Pittsburgh region projects that Western Pennsylvania energy companies will be looking for engineers and other workers. “The top high-demand, low-supply occupations that we identified are mechanical, electrical and petroleum engineers,” says Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which works to stimulate economic development in southwest Pennsylvania.
College Adviser’s View: Strength in Traditional Disciplines
The demand for engineers is stress-tested every year when engineering graduates step into the job market. At the Milwaukee School of Engineering, “the top three engineering degrees in demand are mechanical, electrical and computer engineering,” says Erik Oswald, career services associate at the school.
About 95 percent of the school’s 2011 engineering graduates were placed in career positions by the end of that recruitment season; 2012 grads are heading for a similar close. It’s early in the game, but Oswald expects comparable results for the class of 2013.
Recent Engineering Grad: Seeking New Meaning in a Traditional Occupation
In buyers' labor markets like the current one, stakeholders tend to forget that the perspectives of new entrants into the engineering field will matter in the long run.
Young engineers like Anh Nguyen often see many degrees of difference between themselves and their senior colleagues. “Engineering is stable money, low risk and low reward,” says Nguyen, 25, who holds a master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of California at Berkeley.
Working for a California-based engineering firm and recently transferred to New York City, Nguyen says her perspective as a young Asian American woman is valued by her bosses and coworkers, many of whom are older.
Pursuing a personal passion, Nguyen serves on a volunteer team with Engineers Without Borders, which designs infrastructure, health and education projects for the developing world. “My project is in Kenya, where we’ve built schools and libraries,” she says. “This makes my career in civil engineering worthwhile.”
Learn more about engineering careers.