Wanted: Systems designer to reengineer the job market for engineers, with its wind tunnel of mismatches in demand, supply and skills. Must report to work immediately, as the careers of thousands and the fate of the innovation economy are at stake.
Yes, the engineering profession is headed for another 12 months of creation, destruction, dislocation and reconstruction as American employers vacillate between investing in the future and hunkering down for fear of more economic storms. Here’s our take on prospects for engineering jobs in 2012.
Engineering Demand Begins to Bounce Back
Engineers took a hit along with so many of their professional peers in the 2007-2009 recession, but many specialties will likely continue to bounce back in 2012. Aerospace, biomedical, computer hardware and mechanical engineering were among the specialties adding engineer jobs in 2010; many others lost ground, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Campus recruiting, while a far cry from its peak in the mid-2000s, is showing renewed life.
“Out of 70 employers that came to our fall 2011 campus job fair, 25 were specifically looking for engineering students,” says Bill McCarthy, associate director of the career development center at Binghamton University in New York. These firms were hiring for positions in computer hardware, mechanical, industrial, materials and electrical engineering, he says.
Demand is strong for engineers with rare -- and sometimes unrealistic -- combinations of skills. “Companies that hire engineers have wish lists of skills and experience, and the reality is that they’re not going to find anyone who meets all of those requirements,” says Paul Kostek, a consulting engineer and principal of Air Direct Solutions in Seattle and a former president of IEEE-USA.
Supply of Engineers Hasn’t Kept Up
On the supply side, the problem is not just qualitative, but quantitative. There were 84,636 engineering graduates in 2009, 11.2 percent fewer than the 95,295 who earned bachelor’s degrees 25 years earlier, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. (However, over the same period, the number of engineering master’s degrees awarded increased by about 80 percent, from 21,197 to 38,205.) Women increased their share of engineering bachelor’s degrees slightly, from 13 percent to 16.5 percent.
The supply problem persists at all levels of the engineering job market. “First, there aren’t enough younger people available,” says Julie Lustig, recruiting manager at MSX International, a Warren, Michigan, managed service provider specializing in auto industry talent. “When hiring managers look for that midlevel person, they can’t get them. It’s difficult to lure passive candidates; confidence is shaky. On the high end, senior-level folks don’t have the technical background.”
The upshot for qualified engineering job seekers in 2012? If you knock on doors in the right industry sector, you’ll be in demand.
Auto Industry Comeback Creates Engineering Jobs
The Detroit automakers and their business partners are beginning to get credit for improving their products, and engineers are being hired to further that effort.
“The in-demand engineering jobs are in mechatronics, LED lighting and lithium-ion batteries,” says Jim Bazner, global vice president of human capital solutions at MSX.
Lustig says competition is fierce to hire the few individuals with a background in both mechanical and electronic engineering. “Folks with this experience can work for a lot of different organizations,” she says.
Despite Strapped Governments, Civil Engineering Shows Bright Spots
Recovery Act money is on the wane, but civil construction projects are creating work for engineers on projects that can’t wait any longer. “We’re projecting that we will be hiring about 30 engineers as program design managers, project managers and construction managers as well as civil engineers,” says John Robak, COO of Greeley and Hansen, an environmental engineering firm based in Chicago.
“New funding opportunities in green design, particularly for sustainable infrastructure facilities, will also support growth in 2012,” he says.
Unconventional Engineering Career Opportunities
Engineers will also find novel niches of opportunity in 2012. “We’ll probably hire two to three more engineers in 2012, with advanced degrees and experience, mostly mechanical engineers, because they can work across areas,” says Jeff Richard, president of CED Investigative Technologies, a forensic engineering and accident reconstruction firm in Shelton, Connecticut.
Richard’s firm looks for engineers who can communicate. “They’re called on to introduce concepts to clients who don’t understand the technology, or to get in front of a jury,” he says.
Relocation May Be Less Than You’re Hoping For
Engineers will be on the move in 2012, some on less-favorable terms than they might like. “A lot of companies don’t necessarily even give their own current employees help with moving expenses” if their jobs are relocated, Kostek says.
And new entrants to the field may not find jobs in the engineering hot spots of San Diego, Seattle or Chicago. “Young grads might need to go to Detroit or Texas or Fargo [North Dakota] for a few years to accumulate technical skills,” says Kostek.
Learn more about engineering careers.