When it comes to prospects for a resurgence of engineer hiring in 2010, understatement is the watchword.
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“Compared to 2009, we think 2010 will be better,” says Kurt Rippelmeyer, industry principal for engineering and energy at staffing firm Yoh. With credit tight, production down and the future unusually uncertain, many firms laid off engineers in 2009.
As the new decade begins, when firms do hire, they will likely place strong hedges on their bets. “The majority of hires in 2010 will be on a contract basis to start,” says Rippelmeyer. “Large engineering firms are going to a new workforce composition of about 20 percent contract. Companies will start to bring folks back on contract.”
Still, some believe an engineering jobs recovery has already begun. “We’ve recently seen a 180-degree turnaround” from the recession’s difficult market for engineers in certain specialties, says Karen Panetta, chair for the IEEE Women in Engineering Committee and associate professor of engineering at Tufts University.
Promise Seen in Defense, Homeland Security, Civil Engineer & Aerospace Engineering Jobs
Companies in homeland security and defense will be hiring and creating jobs in engineering throughout 2010, Panetta says. Raytheon, Textron and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are among the organizations bringing on engineers in substantial numbers. Working for defense contractors “is not just about making bombs,” says Panetta. “Employers are looking for bachelor's engineering students with well-rounded experience, including fields like biology and psychology.”
In regions that have weathered the recession with less damage, prospects are brighter. “We are a heavy aerospace state, and there are still significant opportunities for aerospace engineering jobs here,” says Natalie Shirley, secretary of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. In the next few years, Oklahoma aspires to add hundreds of professionals to its workforce of about 2,000 aerospace engineers. “We need engineers with all levels of experience, from new graduates to senior engineers,” says Shirley.
Driving aerospace engineering jobs in Oklahoma are the mammoth maintenance and repair facilities of Boeing and American Airlines. The state is attracting talent with a tax credit -- up to $5,000 per year for five years -- targeting aerospace engineers.
For civil engineers, the good news is that “much more Recovery Act money for infrastructure will become available in the first quarter of 2010,” says Rippelmeyer. The bad news is that “government spending is the only thing out there.”
Nanotechnology: Driving Future Growth and Jobs in Engineering
Innovations like nanotechnology offer further hope for those looking for jobs in engineering. “Nanotech opportunities for engineers are going to be quite vast,” says Dean Hart, executive vice president of NanoInk, which makes nanomanufacturing technology for life sciences and semiconductors. The automotive, energy, semiconductor and healthcare industries will all invest heavily in nanotechnology, Hart believes.
“If engineers want to gain a foothold in nanotechnology, they should look for additional educational opportunities,” says Hart. “It doesn’t have to be a four-year degree; community colleges and technical schools are starting to offer certificate programs and associate's degrees in nanotech.”
Employers Will Take Measure of Their Engineers’ Value
More than ever, engineers will have to prove their worth in 2010. “Companies with highly paid engineers whose skills are not up to date are doing a market reset,” says Panetta. This means that engineers must either improve the value they bring or risk being let go. “Some engineers are going back for a master's degree or a certificate program.”
Will engineers who have been laid off in this recession get back on track in 2010? “If they aren’t evolving their skills, they’ll have a hard time,” Says Panetta.
Engineering Salary Snapshot
Where will engineers’ salaries go in 2010? It’s anybody’s guess, but increases will likely be modest in all but the most in-demand specialties. Here is the Monster Salary Wizard’s November 2009 HR snapshot of salaries in major engineering disciplines:
• Aerospace engineer II: $71,832
• Biomedical engineer II: $58,230
• Chemical engineer II: $75,069
• Civil engineer II: $66,505
• Drilling engineer II: $83,368
• Electrical engineer II: $73,273
• Electronics engineer II: $73,401
• Environmental, health and safety engineer II: $63,826
• Manufacturing engineer II: $70,278
• Materials engineer II: $74,787
• Mechanical engineer II: $72,528
Learn more about engineering careers.