Engineering jobs are in flux. Or are they?

The unpredictability of the engineering job market has forecasters scrambling

By Amara Rozgus December 6, 2021
Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology

Media outlets seem to contradict themselves when reporting on the United States job market. The number of unemployment claims is low, but the number of jobs that need to be filled is high. Job growth has picked up in the past couple of months, due in part to higher vaccination rates and consumer confidence. Still, many employers still cannot find candidates to fill open positions.  

The extraordinary public health and economic crisis has been more difficult to predict that economists expected. Jobs deemed secure in the past were hit in many different ways over the past several months. Dentists, for example, did not fare well during COVID-19 and saw huge income losses. Restaurants and the various professionals that serve them didn’t do well either, though dining and hospitality are bouncing back. 

Before the pandemic, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the engineering job market would grow by 140,000 new engineering jobs between 2016 and 2026. Mechanical engineers were second only to civil engineers in terms of projected new jobs over that time period: civil engineers with 32,200 additional jobs projected and mechanical with 25,300. Industrial (25,100 jobs) and electrical (16,200 jobs) followed behind. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also captured the potential effects of the pandemic on employment through 2029. Nonresidential building construction is projected to see a difference between baseline and alternate projections of -6%. This assumes a -2% moderate impact percent change. Chart data show a “greater prevalence of telework may negatively affect employment in office building construction.” 

The engineering and construction fields are familiar with cyclical downturns, but the strength COVID-19 had on the industry was unexpected. Some projects were delayed indefinitely or canceled. Others were put on hold due to labor or material supply chain issues.  

The contradictory reports keep coming: Many engineers never stopped working. While some picked up their laptops and monitors and shifted to a work-from-home environment, others never missed a beat while visiting job sites.  

According to the Consulting-Specifying Engineer Salary Survey, more respondents (24%) were affected by an increased workload than those whose workloads decreased (17%). The majority, at 59%, saw no change in their workload. It’s no surprise the top three engineering job-related challenges participants are experiencing are:  

  • Not enough junior team members to prepare for the future: 46% 
  • Not enough people working on a project: 39% 
  • Issues related to COVID-19: 37% 

While the labor market remains in turmoil and hiring is a mix, there are some benefits to the engineering job changes that have happened over the past year and a half. The biggest is the favorable technology improvements, with firms finding many opportunities to leverage new technologies and workflows. Read about these and more in the 2021 Salary Survey. 

Author Bio: Amara Rozgus is the Editor-in-Chief/Content Strategy Leader