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COVID-19

Where have all the engineers gone?

Employee hiring and retention are seeing a low right now — engineers are not exempt

By Amara Rozgus September 27, 2021
Courtesy: CFE Media

While scientists would say they predicted this pandemic years ago, no one had any inkling how far-reaching COVID-19 would be. While the in-your-face problem of layoffs and unemployment shook many industries to their core, the Great Resignation was something economists or human resources professionals couldn’t predict. 

Four million people quit their jobs in April 2021, some for money, others for safety or health reasons and some for more happiness or work-life balance. Whatever the reason, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in August a high of 10.1 million job openings on the last day of June.  

The “quits rate” for June 2021 was exceptionally high, increasing to 2.7%, or 3.9 million people voluntarily leaving their jobs. Because specific government data lags so much, there is no updated information about how many mechanical engineering positions are open due to people quitting, for example. The growth rate of mechanical engineering positions is estimated to be 4% to 8% until 2028, but that data was prepared before COVID-19 hit. The number might be much higher now.  

The engineering industry is suffering. According to data collected on the 2021 MEP Giants, the biggest corporate challenge during the reporting period was COVID-19 concerns and issues. In terms of jobs and workload, the ways in which firms were affected were: 

  • Backlog of work: 53%. 
  • Additional new hires: 30%. 
  • Temporary layoffs: 29%. 

According to this year’s data, 6% of a firm’s dollars are spent on COVID-19 mitigation/office modifications, which is one small part of how each firm spends money, aside from traditional labor and overhead costs. Each firm spends, on average, 7% of its money on staff recruitment, which is equal to last year. While engineering firms may have become more efficient at recruiting, how are they going to fill this employee gap without boosting their recruitment? 

Education for MEP Giants employees stayed flat too; an average of 15% of a firm’s money was spent on education in 2020, which dropped slightly to 14% this year. It’s a small change, but this may point to a broader downward trend of recruitment and retention. 

The number of retirees continues to rise as baby boomers step away from the workforce. According to a Pew Research Center study, the pace of retirement accelerated in 2020. Some of the most knowledgeable and seasoned engineers are leaving their firms, in turn eliminating the deep knowledge they have of projects and building systems.  

Consulting-Specifying Engineer is watching these numbers closely, and tackling the topic in a couple of different ways: 


Amara Rozgus
Author Bio: Amara is the Editor-in-Chief/Content Strategy Leader for Consulting-Specifying Engineer.