Engineering Continuing Education – What Is the Future of Engineering?

With the current down turn in the economy many engineers have loss their jobs or worried that they maybe losing their job soon. Budget constraints both in the public and private sector are forcing to think about how secure the jobs really are. But as we all know this recession will not last forever. Sooner or later the promised recovery will begin. The question is what engineering will benefit from the renewed economy and which ones will not fair so well? There is no real crystal ball, but there are clear indicators that every engineer should be aware of and make preparations accordingly.

Engineers will need to continue their education to stay up with the latest technologies to offer their clients the best solutions. Most of the State Licensing Boards require Professional Engineers to renew their professional licenses periodically with a minimum number of continuing education units. These units are usually Professional Development Hours (PDH) or Continuing Education Units (CEU). One PDH is equivalent to one hour of course education, and one CEU is equivalent to ten PDH or ten hours of course education. Some may find that their profession is not growing or trailing behind may need to change careers or strength their technical knowledge.

One of the best indicators of upcoming markets is to know what the baby boomer generation needs and wants. The baby boomers, the individuals born between 1945 and 1964, are now approaching retirement age. Many will be retiring and will require some medical and health assistance. They will also want medication to appear young as long as possible. Obviously fields that support this industry will do very well. The most likely profession to benefit is Biomedical Engineers. They are necessary to improve new medical devices and equipment. In addition, new facilities will be required for the aging population. Independent Living Facilities and senior communities will rise in demand. This will definitely improve prospects for Civil and Mechanical Engineers.

Another field that will continue to have a high demand for engineers is the environmental fields, which includes new green products, renewable energy, water resources, and waste-water management. The United States will continue to encourage renewable energy including wind and solar power with government grants and other types of funding. These projects will generate numerous jobs for many different professions. As the population continues to expand a greater demand will be placed on housing and our water resources and waste-water management. These increased demands will increase jobs for Electrical, Mechanical, Civil and Environmental Engineers.

Due to the increasing population and aging facilities, the government will also need to expand and improve the country’s infrastructure. Roads, bridges, dams, railways, airports, and utilities throughout the country will need greater attention. These improvements will also increase the demand for Civil Engineers.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Outlook Handbook”, 2010-11 Edition, over the next decade, 2008 to 2018, the engineering field should grow by 11%. In 2008 engineers held 1.6 million jobs in the United States. A little more than 45% were employed by the three leading professions; Civil, Mechanical, and Industrial Engineering. As expected the three smallest engineering professions are highly specialized; Agricultural, Mining and Safety, and Marine and Naval Engineers.

Another surprise was that about 3 percent in 2008 were self-employed, many as consultants. This means that 97% of engineers are employed by the government or private firms.

One would think that most engineers are employed by the government, but according to the report about 12 percent in 2008 were employed by the Federal, State, and local governments, and about half of them were in the Federal Government, mainly in the U.S. Departments of Defense, Transportation, Agriculture, Interior, and Energy, and in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Many engineers in State and local government agencies worked in highway and public works departments. Approximately 45% are employed in three professions; Civil, Mechanical, and Industrial engineering.

Three leading employed professions

  • Civil Engineers- 278,400
  • Mechanical Engineers – 238,700
  • Industrial Engineers – 214,800

Three lowest employed professions

  • Agricultural Engineers 2,700
  • Mining and Geological Engineers, including mining safety engineers 7,100
  • Marine Engineers and Naval Architects 8,500

The three engineering professions expecting the highest growth rate over the decade are Biomedical, Environmental, and Civil. These professions provide professional services in the industries which are expected to have the most significant growth. These fields include Health and Medical, Environmental Technologies, Infrastructure including transportation and utilities, and Water Resources and Waste Management. These industries also require the engineers to be local to provide the necessary services.

In addition to openings from job growth, many openings will be created by the need to replace current engineers who retire; transfer to management, sales, or other occupations; or leave engineering for other reasons.

The three slowest growing engineering professions are Chemical, Electrical and Electronics, and Computer Hardware engineers. These particular professions are receiving extreme competition from outside of the United States. Also note that these professions are not required for the most part to hold a Professional Engineering license. Companies are finding that engineers in other countries in electrical, computer, and chemical industries can provide the same service for a far lower salary or fee.

Three leading Job Growth rate professions

  • Biomedical Engineers – 72%
  • Environmental Engineers – 31%
  • Civil Engineers – 24%

Three laggards in Job Growth rate

  • Chemical Engineers – (-2)%
  • Electrical and Electronics Engineers – 1%
  • Computer Hardware Engineers – 4%

The three engineering professions with highest initial salary are in petroleum, chemical, and mining industries. Petroleum and Mining Engineers are expected to have a growth rate of 18% and 15% respectively over the decade, while Chemical Engineering is expected to decline by 2%.

The three engineering professions with the lowest starting salaries are Civil Biomedical, and Agricultural. Civil, Biomedical and Agricultural Engineers are expected to have a growth rate of 24%, 72% and 12% respectively over the decade.

Three leading Starting Median Salaries professions

  • Petroleum Engineers – $83,121
  • Chemical Engineers – $64,902
  • Mining and Mineral Engineers – $64,404

Three laggards Starting Salaries

  • Civil Engineers – $52,048
  • Biomedical Engineers – $54,158
  • Agricultural Engineers – $54,352

So what is the lesson? The engineering professions that require a local engineer usually with a Professional Engineer license will remain in high demand; especially Civil Engineers. Engineering fields that can be replaced by foreign engineers and do not require a Professional Engineering license will suffer. Engineers who have not kept current in their field may find themselves at a disadvantage when seeking promotions or during layoffs. The best way to stay current is through continuing education courses.

In this article we have discussed the future of engineering. Although for some the future looks bleak right now, the number of new engineering jobs is projected to grow. Many of the new industries will require engineers. The main way to ensure employment is to be aware of the demand for your profession and to stay current with the latest engineering skills; technical, ethical, and managerial. Acquiring the necessary skills can be the difference between an employed and an unemployed engineer.