on March 9th, 2010

Dear Colleagues

Although it will vary from region to region and from country to country, times are still a little uncertain in engineering. The traditional disciplines within electrical engineering, for example, no longer have the growth rates they had in the past.

An interesting prediction of top engineering jobs has come out of the USA (but also provides interesting predictors to other countries). One of the world’s top career experts, Laurence Shatkin, examined six industries in the USA: Education, Healthcare, Green Technologies, Information and Telecommunications Technologies, Infrastructure and Advanced Manufacturing. He came to the following conclusion: Whether one buys in or not, it is no longer entirely relevant - green jobs have moved beyond good intentions to being legislated, funded by government and accepted by the corporate world and are generating lots of jobs as a result.

Healthcare and opportunities in the environmental areas have the highest percentage of the hottest jobs. Biomedical engineering is also enjoying a massive growth rate of 72%. Inevitably, everyone’s enthusiasm for “gadgets” means that software engineering, computer technicians and system specialists will continue to see a healthy career future.

Oddly enough, most in-demand jobs require engineering professionals who are doers - being highly qualified is not necessarily essential. To have a qualification and experience in the right area is far more important than having oodles of letters after your name. Most in-demand jobs were being filled by people without a four-year degree (the most probable reason for this - there are simply no appropriate practical qualifications in many of the new jobs). Shatkin observed that a two-year degree, certification or on-the-job training will be more than sufficient for most of the healthcare and technology jobs. Another guaranteed path to career success, without spending a great deal of time and money on education, is the good old apprenticeship, according to Shatkin (he refers to this, rather cynically, as a “four year degree”).

A point worth mentioning is the increasing deluge of engineering graduates coming out of China and India. Interestingly, however, many of these graduates have not received a solid engineering education and without hard-won practical experience are unemployed or unemployable (in the engineering profession at least); until such time as they get a good, practical training in their chosen fields. At the end of the day students who have acquired skills, which are both relevant and useful, through their education and training, are more sought-after by employers and necessary to productive workplaces.

Below is a list of the Top 40 Hottest jobs - according to the US Bureau of Statistics occupational data for 2008 to 2018 (the  yearly growth rates are stated in brackets):

Biomedical Engineer (72%)
Civil Engineer (24%)
Computer software engineer (34%)
Computer systems analyst (20%)
Cost Estimator (25%)
Environment Engineering Tech or Engineer (30%)
Industrial Engineer (20%)

Overall, engineering job growth isn’t shabby at 11%; but electrical engineering is only 2%. It looks as though a sensible decision for engineers is to morph one’s engineering career into one more aligned with the hot jobs such in environment or biomedicine. An alternative is to pick some of the hot industry areas such as oil and gas. Or if you are in a good growth mining area, that is a great field.

No doubt in reading the above, some of you will retort along the lines of Jeff Foxworthy that:

My whole career can be summed up with 'Ignorance is bliss.' When you do not know better, you do not really worry about failing.

Yours in engineering learning


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