The engineering field is rich with opportunity. The pay is great and the demand is high, and getting higher

Engineering is Well-Paid

The US Department of Labor (USDL) ranked the top-paying engineering fields based on median salary, as published on ThomasNet.com. These categories, essential to the manufacturing industry, ranked in the top 16: computer ($115K), electrical/electronics ($98K), materials ($95K), mechanical ($86K), industrial ($86K). Advanced degrees boost the salary potential.

Average entry-level engineering starting salary is $69K, compared to the $50K average salary for recent college grads.

Engineers Are in Demand

Here are the 8 most in-demand types of engineer, according to newengineer.com:

  • Data Science & Machine Learning
  • Automation & Robotics Engineer
  • Petroleum Engineer
  • Civil Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Alternative Energy Engineer
  • Mining Engineer
  • Project Engineer

Skills Gap Highlights Increased Demand

There’s lots of talk about the skills gap in manufacturing, and engineering roles are no exception. While many factors are at play, two stand out.

On the young end of the workforce spectrum, a lack of emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills in lower and higher education results in fewer people qualified to purse engineering degrees.

On the older end of that spectrum, baby boomers are retiring out their jobs, and taking valuable knowledge with them. According to Manufacturing Industry Advisor,

One factor is the aging of the skilled work force.  Industrial engineering is essential to the modern manufacturing world as technology and manufacturing become ever more intertwined day by day. While industrial engineering is one of the fastest growing fields in engineering, it also has one of the largest populations of workers nearing retirement. Approximately twenty-five percent of the industrial engineering workforce is 55 years or older.  As a result, experienced skilled workers in the industry are retiring daily, further decreasing the available skilled worker pool.  Making the problem worse is that many of the niche skills necessary to perform particular positions become outdated in just a few years. 

Engineering.com puts it this way:

The Boomers in manufacturing are often long-term engineering and manufacturing experts who hold a breadth and depth of technical skills and knowledge that can’t be matched by education alone. This is an issue for manufacturing companies because as these older workers leave the workforce, they take this knowledge with them.  The new, younger workers coming in often have trendy new technical skills in artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality programming or building Internet of Things (IoT) networks, but they simply don’t have a comparable amount of industry experience.

And it isn’t technical capabilities alone that the manufacturing industry loses.  As Steve Melnyk and Alan Dunn from APICS point out, when Boomer experts retire, manufacturers lose valuable company and industry experience, tested and proven problem-solving abilities, deep knowledge of competitive advantages, and relationships between team members, customers and critical suppliers.

It’s not the same as moving to a new department or position within the company, where an expert could still be consulted on tricky issues or asked to be a mentor—these people are leaving the workforce entirely and taking their knowledge with them.

Essential Engineering Fields Are Often Unfamiliar

Additionally, some engineering specialties essential to the manufacturing world are obscure. Many STEM students are familiar with traditional categories such as biomedical, aeronautical, and civil engineering. However, engineering degrees in controls, mechatronics, and industrial and systems engineering are specifically designed to cultivate engineers capable of designing and analyzing automated manufacturing processes. These are the people we really need in manufacturing.

Ultimately, the news is good: economic growth is increasing demand to fill a great variety of jobs, including at all levels of manufacturing. The trick is nurturing and educating enough engineers to keep up with demand.