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Major Trends Driving Engineering Job Growth in Massachusetts and Beyond

Kristen Roper
President: TRIAD Engineering Corp.

At the most macro level across the U.S., there are a variety of excellent resources available that reveal a great deal about engineering-related job hiring trends we can look forward to in mid-2014 and beyond.  They span virtually all of the specialized subsets of engineering as well as segmenting job growth and career opportunities by the industry type of the hiring company.  Driving this data are critical trends and issues facing both job seekers and hiring companies. This article will examine both.

First, what we know.

The U.S. Congressional Research Service released a lengthy report

[http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43061.pdf] just this past February that examines in great detail engineering hiring patterns, growth, salaries and job loss. It provides a thorough quantifiable background and better yet, it does so both looking backwards and into the future over an extended period of time.

The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics provides all of the data found in the Job Outlook section of Engineers Guide USA

[www.engineersguideusa.com/Careers/engineer_career_outlook.htm] It’s far less quantifiable than the Congressional Report, but is does provide a valuable hiring-related overview of 16 types of engineering sub-specialties and more than 30 different industry types.

Lastly, although slightly dated, Monster.com provides a comprehensive overview of the engineering hiring market, patterns and future expectations in their report [http://media.newjobs.com/a/i/intelligence/jobs/2012/2012_Engineering_JobConditions.pdf]

originally published in February 2012.

Next, what we think.

Major Trends and what about Massachusetts?

While all of the data listed previously is valuable and interesting, equally informative is an assessment of the major trends that are driving job growth and hiring considerations as we enter the second half of 2014. Of course each trend is only considered as important as your vantage point. Hiring managers certainly see things differently than the job candidate who may see things differently than the hiring company CEO. There is, however, a consensus on the factors, both traditional and emerging, that all parties should be aware of. They would include:

1. Where the jobs are. Somebody once asked the famous bank robber Willie Sutton why he robbed banks. His answer: “That’s where they keep the money.” It may be as simple as that in looking for the perfect job.  There is really a dearth of public data on micro-hiring patterns in our field. Little current information is available on a state-to-state basis. But we can learn some things from digging around.

Let’s look at the data on a random day in late May.  While looking at job posting sites isn’t a perfect method of determining hiring activity (many hiring companies work with staffing firms to conduct confidential searches that are never posted on a job posting site, and contract hiring is rarely reflected in on-line job postings), it can nevertheless be indicative of overall hiring activity.  On the well-known job posting site, Simplyhired.com, by far the most frequent engineering category in terms of total positions posted is that of Software Engineer, with 649,000 open jobs posted nationally by companies around the country.  Yet, our highly literate and computer-centric Massachusetts had only 4% of those–nearing 27,860.  On the other hand, Massachusetts had a full 10% of the country’s biomedical engineer postings. Not surprising given our strong medical and pharmaceutical infrastructure. The problem: Only 587 Massachusetts jobs were listed.  Whether any of these represents a great opportunity depends, once again, on your vantage point.

Here are the results for numerous specialties using only current (May) Massachusetts engineering-related job postings.

  • Software: 27,858
  • Project: 17,501
  • Materials: 14,308
  • Electrical: 4,640
  • Mechanical: 3,183
  • Nuclear: 3,104
  • Chemical: 1,893
  • Computer Hardware: 1,655
  • CAD: 959
  • Civil: 793
  • Biomedical: 587

2. Contract is not just a trend. As we have reported here before, there has been an increasing trend toward contract hiring here in Massachusetts.  The strategic use of contractors now appears to be ongoing fact of everyday life among hiring companies.  Companies want to maximize their ability to respond quickly to rapidly changing market conditions while minimizing long-term corporate exposure in terms of employee-related costs.  The contracting “trend” is growing and it is highly unlikely that it will go away.

3.  Software Engineering is still white hot. As IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers)  [http://www.todaysengineer.org/2013/Feb/career-focus.asp] reported on last year, it is no secret that this is the field’s largest and fasted growing specialty.

4.  Folks are staying put. Concerns about the economy are keeping long-term employees at their companies longer and coupled with the anticipated retirements of many of Baby Boomers over the next 4-5 years,  a talent shortage is anticipated in approximately 2020. One of the prime motivators in getting top-notch engineering talent to move to another company is financial, as happy and successful talent are increasingly reluctant to change jobs.

5. New categories of engineers are emerging. As you would expect from a worldwide marketplace that depends on rapid technological innovation (that engineers helped to create!), new areas of specialization are being created literally overnight. Perhaps the quickest growing is that of “nano-engineer”, linked obviously to the growth and use of nano technologies. In addition, new categories of hiring companies are being developed. As more communications technology applications get to market, the aerospace, commercial vehicle and the automotive industries now form what some are calling the “Mobility Industry.”  In each case, for the job seeker, the more specialized experience the better.

6.  Companies are “building” not finding the perfect employee. Because the personnel needs of hiring companies are growing more and more specialized every day, hiring managers report that the number of open job requisitions is growing larger and reqs are being held open longer than ever before. As a result, in a relative inability to find the “perfect” job applicant, companies are attempting to fill jobs by making their current engineering employees “perfect.”  This might include exposing them to different opportunities, increasing their training, and broadening their responsibilities. Yet this strategy can place a burden on the employee, and the time required to make the employee highly productive in this expanded role might compromise project schedules. Many companies are therefore supplementing this strategy with contract personnel.

In summary, for hiring companies and job seekers alike, the engineering field has an atmosphere of cautious optimism halfway through the year.  Although continued economic uncertainties have tempered any movement towards rapid job expansion, there are great companies, large and small, that are seeking talented, motivated and experienced talent for either contract or direct positions.

By Kristen Roper | May 16, 2018 | Categories: Recruiting, Resumes |