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A Guide to the Top Growing Fields in Engineering (2020)

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Many students are choosing to focus their education and career goals in one of the subfields of engineering and with a good reason: employment opportunities for many types of engineers are expected to grow over the next decade. Furthermore, engineering can be a truly rewarding career as these professionals often work at the cutting-edge of technology and receive relatively generous salaries. Industrial engineers, for example, are responsible for figuring out how to best use all of an organization’s assets (people, materials, energy, information, etc.) in a way that minimizes waste and maximizes quality and efficiency.

Of course, not all engineering fields are expected to enjoy the same rate of growth. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2018) reports that the fastest growing subfields of engineering include industrial engineering with employment opportunities expected to swell by 8 percent by 2028; chemical engineering (6 percent); civil engineering (6 percent); computer hardware engineering (6 percent); agricultural engineering (5 percent); and environmental engineering (5 percent). All of these projected percentages are as fast as or higher than growth anticipated across all occupations between 2018 and 2028 (5 percent).

While these percentages give a snapshot of the expected employment landscape for engineering subfields, the rankings change when evaluating the projected number of job openings. For example, agricultural engineering positions are expected to grow by 5 percent by 2028 for a total increase of 100 overall; contrast this to environmental engineering, a field that is also expected to experience a growth rate of 5 percent, and there is a much greater addition of 2,900 jobs.

This guide examines the seven branches of engineering which are expected to add the greatest number of jobs in the decade preceding 2028, including a discussion of typical job responsibilities, the number of current workers in each subfield, and prospective salaries.

Please note that all national data is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019).

Industrial Engineering

The field of industrial engineering is the fastest growing subfield, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019). In the next eight years, this equates to an addition of 23,800 jobs. In other words, the number of available positions is expected to grow from 284,600 to 308,400 by the year 2028.

What Do Industrial Engineers Do?

The work of an industrial engineer is generally focused on the concept of efficiency in production. Depending on their work setting, an industrial engineer may be tasked with developing efficient systems that integrate workers, materials, machines, information, and energy in the creation of a product or the provision of a specific service.

Industrial Engineer Salary

Here are the latest salary averages, number of industrial engineers employed, and wage percentiles from the BLS (May 2018):

Industrial engineers (279,550 employed in the US): $91,630 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $56,470
  • 25th percentile: $69,690
  • 50th percentile (median): $87,040
  • 75th percentile: $108,560
  • 90th percentile: $132,340

Civil Engineering

The field of civil engineering is the second fastest growing subfield, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019). Specifically, civil engineering jobs are expected to grow by 6 percent between 2018 and 2028, which amounts to an increase of 20,500 jobs overall. In other words, openings in this subfield will rise from 326,800 to 347,300 nationwide.

What Do Civil Engineers Do?

In general, civil engineers are responsible for the design, operation, supervision, and maintenance of construction projects and systems. These projects may be operated in the public or private sector, and often include the construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, dams, airports, tunnels, or even water supply or sewer treatment systems. Civil engineers may also research current projects or operations, and present their findings to the public on topics such as environmental impact statements, bid proposals, or descriptions of property.

Civil Engineer Salary

Here are the latest salary averages, number of civil engineers employed, and wage percentiles from the BLS (May 2018):

Civil engineers (306,030 employed in the US): $93,720 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $54,780
  • 25th percentile: $67,430
  • 50th percentile (median): $86,640
  • 75th percentile: $112,850
  • 90th percentile: $142,560

Mechanical Engineering

After civil engineering, mechanical engineering is slated to experience the greatest absolute increase in employment openings. The BLS (2019) reports that jobs in this field are expected to grow 4 percent resulting in the addition of 12,800 jobs, with positions rising from 312,900 to 325,700 by 2028.

What Do Mechanical Engineers Do?

While all mechanical engineering positions will likely vary in specifics, in general these professionals are responsible for developing, designing, building, and testing thermal and mechanical devices, which often include tools, machines, and even engines. Furthermore, mechanical engineers in more managerial roles may also be tasked with supervising the design and development process undertaken by other engineering professionals.

Mechanical Engineer Salary

Here are the latest salary averages, number of mechanical engineers employed, and wage percentiles from the BLS (May 2018):

Mechanical engineers (303,440 employed in the US): $92,800 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $56,270
  • 25th percentile: $69,410
  • 50th percentile (median): $87,370
  • 75th percentile: $110,520
  • 90th percentile: $136,550

Electrical and Electronics Engineering

According to information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019), 8,000 positions will likely be added by 2028 in the field of electrical and electronics engineering, increasing the number of jobs to 338,300 overall. Despite this being the third-highest predicted increase in number of jobs, the rate of growth for this field is only 2 percent, about 3 percent lower than the national average.

What Do Electrical and Electronics Engineers Do?

Electrical and electronics engineers bring electronics to life. If a device or piece of equipment requires electricity, electrical and electronics engineers have engaged in the research, design, development, testing, and supervision of manufacturing that makes the device functional. Because electricity is used in almost all industries, electrical and electronics engineers can find themselves using their understanding of math and electronics and electric theory in a wide number of practical applications. While there are a number of overlaps in both fields, electrical engineers are centrally concerned about production and distribution of electricity, while electronics engineers focus mainly on ensuring that that electrical products function.

Electrical and Electronics Engineer Salary

Here are the latest salary averages, number of electrical engineers and electronics engineers employed, and wage percentiles from the BLS (May 2018):

Electrical engineers (186,490 employed in the US): $101,600 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $61,190
  • 25th percentile: $75,430
  • 50th percentile (median): $96,640
  • 75th percentile: $123,160
  • 90th percentile: $153,240

Electronics engineers (134,110 employed in the US): $107,930 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $64,840
  • 25th percentile: $79,640
  • 50th percentile (median): $102,700
  • 75th percentile: $130,150
  • 90th percentile: $162,200

Computer Hardware Engineering

Because computers and computer systems have become so ubiquitous in today’s society, the demand for more computer hardware engineers continues to grow over the years. The BLS (2019) reports that this subfield expects a 6 percent growth between 2018 and 2028, which amounts to an increase of 4,00 positions altogether, or a change from 64,400 to 68,400 eight years from now.

What Do Computer Hardware Engineers Do?

Computer hardware engineers retain various responsibilities focusing on the application of engineering principles to computer issues. For example, computer hardware engineers generally research, design, develop and test computer systems, as well as components such as processors, memory devices, networks, circuit boards, and routers. Many perform detailed research to help advance the field of computer systems.

Computer Hardware Engineer Salary

Here are the latest salary averages, number of computer hardware engineers employed, and wage percentiles from the BLS (May 2018):

Computer hardware engineers (60,750 employed in the US): $117,840 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $66,700
  • 25th percentile: $86,760
  • 50th percentile (median): $114,600
  • 75th percentile: $146,020
  • 90th percentile: $172,630

Environmental Engineering

The BLS (Sep. 2019) reported that the field of environmental engineering is expected to grow by 5 percent overall, which amounts to an increase of 2,900 positions, or from 55,400 to 58,300 jobs by the year 2028. The growth rate for this branch of engineering is equal to the national average.

What Do Environmental Engineers Do?

Environmental engineers are in relatively high demand in today’s society, as many individuals and organizations look towards engineering professionals to help solve complex issues as they relate to the environment. Environmental engineers are generally tasked with applying engineering ideas and principles, as well as those related to biology, soil science, and chemistry, in order to develop solutions to issues posed by the environment. Types of projects on which an environmental engineering might work include those aimed at improving public health, waste disposal, water treatment, recycling, and even air pollution.

Environmental Engineer Salary

Here are the latest salary averages, number of environmental engineers employed, and wage percentiles from the BLS (May 2018):

Environmental engineers (53,070 employed in the US): $92,640 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $53,180
  • 25th percentile: $66,590
  • 50th percentile (median): $87,620
  • 75th percentile: $112,230
  • 90th percentile: $137,090

Chemical Engineering

The BLS (2019) reports that jobs in chemical engineering are expected to grow 6 percent, resulting in the addition of 2,100 jobs. The total number of jobs will rise from 33,900 to 36,000 by 2028. The rate of growth for the chemical engineering field is just slightly higher than the national average.

What Do Chemical Engineers Do?

From food to pharmaceuticals, chemical engineers are responsible for applying STEM-based knowledge to solve practical problems in manufacturing and production. Chemical engineers tend to have technical and scientific mastery that is quite comprehensive, enabling them to work in a wide range of fields. Furthermore, chemical engineers in more managerial roles may also be tasked with supervising the design and development process undertaken by other engineering professionals.

Chemical Engineer Salary

Here are the latest salary averages, number of mechanical engineers employed, and wage percentiles from the BLS (May 2018):

Mechanical engineers (32,060 employed in the US): $114,470 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $64,890
  • 25th percentile: $81,900
  • 50th percentile (median): $104,910
  • 75th percentile: $133,320
  • 90th percentile: $169,770

Conclusions: Pursuing a Career in an Engineering Subfield

Nearly all subfields of engineering are expected to experience growth between 2018 and 2028. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019), only two fields of engineering are projected to have no growth or to lose jobs by 2028: materials engineering (0 percent growth) and nuclear engineering (-1 percent loss).

Outside of these two subfields, the entire field of engineering is expected to grow at a rate that is essentially equal to the average rate of job growth for all occupations. By 2028, this translates into an estimated 78,400 new jobs in engineering—creating an abundance of opportunities for aspiring engineers. Because of an omnipresent need for a wide variety of engineering expertise, pursuing a career in engineering can provide a rewarding and lucrative future.