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The 7 Fastest Growing Fields in Engineering

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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 significantly 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. Biomedical engineers, for example, design devices or procedures to benefit public health and help save lives.

Of course, not all engineering fields are expected to enjoy the same rate of growth. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2016) reports that the fastest growing subfields of engineering include biomedical engineering with employment opportunities expected to swell by 23.1 percent by 2024; environmental engineering (12.4 percent); petroleum engineering (9.8 percent); marine engineering (8.9 percent); and civil engineering (8.4 percent). All of these projected percentages are significantly higher than the average growth anticipated across all occupations by 2024 (7 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, biomedical engineering positions are expected to grow by 23.1 percent by 2024, a total increase of 5,100 overall; contrast this with civil engineering, a field that is expected to see an increase of 8.4 percent, or an increase of 23,600 positions.

This guide examines the seven branches of engineering which are expected to add the greatest number of jobs by 2024, including a discussion of typical job responsibilities, the number of current workers in each subfield, and prospective salaries.

Civil Engineering

The field of civil engineering is the fastest growing subfield, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Dec. 2015). Specifically, civil engineering jobs are expected to grow by 8.4 percent between 2014 and 2024, which amounts to an increase of 23,600 jobs overall. In other words, openings in this subfield will rise from 281,400 to 305,000 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 2015):

Civil engineers (275,210 employed in the US): $87,940 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $52,900
  • 25th percentile: $64,750
  • 50th percentile (median): $82,220
  • 75th percentile: $104,730
  • 90th percentile: $129,850

Mechanical Engineering

After civil engineering, mechanical engineering is slated to experience the greatest absolute increase in employment openings. The BLS (Dec. 2015) reports that jobs in this field are expected to grow five percent resulting in the addition of 14,600 jobs, with positions rising from 277,500 to 292,100 by 2024.

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 2015):

Mechanical engineers (278,340 employed in the US): $87,940 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $53,640
  • 25th percentile: $66,540
  • 50th percentile (median): $83,590
  • 75th percentile: $105,110
  • 90th percentile: $128,430

Environmental Engineering

Environmental engineers have the opportunity to work within the third-fastest growing engineering subfield in terms of absolute number of jobs added. Specifically, the BLS (Dec. 2015) reported that field is expected to grow by 12 percent overall, which amounts to an increase of 6,800 positions, or from 55,100 to 61,900 jobs by the year 2024.

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 2015):

Environmental engineers (52,600 employed in the US): $88,040 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $50,230
  • 25th percentile: $64,610
  • 50th percentile (median): $84,560
  • 75th percentile: $106,610
  • 90th percentile: $128,440

Biomedical Engineering

Although biomedical engineering is a relatively small field with only 22,100 positions in existence as of December 2015, a wealth of openings is expected to be added over the course of the next seven years. According to information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Dec. 2015), 5,100 positions will likely be added by 2024 in the field of biomedical engineering, increasing the number of jobs to 27,200 overall. This is also the fastest-growing subfield of engineering in relation to its size, as this constitutes a total growth of 23.1 percent between 2014 and 2024, more than three times the average growth across all US occupations during that time period (7 percent).

What Do Biomedical Engineers Do

Biomedical engineers work in a hybrid field, combining the principles of engineering with others from medicine and biological sciences in order to develop equipment, devices, software, and even computer systems that are used in the healthcare industry. Biomedical engineers may also be responsible for the ongoing evaluation of medical equipment and training others on how to properly use medical devices. Furthermore, these professionals publish findings based on research to help advance the field as a whole.

Biomedical Engineer Salary

Here are the latest salary averages, number of biomedical engineers employed, and wage percentiles from the BLS (May 2015):

Biomedical engineers (20,890 employed in the US): $91,230 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $51,480
  • 25th percentile: $65,540
  • 50th percentile (median): $86,220
  • 75th percentile: $110,250
  • 90th percentile: $139,520

Petroleum Engineering

While a growing number of industries are looking to cleaner forms of energy, there still is an overall dependence on fossil fuels and the work of petroleum engineers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (Dec. 2015) predicts that 3,400 new jobs in petroleum engineering will be added between 2014 and 2024, increasing the total from 35,100 to 38,500 overall. That is an expected growth rate of approximately 10 percent, which is much faster than the average of all other industries nationwide.

What Do Petroleum Engineers Do

Petroleum engineers are responsible for designing and developing ways to extract oil and gas from deposits beneath the ground. Furthermore, some petroleum engineers focus on discovering new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells already in existence. Depending on the individual job, a petroleum engineer may need to operate computer controlled drilling equipment to connect larger areas to individual wells, design equipment to extract oil and gas, or even develop methods of injecting water, chemicals, or other substances into an oil reserve to extract a greater amount of resources.

Petroleum Engineer Salary

Here are the latest salary averages, number of petroleum engineers employed, and wage percentiles from the BLS (May 2015):

Petroleum engineers (34,600 employed in the US): $149,590 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $74,880
  • 25th percentile: $99,390
  • 50th percentile (median): $129,990
  • 75th percentile: $185,050
  • 90th percentile: > $187,200 (no exact estimate available)

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 (Dec. 2015) reports that this subfield only expects a three percent growth between 2014 and 2024, although that amounts to an increase of 2,400 positions altogether, or a change from 77,700 to 80,100 seven 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 2015):

Computer hardware engineers (75,870 employed in the US): $114,970 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $65,570
  • 25th percentile: $86,300
  • 50th percentile (median): $111,730
  • 75th percentile: $141,280
  • 90th percentile: $167,100

Industrial Engineering

Although the field of industrial engineering is expected to grow by only one percent in the next seven years, this equates to an addition of 2,100 jobs (BLS Dec. 2015). In other words, the number of available positions is expected to grow from 241,100 to 243,200 by the year 2024.

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 2015):

Industrial engineers (247,570 employed in the US): $86,990 average annual salary

  • 10th percentile: $53,300
  • 25th percentile: $66,680
  • 50th percentile (median): $83,470
  • 75th percentile: $103,680
  • 90th percentile: $126,920

Conclusions: Pursuing a Career in a High-Growth Engineering Subfield

Nearly all subfields of engineering are expected to experience growth over the next seven years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016), only three fields of engineering are projected to lose jobs by 2024, which includes aerospace engineering, electronics engineering, and nuclear engineering.

This trend does not represent the fate of all engineering disciplines, however. Instead, a host of engineering subfields are slated to experience growth over the next seven years, and some quite significantly. As mentioned above, civil engineering positions are expected to grow by 8.4 percent, or 23,600 overall; and while biomedical engineering may only add 5,100 positions, this actually represents a growth of almost 25 percent in only a decade (2014-24).

In sum, pursuing a career in engineering can be rewarding and lucrative, leading to an abundance of opportunities on into the future.