Where the Engineering Jobs Are in 2019

photo of students working on laptops.
Photo: Getty Images

By: Julianne Pepitone

“All we’re hearing is data, data, data,” says Steve McLaughlin, dean of Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering, in Atlanta.

“It’s kind of incredible,” McLaughlin muses. “Every company in every sector is essentially telling us, ‘We’re not an energy company, we’re a data company now.’ ‘We’re no longer logistics, we’re not an automaker—we’re a data firm.’ That’s what’s taking up every bit of oxygen.”

Georgia Tech’s engineering students are taking well-paying jobs in microelectronics, avionics, radar, robotics, consumer devices, and cybersecurity, among other fields. It’s the “hottest job market” McLaughlin has seen in his 25-year career—what he calls a “golden era for engineers.”

That view matches what Angie Keller, senior vice president of Randstad’s engineering division in the United States, is seeing nationally from her position at the staffing agency.

“[Today’s market] is all about machine learning, robotics, controls, embedded systems,” Keller agrees. “All companies across all industries are looking at ways to make things more efficient. For that you need engineers—lots of them.”

As a result of this high demand, employers are locked in intense competition for top EE talent, who have “tons” of opportunity and choice in this candidate’s job market, Keller says. (Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics back up this positive view: The most recent figures, from 2016, peg the median salary for all engineers at US $91,000, which is about double the median wage for all workers.)

“We’re seeing salary increases at all levels, from entry level to three-years’ experience and up,” Keller says. “The wages just continue to outpace the market in other sectors. It’s hard sometimes for companies to keep up, because all the engineers you’re talking to are demanding, and getting, a higher wage.”

Those wages soar even higher for engineers in cybersecurity, says McLaughlin, thanks not only to more intense focus on cyberthreats and data breaches, but also increased mainstream concern about data privacy.

“The [cybersecurity] salaries are just beyond, absolutely out of sight, atmospheric,” McLaughlin says. “We have students getting hired at Amazon and Google for several hundred thousand dollars right out of school. Everyone’s very aware of the cyberthreats and data breaches, but there’s also heightened awareness of data privacy as well.”

But amid all this talk of golden eras and astronomical salaries, one significant engineering population is struggling in the United States: international students. Georgia Tech has seen “a huge shift downward” in the number of companies willing to hire on H-1B visas, McLaughlin says, with several students being told the firm would love to interview them but just isn’t taking international hires right now.

McLaughlin guesses the reticence is due to uncertainty around immigration, with the Trump administration’s temporary bans on immigrants from certain countries this year. The administration also denied nearly a third of H-1B visas in the first quarter of fiscal 2019, according to estimates from the National Foundation for American Policy [PDF].

However, for engineers outside the United States, the job market around the globe is equally “buoyant,” says Keith Jones, business director at the London-based recruitment services firm CCL Global. In Europe and Asia, robotics and artificial intelligence are also ruling the day, with sectors including automotive and manufacturing snapping up plenty of EEs.

Europe in particular is leading the way in power-train technology, especially the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, Jones says. The only European decline he sees coming down the pike is a likely reduction in the amount of data centers, as large corporations and small firms alike are moving to cloud-based and colocation solutions rather than on-site centers.

Over in Asia, the slowdown in shipyard projects that Jones was tracking two years ago has completely reversed, he says: “They are very busy now, particularly in South Korea, China, and Japan, with a number of multibillion-dollar projects in the pipeline.” This includes South Korea’s participation in the Coral South floating liquified natural gas (FLNG) project facility.

In the Middle East, Jones says, innovations around agriculture are on the upswing, with the region importing experienced talent from Europe to supercharge areas like greenhouse technology.

This article appears in the June 2019 print issue as “Where the Jobs Are in 2019.”

This article originally appeared in IEEE Spectrum on 1 May 2019.