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TABLE 2-2 Engineering Workforce by Discipline and Other Relevant Occupations, 2006


Number of Engineers











Computer hardware


Electrical and electronics




Industrial, including health/safety


Marine engineers/naval architects












Engineering managers






Other Relevant Occupations

Number Employed

Computer Scientists and Systems Analysts


Computer Software Engineers


Total Engineering and Other Relevant


Notes: Rounded to the nearest thousand. The total for engineers is somewhat lower than that contained in Table 2-1, reflecting different years and methods of compilation.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. May 2006 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. Accessed November 1, 2007. Available online at

their careers here (Council of Graduate Schools, 2006). For example, in 2003, one-year stay rates were estimated at 71 percent, five-year stay rates at 67 percent, and ten-year stay rates at 58 percent for foreign students (temporary visa holders) who received science and engineering doctoral degrees from U.S. institutions (Finn, 2005). However, some analysts believe that a growing number of U.S.-educated foreign scientists and engineers are returning to their home countries after graduation (Heenan, 2005; Newman, 2006).

The attractiveness of engineering as a profession in the United States depends on it being considered a satisfying, stable, well compensated career, relative to other professions. However, the current picture and outlook appear to be mixed (Morgan, 2006). In the early years of this decade, unemployment in electrical engineering and fields related to information-technology (IT) industries reached historic highs (Harrison, 2005). The factors contributing to the rise in unemployment included the bursting of the dot-com bubble, rapid changes in technology, and increasing globalization, perhaps including offshoring. Although the unemployment rate for electrical engineers dropped back to its normal (in historic terms) low level between 2003 and 2005, this might reflect slow growth or even shrinkage in the profession, rather than a true recovery.3

High levels of unemployment and slow salary growth from 2002 to 2004 and longer term changes in engineering work have raised persistent concerns about the future of the profession. For example, Jones and Oberst (2003) described engineering employment as becoming “more volatile with each decade,” as careers characterized by upward mobility and advancement are replaced by work patterns that require numerous lateral job shifts. They ascribe the changes to the “commoditization” of engineering work, that is, the breaking down of jobs into highly specific tasks that can be performed by employees, outsourced to contractors, or sent offshore. At the same time, Sperling and others believe that more and more demands are being made of engineers in terms of responsibilities and skills (Sperling, 2006). One can infer from both of these analyses that lifelong learning may well become more important, both for the profession as a whole and for individual engineers.

The important points to keep in mind in this introductory summary are (1) engineering, like other professions and other job categories, is changing; and (2) technological advances and globalization are two of the forces driving this change. Analyses of the industry-specific studies (provided in Part 2 and summarized in Chapter 3) indicate that engineers are being affected by these changes in different ways, depending on engineering discipline, age, access to continuing education, and educational background.

With improvements in the economy, job prospects, and salary growth in 2006 and 2007, engineers today are feeling more upbeat about their careers, more secure in their jobs, and more inclined to recommend engineering as a career choice than they were just a few years ago (Bokorney, 2006). Although these cyclical improvements in employment prospects are encouraging, they may not relieve apprehensions about long-term trends, including offshoring, and their potential implications and risks.

In his description of the relatively new field of networking, Rappaport (this volume) touches on several of the trends and perceptions that underlie anxieties about the future of U.S. engineering. Networking is a field that combines hardware and software aspects of computing and telecommunications. As U.S.-based corporate research has declined in recent years, firms based elsewhere are increasing their activity. Research based at U.S. universities remains strong, but top university graduate programs are increasingly reliant on students from abroad.


The Occupational Employment Statistics produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics cannot be used to compare employment levels in some employment categories, such as electrical engineering, over time, because the survey and statistical techniques used to produce a “snapshot” of employment levels at a particular time have changed over time. Thus results are not always comparable.

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