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The future of work is changing so rapidly that it’s hard for people to keep up, whether they’re workers, employers, educators, or students. But a grasp of four major trends shaping today’s workforce can help all of these groups anticipate where the market is going and react to it. 

In a research brief for the Business-Higher Education Forum, supported by the National Science Foundation, we looked at how these trends are at work in the fields of engineering and advanced manufacturing. Yet few fields are immune to the changes these forces bring. 

Hybridization 

One of the most significant trends in the job market is the rise of “hybrid jobs,” roles that mix and match skill sets from different fields. This is being driven by the rise of “disruptive skills” that change how entire sectors do business. Previous Burning Glass-BHEF research has shown how data science, for example, is remaking a wide range of occupations. 

In some cases, these are completely new jobs (such as mobile app developers). But hybridization occurs in established fields as well. Engineering is arguably a pioneering hybrid job, since engineering projects have often demanded a combination of technical and business skills. It’s perhaps no surprise that management techniques like Six Sigma have come out of the engineering world. 

Digitization 

Some of the fastest-growing and most demanded skills in many fields are linked to software. Even 8 in 10 middle-skill jobs now require digital skills such as word processing and spreadsheets. It’s no surprise, then, that design and modeling software programs like AutoCAD are widely demanded in engineering jobs. Even more notably, all five of the skills Burning Glass projects will grow fastest in engineering are software-related: programming language Python, spreadsheets, the design program Revit, software engineering, and Civil3D. This may well be related to a fast-growing skill that just missed being in the top five: robotics. 

SkillProjected Growth Over Two Years
Python26.6%
Spreadsheets18.2%
Revit15.1%
Software Engineering10.6%
Civil 3D10.5%

Demand Outstrips Supply 

Given the current tight labor market, many employers are facing worker shortages, but engineering and advanced manufacturing face serious gaps in certain roles. Within engineering specialties, the difficulty finding engineers can be measured by how long it takes to fill positions. On average, it takes 37 days to fill engineering jobs, but in certain roles it can take up to 52 days.  

The list of hard-to-fill roles includes cutting-edge jobs like Robotics Engineer (47 days) but also well- established jobs like Chemical/Process Engineer (also 47 days) and Wastewater Engineer (50 days). 

Raising the Bar 

The shortage of workers does have some benefits: a bachelor’s degree in engineering carries value in the job market. A recent Burning Glass study found out of all college majors, engineers were the least likely to be underemployed (29% compared to an average of 40% for all new college graduates). 

Outside of technician positions, occupations in engineering and advanced manufacturing overwhelmingly require a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, occupations that accept a high school or associates degree are growing more slowly compared to occupations that require a bachelor’s. For example, if you look at entry -level “starter jobs,” the number of civil engineers is projected to grow 11% between 2016-2020, compared to 4% growth for production workers. Mechanical engineers are projected to grow 9%, compared to 2% growth for machinists. 

This “upcredentialing” in the workforce has been a broader phenomenon over the past decade, and is driven by multiple factors, including the increasing complexity of many jobs and the use of a bachelor’s as a proxy for soft skills. While the tight labor market has moderated that trend, overall the bar for high-education, high-skill work continues to rise.   

OccupationNumber of Entry-Level PostingsProjected Change in Employment
Civil Engineer61,39410.6%
Mechanical Engineer74,4388.8%
Electrical Engineer70,5748.6%
Manufacturing / Production Technician22,6755.2%
Production Worker173,7344.4%
Manufacturing Machine Operator90,6514.4%
Machinist27,8662.0%
Industrial / Mechanical Engineering Technician73,6720.6%

Download the full research brief Four Trends Shaping the Future of the Workforce.

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