The Typical Engineer

It’s almost ironic. We’re living in a time when engineering has never been more important. From communications devices in the hands of most people on the planet to the intelligence that is being embedded into manufactured goods at an unprecedented scale, engineering solutions have never been in higher demand.

Yet market dynamics are seemingly conspiring to undermine the ability of many engineers to make a decent living. Many engineers find themselves unemployed. Those who are employed are seeing their compensation erode even as they put in long hours.

Many factors are contributing to this somber situation. Globalization is placing downward pressure on wages. Advances increasingly seem to deliver incremental outcomes, rather than transformative ones. And there just isn’t enough oxygen in the economy to fuel the kind of recovery that would really heat up the engineering job market.

So this year when we surveyed the experiences and views of nearly 3000 U.S. engineering professionals, we had to take a look at some very sobering realities. We hope the resulting insights will be of value to you, even if it’s only to let you know that you are not alone in your struggles—and that these are indeed pressure-packed times for the engineering profession.

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EE Unemployment Remains High

The unemployment rate for electrical and electronics engineers increased sharply in 2013. According to data from the U.S. Labor Department Bureau of LaborStatistics (BLS), engineering jobs in the first quarter of 2013 declined by 40,000 and the unemployment rate for engineers rose to 6.5%. The industry lost another 3000 jobs during the second quarter, although the unemployment rate dropped somewhat to 4.5% in Q2 for technical reasons.                 

By comparison, in both 2011 and 2012 the unemployment rate for EEs was just 3.4%. Last year there were 335,000 EEs counted in the workforce. At the midway point this year, the number was estimated at just 292,000.

The IEEE-USA sees the unemployment rate for engineers getting worse if the proposals to increase H-1B visas now making their way through Congress are successful. The organization has long opposed efforts to raise the H-1B cap.

Speaking before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security earlier this year, IEEE-USA representative Bruce Morrison testified in support of permanent employment-based visas for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals but criticized proposals to increase America’s reliance on H-1B temporary visas.

“We hear all the time that this is a nation of immigrants,” Morrison said. “No one has ever said this is a nation of guest workers.”

Download the Salary Survey