Weekend Journal: What Do We Do When They Retire?

Weekend Journal: What Do We Do When They Retire?

We’re not getting any younger. You know. We. Like the royal we. Engineers, y’know? There are a lot of older engineers out there!

Granted, the average age of US back in 1999 was only 43. But look at the distribution of engineers in the workforce:

And though it looks like there is a solid amount of labor in the pipeline, remember that the workforce in general will continue growing. That means if engineering is going to continue to be the same percentage of the workforce (number of engineers), we need even more engineers than we have now to fill into these roles. And looking at the under-25 column and the 25-29 column, it doesn’t seem like it’s there. Given these charts a good dose of un-scientific anecdotal data, I’d say once we remove the non-engineering fields, that the average age of engineers bumps up a bit. Again, the numbers are crazy hard to find and it doesn’t matter. What I’m trying to get at is:

Engineers as a profession are growing  older and there is significant opportunity for the engineers coming up in the field.

What kind of opportunity? I think it could take many different forms and depending on what it looks like, people will need to try and make the most out of each opportunity. What are some possible outcomes in the future?

  • Building demand for younger engineers, resulting in rising prestige and salaries, across the board. In certain fields like civil engineering which reqiuire a renaissance to fix the America’s failing infrastructure, there could be top dollar paid to anyone in the field. We’re seeing this right now in petroleum engineers, with starting salaries in the $90k range. In my own field, I see increasing demand for analog electrical engineers, because of the strong focus on software in the past decade.
  • Another option is that jobs that may have gone to younger engineers will instead go overseas, continuing a trend we’re seeing today. Even some of my own experiences working with engineers in China have been because some jobs close to me have moved. This will create a similar bubble in technology and overseas markets will need to deal with this group moving through their workforce and will be in a similar spot as the US in 30-50 years (all things being equal, FSM help them).
  • Yet another part of me says that we won’t see much change at all, that engineers today will be the engineers of tomorrow and they’ll just be asked to do more with less. I’ve already seen this and the chip vendors end up pulling much of the electrical functionality of systems onto the silicon, leaving engineers as the system integrators. In that case, I see there being opportunity for very niche-specific experts in engineering (such as electromigration problem diagnosis or flexure mechanics). Since there won’t be many people that will know a topic in depth, employers will have to pay premium dollars (even more than they do today) in order to utilize this talent.

What about you? Do you see some kind of opportunity in the aging engineer workforce? Do you think it will have a net positive or negative effect on the profession? And before you leave a comment in the comment section, would you mind telling us a few key bits about you, our reader? While we could base our information on the comments section, it’s more interesting to get a larger picture of who is reading this article. Perhaps you’re part of the older generation of the engineering workforce and this doesn’t affect you. It’ll be interesting to see who responds.

Many thanks to the sites with data out there (such as the NSF site where the charts came from) and for the recently acquired wife for helping me try and find some kind of data without hitting up the library.


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