How are engineers jobless? The 7 Reasons

How are engineers jobless? Many factors contribute to jobless engineers. Engineers are not immune to job loss and hardships.

The main factors I see leading to job loss for all types of engineers include:

  1. Weak economies
  2. Company revenues decreasing
  3. Shrinking engineering fields
  4. Opening of too many engineering schools
  5. Globalization
  6. Artificial Inteligence (AI) / Automation
  7. New lean employment models
  8. Mindset of engineers

Let’s now go over these 8 factors to better understand how engineers become jobless.

#1 Weak economies

job loss for engineers

The state of the economy impacts the difficulty of engineers landing jobs. Most recently, the following events weakened the U.S. job market:

  • Dotcom bubble burst (2001)
  • Great Recession (2009)
  • COVID-19 pandemic (2020)

These events caused an increase in unemployment for everyone, including engineers. As a result, the job market became flooded with engineers.

To top it off, every year a flood of new graduates enters the job market. Thus, competition is fierce for a limited number of jobs.

Here’s a look at the job loss figures from the 3 above listed economic dips:

U.S. job loss eventEvent yearTotal job loss count
Doctom burst20012 million
Great recession20092.6 million
COVID-19 great lockdown202022 million

2009 Great recession impact on traditional engineering jobs

What are the traditional engineering fields? Civil, power, structural, and any other fields that involve public construction.

In engineering, job loss has a ripple effect. Engineers don’t immediately see the impact of a weakened economy.

For example, construction halted in the 2009 great recession. Home foreclosures were on the rise, and banks were failing.

Also, the revenue of cities fell because of unpaid property tax payments.

That said, traditional engineers normally design for future demand. In other words, a city will only construct if new demand exists. For example, designing and constructing the following:

  • Homes
  • Water pump stations
  • Water and wastewater treatment plants
  • Roads and bridges
  • Transmission line

As well, upgrading existing old failing facilities. You get the point.

But, when a recession hits, everything comes to a screeching halt.

Traditional engineers will lose their jobs as they’ll have nothing to design. I remember in 2009, our work in the power industry dried up.

City funds had dried up and power demand wasn’t increasing. Construction had halted. Thus, we weren’t designing for future increased demand.

#2 Company revenues decreasing

Companies hire less when they’re financially struggling.

Thus, a double strike against jobless engineers in difficult economic times. Engineers get laid off and they can’t find new jobs because no one is hiring.

Even more, the struggles of one company will impact many other engineers too. For example, a company would do the following:

  • Spend less on software from other tech companies. As a result, the revenue of these other companies will drop and they too will have layoffs.
  • Contract out fewer engineers for inhouse work. With decreasing revenue, the company can’t afford to contract other engineers.
  • Stop infrastructure upgrades, which results in reduced traditional engineering work.

To top it off, companies don’t want to train new engineers in a down economy. They want someone in their industry who has experience.

Training engineers are a sunken cost in the short-term. Whereas an experienced engineer can hit the ground running. Thus, most engineers wouldn’t even qualify for the limited positions available.

#3 Shrinking engineering fields

Look into the future to see the demand of your field. Don’t choose a field that’s on its way out.

For example, mining and petroleum engineering are shrinking industries. Not to say you can’t find a job.

But, the jobs are shrinking due to the push for greater renewable energy.

To illustrate, let’s look over data for undergraduate enrollment in petroleum engineering. You can see how year after year enrollment is dropping.

School yearFull-time undergrad enrollment in petroleum engineering (U.S.)Part-time undergrad enrollment in petroleum engineering (U.S.)
20158,232855
20166,397662
20174,813540
20183,694541

My point is, don’t blindly choose a field expecting to land a job because you’re an “engineer”.  Engineers are a dime a dozen.

For this reason, you need to maximize your engineering skills. I’ve written about how to become a superstar engineer.

#4 Opening of too many engineering schools

Engineering graduates are flooding the market more than ever.

With more engineering schools opening, oversaturation in some fields is a problem. So, instead of 100 graduates in a city, there’s now 200.

School YearNumber of U.S. undergrad students enrolledU.S. populationEnrollment ratio to U.S. population
2009427,503306,800,0000.139%
2010450,685309,300,0000.146%
2011471,730311,600,0000.151%
2012504,690313,900,0000.161%
2013543,942316,100,0000.172%
2014568,452318,400,0000.179%
2015610,461320,700,0000.190%
2016601,266323,100,0000.186%
2017619,095325,100,0000.19%
2018622,502327,200,0000.19%

It’s important to note though, more fields of engineering are opening up too. So, naturally, more people will enroll in engineering.

That said, the number of engineers is growing even compared to the increasing U.S. population. You can see this in our above table.

This all leads to greater job competition. Then add in globalization, and you can see the problem.

#5 Globalization

Many engineers from around the globe want to come to America to work.

So, in the U.S. you’re not only competing with engineers in your own backyard. But, with engineers from around the globe.

Important Note: immigrating engineers create many new U.S. businesses. In return, many new jobs are created.

Currently, the U.S. issues 85,000 H-1B visas every year.

#6 Artificial Intelligence (AI) / Automation

automation taking over engineer jobs

AI and automation are fast entering all parts of human life.

In the coming decade I see the following changes taking place:

  • Entry-level positions: many entry-level positions will go away. Especially since a lot of entry-level positions are repetitive type work. Repetitive types of work are most easily automated.
  • Fewer engineers: one engineer will overtake the role of five engineers. The one engineer will manage several AI-run machines.
  • Elimination of certain engineer positions: certain types of engineering positions will go away. For example, the role of product engineers. Instead, an AI-driven website will deliver product information to customers.

I know, AI will create new engineering jobs too. But, the jobs will become more specialized. This transition will weed out many lower-level engineers who can’t level up.

#7 New lean employment models

Employers are changing their hiring practices. They’re using contractors more and more versus hiring full-time employees.

Plus, they’re outsourcing more. Going to cheaper parts of the U.S., or straight to other countries.

Employers are making these changes for the following reasons:

  • New state employment laws leading to increased liability for full-time employees.
  • To operate leaner to increase reserves. This will hedge against the new economic climate with the emergence of pandemics.
  • To increase profits by cutting low performing employees. As a result, not paying for extra benefits such as health-care and 401(k) matching.
  • Better adapt to fast-changing markets to maximize profits. It’s easier to hire contractors to handle spikes in demand versus full-time employees. Because once demand drops, the company will remove the contractors from their payroll.

Today, companies operate with more risk. And when a company takes on more risk, their employment model changes. It’s simple economics.

According to Deloitte’s 2016 global outsourcing survey, here are reasons why companies outsource:

Reasons for outsourcingPercentage
Cost cutting59%
Enable focus on core business57%
Solve capacity issues47%
Improve service quality31%
Critical to business needs28%
Access to intellectual capital28%
Manage business environment17%

#8 Mindset of engineers

Levels exist in engineering. No different than how you see levels in your favorite sport’s league. For example, in the NBA you have the following levels:

  • Superstars
  • Stars
  • Role players
  • Benchwarmers

In engineering, some engineers are highly motivated while some lack ambition. Those who lack ambition want to only collect their paycheck while doing the bare minimum.

So, the mindset of an engineer greatly contributes to their employment prospects. To illustrate, let’s look at how two engineers on both extremes approach employment.

Engineer #1 (lacks ambition)

While employed:

  • Does the bare minimum to get by
  • The work produced is very average
  • Doesn’t keep up with the latest technologies and advancements

Job search:

  • Applies to a couple of jobs every week in the same city
  • Collects unemployment while playing video games all-day

Engineer #2 (highly motivated)

While employed:

  • Goes the extra mile to always produce high-quality work
  • Asks the boss for extra work to never have downtime
  • Always is available to lend a helping hand
  • Constantly self-researches to learn more

Job search:

  • Treats the job search like a job, by applying to 10 or more jobs a day across the country
  • Strengthens resume by learning new skills and taking online courses
  • Travels to job recruitment events
  • Asks for outside help on finding a job
  • Thinks and plans on starting a business as a backup plan

In short, the job market is changing. You can’t get your engineering degree, and then expect employers to knock on your door.

You need to hustle and set yourself apart from others.

If you’re anything like Engineer #1, you’ll more than likely stay jobless for a long period of time.

An engineer’s passion

Equally important is an engineer’s passion. Too many people become engineers for the wrong reasons. The reasons can include:

  • Prestige
  • Money
  • Peer pressure
  • Desire to work in cool cities

But, the most important reason is missing. Passion!

For myself, whether I make money or not, I want to learn about engineering. I love it!

You need this level of passion. Especially today with the high level of competition. Without a genuine interest in your field, you’ll fight an uphill battle.

Important Note: I find our education system has many shortcomings. You pay so much tuition, yet you’re not taught real-world engineering skills. 

This is another reason why you need to self-research to constantly better yourself. To fill in your knowledge gaps from school.

I learned so much more on my own than I ever did in school.  

“How are engineers jobless?” wrap up

Engineers aren’t immune to job loss. With changing times, engineers need to adapt to survive.

Finding employment will become more difficult too in the future. But, more and more of the world is becoming dependent on engineers.

So, if you maximize your engineering skills, you’ll have many cool jobs to choose from. Even more, great business opportunities will come your way.

In summary, leave your comfort zone to become the best engineer possible.

What do you think is the best way to make yourself employable in the future? How do you approach your job search?

SUBSCRIBE TO ENGINEER CALCS NEWSLETTER

Get daily articles and news delivered to your email inbox

Leave a Comment