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 factors that lead to job loss for all types of engineers include:

  • Weak economy
  • Companies hurting for money
  • Shrinking engineering fields
  • Too many engineering schools
  • Globalization
  • Artificial Inteligence (AI) / Automation
  • Employers new employment model
  • Engineer’s mindset

Let’s now closely go over these eight factors. We can then better understand how engineers become jobless.

#1 Weak economy

job loss for engineers

The state of the economy will dictate an engineer’s difficulty in landing a job. The most recent events that have weakened the U.S. job market are:

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

In these times unemployment rises for everyone, including engineers. As a result, the job market becomes flooded with engineers.

To top it off, every year a flood of new graduates search for jobs too. Thus, you’re competing with many engineers for a single position.

Here’s a look at the most recent large job loss figures:

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

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.

Now keep in mind, civil engineers normally build for future demand.

Because a city will project future growth by a certain percentage over a set time. Thus, the city will increase the construction of:

  • Homes
  • Water pump stations to take water to further corners of the city
  • Water and wastewater treatment plants
  • Roads and bridges

As well, upgrade existing facilities. You get the point.

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

Slowly civil engineers lose their jobs as they have nothing to build. Then, mechanical and electrical engineers start to lose their jobs.

Most of the time, civil engineers lead projects as the prime contractor. So you can see the effects there first a lot of the time.

I remember when this happened in 2009, our work in power dried up.

  • Power demand wasn’t increasing, because construction halted. Thus, we weren’t designing for future increased demand.
  • City funds dried up, so infrastructure upgrades came to an end.

It’s like a domino effect.

#2 Companies hurting for money

Companies hire less because they’re hurting due to a weakened economy. They have fewer clients and consumers buying.

Thus, a double strike for engineers who are looking for jobs. They’re laid off, and companies aren’t hiring.

In these times, companies:

  • Layoff engineers
  • Spend less on software from other tech companies
  • Contract out fewer engineers
  • Stop all infrastructure upgrades

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

Training engineers are a sunk cost in the short-term. Whereas an experienced engineer can hit the ground running and start billing.

#3 Shrinking engineering fields

You need to look into the future to see the direction of your field. Don’t choose a field that’s on its way out.

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

But, the jobs are shrinking due to shifts in the market. Mainly from the push for renewable energy.

To illustrate this, let’s look at some data. 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. Then, expect to be hired because you’re an “engineer”.

With shrinking markets, you’ll compete against many highly-skilled engineers. Engineers who were recently laid off.

#4 Too many Engineering schools

Engineering graduates are being cranked out fast. They’re flooding the market more than ever.

With more engineering schools opening, oversaturation in some fields becomes a problem. So, instead of 100 graduates in a city, there’ll be 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, more fields of engineering are opening up too. So, naturally, more people are enrolling in engineering.

But, the number of engineers is growing even compared to the increasing U.S. population. You can see this on our table.

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

#5 Globalization

Engineers from all 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 cities from all around the globe.

Important Note: Immigrating engineers create new jobs in the U.S. all the time too.

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 entering all parts of life faster and faster.

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

  • Entry-level positions: many entry-level positions will just go away. Especially since a lot of entry-level positions are repetitive type work.
  • Fewer engineers: the role of five engineers will be squeezed into one. 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 that once required multiple engineers.

I know, AI will create new jobs for engineers too. There will be a shift in job position types.

But, the jobs will become more specialized. This transition will weed out many lower-level engineers who can’t adapt.

#7 Employer’s new employment model

Employers are changing their hiring practices. Instead, they’re using contractors more and more.

Also, doing more outsourcing. Going to cheaper parts of the U.S., or straight to another country.

This is due to:

  • New state employment laws, leading to increased liability for hiring new employees. Thus, companies want to reduce their HR costs.
  • Create budget reserves. This will combat the new economic climate with the emergence of pandemics.
  • To increase profits by not paying for benefits such as health-care and 401(k) matching.
  • Hire in-demand skills. Many times a skill becomes outdated, yet you still have an employee on the payroll.
  • To better adapt to changing markets. It’s easier to get contractors to handle a quick spike in demand. Then once the work is done, they’re taken off the payroll.

When a company takes on more risk, their behavior changes. It’s simple economics.

According to Deloitte’s 2016 global outsourcing survey, here are the reasons for outsourcing:

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 Engineer’s mindset

There are levels in engineering. No different than how you see levels in your favorite sport’s team:

  • Superstars
  • Stars
  • Role players
  • Benchwarmers

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

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

Engineer #1 (lacks ambition)

While employed

  • Does the bare minimum to get by.
  • The work produced is very average. And, he doesn’t go the extra mile.
  • Doesn’t keep up with the latest technologies in his field.

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 to find where else she can help and contribute.
  • Always is available to lend a helping hand.
  • Does a lot of self-research to constantly learn.

Job search

  • Applies to 3 to 4 jobs a day across the country. Treats the job search like a job.
  • She learns new skills and takes courses online to improve her resume.
  • Goes to all job recruitment events in her state.
  • Asks for outside help to find a job. Also, to help improve her resume and cover letter.
  • Thinks and plans about starting her own consulting business as a backup plan.

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

You need to hustle. Do this by setting yourself apart from others.

From our engineer example, we see how every unemployed engineer is rated differently.

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

An engineer’s passion

Equally as important is an engineer’s passion. Too many people enter the field for the wrong reason. I hear all types of wrong reasons like:

  • Prestige
  • Money
  • Work in cool cities
  • Friends and family say it’s a cool job

But, the most important reason is missing. Passion!

For myself, whether I make money or not, I’m constantly learning about engineering. I love it!

You need this level of passion. Especially today with the high level of competition in the field. Without interest, you’re fighting an uphill battle.

Important Note: I find the education system has many holes. You pay all this money for schooling. 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.

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

“How are engineers jobless?” wrap up

Engineers are not immune to job loss. With changing times, engineers need to adapt to survive.

Times will become more difficult too, going into the future. But, if you make yourself the best engineer possible, you’ll have so many cool jobs to choose from.

Even more, great opportunities to start an engineering business will come your way.

Just remember, more and more of the world is becoming dependent on engineers. Use this to your advantage.

Leave your comfort zone to become the best engineer possible. This is the only way to maximize your opportunities with no stone unturned.

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

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