Idaho Engineering Students Tend To Stay In Field

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More than 172,000 people 25 and older hold bachelor’s degrees in Idaho, about 17 percent, but only half work in the field they studied. The relationship between field of degree and occupation is strongest for occupations that require a four-year degree, specific skills and specific training.

The top occupations in that category are engineers, health care providers, financiers, managers and educators. A bachelor’s degree in engineering is required for most entry level engineering jobs, and the engineering specialty is typically linked to the college curriculum. Of all the engineering disciplines, chemical and environmental engineers have the highest relationship between field of degree and occupation, according to census data.

A certain personality type and a sense of satisfaction drives students into engineering. Most know that academic institutions focus their engineering programs, allowing little or no variation from the specific field of degree. Students accept this, knowing the high job placement rates that come with engineering degrees.

According to Economic Modeling Specialists International, there were 9,107 engineers employed in Idaho in 2010. Another 193 were self-employed. The demand for engineers is strong. In the same year there were 320 Idaho openings for engineers, and Idaho’s four-year degree institutions graduated 298.

Employers in certain parts of the state report difficulty attracting engineers in all specialties – in some cases because candidates lack experience in the specific engineering programs the employers use and in others because engineering graduates are more inclined to pass by more rural areas for bigger cities where projects are large and jobs are plentiful.

In Idaho, there are more civil engineers than any other engineering specialty, but their concentration compared to the nation is not as great as the Idaho concentration of electrical, nuclear and materials engineers because of employers like Micron Technology Inc., the Idaho National Laboratory, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Inc. and several gun and ammunition manufacturers.

Civil engineers also are the lowest paid among engineers because most of their work comes from government, where contract funds are limited. They are, however, responsible for the bridges, roads and other public infrastructure that are critical to commerce and economic growth. Idaho’s expanding population and aging infrastructure signals increased pressure on such public systems – and for the engineers who design them.

Most of the projected engineering openings through 2020 are the result of retirements and general turnover rather than new jobs.

The exception is electrical engineering where jobs are estimated to jump dramatically by 2020 from 27 in 2010 to 73 – most attributed to growth. That growth rate of 16 percent is nearly three times the national growth rate for electrical engineers. Advances in technology will drive demand for electrical and electronic engineers in research and development as well as for development of  distribution systems for more powerful portable computing devices. Growth in the manufacturing sector, however, will be slower.

The growing transportation equipment and machinery manufacturing sectors in Idaho have driven the demand for mechanical engineers. This cross-industry occupation will be in demand as machines continue replacing more expensive human labor and as remanufacturing evolves and nanotechnology prospers.

Alivia.Metts@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 457-8789 ext. 3486

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This article originally appeared in the November issue of the Idaho Department of Labor’s monthly economic and employment newsletter. Interested in reading more articles like this? Please send an email to Donna.Corn@labor.idaho.gov to subscribe to the newsletter.