New SAE engineer employment study reveals positive hiring trends

  • 22-Jun-2011 12:42 UTC

Expected timeframes for hiring in each industry sector. The Y axis data show the number of responding companies.

The recently released “Engineer Employment Study for Mobility Industries, 2011-2016” offers encouraging news for mobility-industry professionals, with all respondents planning to hire engineers and related positions during the next five years, and most companies expecting to hire in 2011 and 2012.

This new study, conducted by Hardin Business Communications for SAE International, is the first forward-looking study of its kind for the industry. The study surveyed high-level human resource professionals at 105 companies in the automotive, aerospace, and commercial vehicle industries. It also included interviews with industry experts as well as government and industry data. 

The SAE employment study is further evidence that the mobility sector is experiencing a recovery. With automakers reporting dramatically improved sales and the aerospace and commercial vehicle industries also looking up, more employers are looking to hire engineers.

“We were certainly hoping for better news than we all had seen in the industry for the past three years,” said Winn Hardin, director of Hardin Business Communications and the lead analyst on the study. “As luck would have it, that is indeed what we found.”

According to the study, most of these new positions will open soon, suggesting that companies are optimistic at least about the short term. In fact, the majority of automotive and aerospace companies plan to add the bulk of their new positions in the next two years.

MEs lead the demand

Of the automotive OEMs surveyed, all but one intend to hire at least 100 to 500 new engineers for their North American operations, with several expecting to hire between 500 and 1000 new engineers. Across the aerospace industry, 11% of companies expect to add between 500 and 1000 engineers, with airframers expecting to have the most new hires. In the commercial vehicle industry, each OEM intends to hire between 1000 and 2000 engineers.

This encouraging news is likely to be useful for both recent graduates and veteran engineers. “It’s certainly important for students to look at [the study] so that they can position themselves better for the future,” said Hardin. “At the same time, I think it does provide both hope and guidance to experienced engineers who are looking for a job today.”

At least 90% of the new positions are expected to be full-time, and the majority of these positions will be on a technical career path. However, compared to their colleagues in aerospace and automotive, engineers at commercial vehicle manufacturing companies will have the highest likelihood of advancing to a management position, the study surmised.

Entering the aerospace industry in the next few years may require more professional experience than entering the other two industry sectors. Of the aerospace companies surveyed, two-thirds reported wanting engineers with 3-10 years of experience. Young engineers and new graduates may have the best luck applying to the automotive industry.

In automotive, 60% of companies are planning to hire engineers with 3-5 years of experience, 30% are looking for 1-3 years of experience, and 10% are accepting new graduates just entering the workforce.

Among the similarities discovered in the study is that mechanical engineers are in the highest demand across all industries. Automotive companies also indicated an interest in electrical/electronic engineers, industrial engineers, manufacturing engineers, and material engineers—an interest likely to increase as the industry moves toward electric vehicles made of lighter, tougher materials.

“A lot of their future interest in electrical/electronic engineering was based on the growth in electric vehicles,” said Hardin.

Electrical/electronic engineers are also in demand in the commercial vehicle industry, with companies expressing need for engineers specializing in controls and software/IT, as well as materials and industrial engineering.

“On the commercial vehicle side, there’s a great need for safety and compliance, and a lot of that is based on material as well as modeling and a lot of IT-type electrical/electronic engineering,” Hardin explained.

View the full study

Despite the promise of pan-industry hiring, the study does not necessarily indicate that the total demand for mobility engineers is growing. Many of these open positions may instead be due to the flocks of baby boomers retiring and companies returning to pre-recession hiring levels and headcounts.

In fact, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts only small growth in the overall headcount in the aerospace and commercial vehicle industries. In the case of the Motor Vehicle Manufacturing and Parts Manufacturing industries, a slight reduction in the number of engineers in the field is forecast.

When comparing the BLS data and the SAE study, SAE’s numbers may appear more optimistic, though Hardin believes that what could be interpreted as disparity between the SAE study and BLS data is mainly due to differing timeframes in which the studies were conducted and the length of time they cover. He points out that the BLS data predates the end of the recession and looks at the industry from 2008 until 2018.

The complete Engineer Employment Study is available in SAE's EngineerXchange (EX), the online professional networking site exclusively for SAE members. Though there are no immediate plans to repeat this study, Hardin promised, “One thing we can definitely say is that there will be more studies like this that are on the important topics of the day for SAE members.”

To read the full study or learn more about EX, log-on at using your SAE User ID and password. In addition to the recent Employment Study, EX offers career counseling, job searches, the results of a 2010 mobility industry salary survey, and many other benefits.

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