Group of civil engineers looking at a blueprint at a construction site

Invent a career as an Engineer

Imagine having both the passion to make a difference in the world and the technical know-how to achieve it—that’s what engineering is all about.

It goes without saying – or at least it should – that no career decision should ever be taken lightly. Tuition bills and debt loads are ever increasing so considering the return on investment of your degree should be part of your research as much as interest, abilities and educational institution factors. Need some help locating and deciphering the information? Read on.

For almost all professions new jobs are added and an aging and retiring labor force unlocks openings for younger workers, but there are some occupations that will outpace the national, state and local growth and replacement rate here in Lancaster County.

Both federal and state governments publish employment projections which are revised every two years. Current national projections, released in 2017, are for the 2016-2026 time period. State projections always lag the federal release date by a year and were just issued this month.

A big picture look at one occupation sector from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and PA Center for Workforce Information and Analysis shows Lancaster's total labor force projected growth rate for 2016-2016 is 6.8% while engineering is projected to grow 11.4%.  

Of note is that Lancaster should handily outperform the state for overall projected growth and both the state and nation for engineers in particular. Three occupations stand out: civil, industrial and mechanical. All three require an undergraduate degree as the entry level education, and all offer a bright future both for the projected demand and salary potential.

Taken a look at our infrastructure lately? Ever curse traffic snarls, airport delays, crumbling bridges, outdated buildings, electricity grid or sewage systems? Encourage a civil engineer. This profession is instrumental in planning, designing and overseeing the construction and maintenance of these structures, facilities and more.

Lancaster County expects to add 53 civil engineers each year through 2026. Some openings are due to growth, others to transfers or retirement. Pennsylvania projects to add over 1,100 each year. Toss in a local entry level salary of $50,440 and a median annual salary of $75,590, and this certainly looks to be an “investable” career.

Mechanical engineers plan and design the tools, machines and engines that power everything we do as well as oversee the maintenance and repair of centralized heating, gas, water and steam systems. Expectations are for robust hiring here as well at 40 per year in Lancaster and close to 1,000 statewide.  Bureau of Labor Statistics data show mechanical engineers earn an entry level salary of $54,150 and a median of $79,320 locally. Nationally almost 13 percent are engaged in machinery manufacturing, another 12 percent in transportation equipment manufacturing and seven percent in scientific research.

Finally we come to industrial engineers, of particular importance to Lancaster County as manufacturing represents over 13 percent of our labor force. Those working in this occupation “design, develop, test, and evaluate integrated systems for managing industrial production processes, including human work factors, quality control, inventory control, logistics and material flow, cost analysis, and production coordination,” according to O*Net. Plainly put they plan and develop the A-Z sequence of operations whether it includes fabrication, production schedules, cost saving and efficiencies, design changes and more.

Industrial engineers can expect to earn an entry level salary of $59,590 and a median of $82,270 in Lancaster County. And the hiring? Not too shabby either. Projections assume a need to hire 32 a year.

Together these three occupations represent contracting 125 positions a year for ten years. Even if you haven’t yet embarked on your college degree, hiring will still be strong when you graduate and into the years beyond. All three offer entry level and median salaries well above those for Lancaster County of $19,040 and $35,250 respectively.

As the need for engineers grows so do the supporting drafting and technician positions. These occupations require an associate’s degree for entry which may be more manageable or attractive to some as a way to get started in this sector. Civil, industrial and mechanical engineering technicians apply the theory and principles under the direction of engineers. Each also offers entry and median salaries well above those for the county as a whole with entry levels in the mid-$30’s to low-$40’s and medians approaching $60,000.

The current labor force – and our infrastructure – continues to age. Demand for these occupations is and will remain resilient in the future. Each offers a more-than-solid living wage.

Curiosity, critical thinking and creativity are three personality traits that most engineers share. The work is challenging and puts problem solving skills to use to improve or develop products or processes. Options and opportunities abound and the work is beneficial to society.

Remember that traffic jam? You could be the one to solve it.