The Engineering Hiring Crisis and What Educators Can Do About It


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Let’s start with the big picture: What’s actually happening in the industry to cause this hiring crisis?

According to an Engineering360 survey and The Future of Jobs Report 2018, there are five main factors impacting engineering hiring today:

  1. Changing demographics
  2. Lack of talent
  3. Shifting roles of engineering teams
  4. Lack of specialized knowledge
  5. Recent grads are drawn to specific, saturated industries

Let’s take a closer look at each factor.

Changing Demographics

Baby Boomers are retiring at a high rate. Forbes shows that two of the fastest-growing engineering fields also have the largest proportion of older workers: 25% of workers are 55+ in industrial engineering and petroleum engineering. And when the Baby Boomers leave, so does their institutional knowledge, creating a gap that companies are already struggling to fill.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only made things more difficult for the industry. In the last year and a half, older engineers have decided to take their experience and transition to careers in consultation or education.

WATCH WEBINAR: The Impacts of an Aging Engineering Workforce

Lack of Talent

Respondents to the Engineering360 survey state that recruiting new talent is a big challenge, especially for their design teams. Respondents cite absence of qualified, motivated engineering candidates as the biggest roadblock. They talk about things like “lack of motivated hires” or “lack of experience and commitment from new engineers.”

Shifting Roles of Engineering Teams

As companies continue searching for new ways to cut costs (e.g., the emergence of the design-to-cost methodology), teams must do more with less. Leaner teams must communicate effectively with each other to make sure all work is getting done efficiently and correctly. Plus, younger team members must have the communication skills to be client-facing. Spoiler: employers don’t think that graduating engineering students have the communication skills they need to be successful in either of these situations.

Free Download: Get the 30,000-foot-view of Today’s Hiring Crisis

Lack of Specialized Knowledge

While older, knowledgeable team members are retiring, companies are zeroing in on performance and productivity. This means fewer resources, leaner staff teams, and more difficult timelines for completing projects, all while maintaining critical product quality standards. Currently, younger, less experienced engineers have a difficult time thriving in this type of environment, as they lack the necessary specialized knowledge and hands-on experience to jump right into a new role.

Recent Grads are Drawn to Specific, Saturated Industries

Millennials and Gen Z are increasingly seeking out jobs in technology, financial services, and architecture. However, they aren’t joining industries like oil & energy or manufacturing, even though they have some of the most prolific hiring needs.

This leaves a huge hole in the talent pool for those industries that are often overlooked by the younger generation.

In response to these factors, hiring is shifting. Many large corporations are trying to seed the market by providing training programs for younger and younger students. Some, like Northup Grumman, have created partnerships with local high schools and universities to help prepare students for a career at their company.

Companies are also looking into creating apprenticeships and more robust training programs to get entry-level employees in the door and up-to-speed. They’re relying slightly less on four-year degrees and, instead, looking at the specific skill sets students bring to the table through their micro-degrees, credentials, and certifications.

What are the skills employers are looking for in their engineering job candidates?

As an educator, you have an incredible impact on the skills your students develop. And in many cases, you’re their only lifeline to the professional engineering world. So, you’re in a great position to help them navigate the rocky waters of preparing for and securing a successful career in engineering.

To get a better idea of the skills employers are looking for in engineering candidates, we can turn to the Association of Graduate Recruits survey.

The survey asked companies to rate the quality of applications they receive on a scale from 1-6 (one being poor and six being very good), and the average ranking was a 4.4.

Engineering applications, however, landed at a cool 3.9. This puts engineering applications below the average and well below the “very good” rating. If we translate this into grades, engineering applications would receive a 65%, or in other words, a failing grade.

While factors like poor written communication skills are at play, the study highlights that engineering applications tend to focus on generic technical skills when employers instead want to see skills that are applicable to the position students are applying for.

Employers also look for soft skills, which graduating students don’t tend to include on their applications. And they want to see that candidates have acquired these skills outside of just their regular school course work. These responses are very much analogous to those from our experts, who emphasized the importance of soft skills and real-world, hands-on experience.

Free Download: Discover the List of Skills Your Engineering Students are Missing, According to Top Employers

How can educators help their students learn the skills the engineering industry is looking for?

We now know that employers are looking for specific technical and soft skills, but how can educators and teachers help prepare their students for success? Here are three ways:

  1. Helps students get certified in CAD and BIM software like SOLIDWORKS, Onshape, or Autodesk products).
  2. Incorporate project-based learning into your curriculum.
  3. If possible, help your students get on-the-job experience.

Let’s take a closer look.

Getting Students Certification

Helping your students prepare to pass a CAD certification exam is a great way for them to learn software-specific skills. A certification in SOLIDWORKS, Onshape, AutoCAD, Inventor, Fusion 360, or Revit shows employers that students know their way around a CAD program and can be a productive team member right away.

Project-based Learning

Many teachers opt to flip the classroom so their students can work on group or individual projects that mimic real-world scenarios during class time.

Creating a Fab Lab at your school is a really cool way to get your students engaged in hands-on learning.

FREE PROJECTS: Explore 100+ engineering projects for students of any age.

On-the-job Experience

This is a more time-consuming endeavor. However, many successful engineering departments, at the high school and postsecondary level, work with local apprenticeship and internship programs to connect their students with on-the-job experiences. This is an effective way for your students to learn both the technical and soft skills employers are looking for.


Madie Norris Forcier
About the Author

SolidProfessor content writer and self-appointed World’s Greatest Dog Mom