5 Engineering Career Paths of The Future

View all blog posts under All Engineering | View all blog posts under Articles

A degree in engineering opens up a variety of career paths toward high-paying, in-demand jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, engineering professions typically have a wage higher than the national median, as well as a relatively positive growth outlook.

A Closer Look at the State of Select Engineering Professions

Across the board, today’s engineering students have many educational options that may lead to excellent short and long-term job prospects:

Mechanical engineering

There were 277,500 mechanical engineers in 2014, making an average of $83,590 per year. More than 14,000 such jobs are expected to be added to that total by 2024. One promising development for mechanical engineers is the rise of the Internet of Things, the vast network of interconnected devices and sensors.

From networked home appliances to embedded infrastructures in factories, there could be 26 billion installed IoT units by 2020, according to IT research firm Gartner. This surge presents numerous opportunities for mechanical engineers to design and maintain the necessary IoT hardware and software.

Biomedical engineering

Biomedical engineers have a particularly robust career outlook into the 2020s. The total number of positions in the field is expected to exceed 27,000 by 2024, for a 23 percent gain from the 2014 level – much faster than the average growth rate for all professions in the U.S. Average salary was over $86,000.

An aging global population, combined with the increasing sophistication of medical devices (e.g., network connectivity) has created a major opening for biomedical engineers in the years ahead. These professionals will be called on to develop the medical technology needed to treat patients at a far greater scale than ever before.

Electrical engineering

Electrical engineers design and build the critical components of various communications systems and infrastructure, including computing devices such as laptops and smartphones. They have a very high median wage, at $95,230 per year.

While the sector is not expected to add many jobs until 2024, employment in the field is already high at over 315,000 jobs as of 2014. Changes in manufacturing employment will affect future opportunities for electrical engineers. The expansion of the IoT may be a windfall to electrical engineers, who will be instrumental in designing the circuitry of IoT devices.

Where Engineer Careers are Heading: Paths to Keep an Eye On

There are many other types of engineering beyond the three examined above, although that trio captures a good cross-section of where engineering as a whole is heading. A growing focus on computer hardware and software, network connectivity for the IoT, and the medical industry will all reshape the career paths of millions of engineers around the world.

With that overarching trend in mind, let’s look at 5 more specific paths that are currently taking shape and becoming magnets for top engineering students:


1. Robotics engineering

The “rise of the robots” is an important topic in the future of labor and productivity. The International Federation of Robotics has estimated that by 2018, 1.3 million industrial robots will have entered service in factories worldwide. Robots can perform many common work-related tasks previously done only by humans, such as assembling complex electronics and helping with surgery.

Accordingly, robotics engineers are set to be in significant demand as their field expands and what the IFR calls a “fourth industrial revolution” unfolds. They ought to be experts in:

  • Industrial design.
  • Robot behavior control.
  • Social implications of robotics.
  • Autonomous robots.
  • Robot applications research.
  • Mechanical maintenance.
  • Algorithm creation.

Bachelor and master’s degree programs can help develop these skills. There is also significant overlap with computer science as well as mechanical and electrical engineering. Robotics engineers will be important contributors to the IoT.

2. Water/environmental engineering

Demand for environmental engineers, especially ones with expertise in water systems, is increasing. One reason is the growing attention of many state and local governments to the quality and affordability of their water supplies.

Environmental engineers also contribute to highly technical projects such as the design of green energy systems including windmills, hydropower deployments, and solar infrastructures. The growth rate for the profession is pegged at 12 percent, or faster than the national average.

3. Data science and computational engineering

Many emerging engineering professions combine classical elements of mechanical and electrical engineering with principles from relatively new fields such as computer programming and data analytics. Computational engineering is a prime example of this combination.

Computational engineers have cross-disciplinary expertise (including electrical engineering, mathematics, data science, and computer science) that enables them to address problems using statistical modeling, computer algorithms, and other techniques derived from working large data sets. These professionals could work in fields such as:

  • Transportation.
  • Energy.
  • Physics.
  • Data science.

4. Aerospace engineering

Aerospace engineers contribute to the design of aircraft and spacecraft. The good news for this field is that demand for these vehicles is expected to be strong for the foreseeable future.

KPMG has projected that the civil aerospace market would need an additional 27,000 passenger aircraft, 24,000 business jets and 40,000 helicopters between 2013 and 2031. Aerospace engineers are in excellent position to meet these demands by applying their technical expertise and research skills.

5. Virtual and augmented reality engineering

In recent years, virtual and augmented reality have become top priorities for technology firms such as Facebook (which acquired VR headset maker Oculus), Google, and Apple. VR/AR involves using a visor or display to project new imagery on top of what someone would see with his or her naked eyes.

VR/AR has many applications in a field such as gaming and advertising. Markets and Markets has estimated that the VR market alone could be worth $33.9 billion by 2022, up from just over $1 billion in 2015. Engineers with hardware and software expertise will be in high demand to create the next generation of VR/AR devices for consumers and businesses.

There are many such exciting opportunities available for today’s engineering students. UCR offers a convenient and flexible online degree program in engineering, with specializations available in mechanical, environmental, and electrical engineering, as well as data science, materials at nanoscale, and bioengineering. Visit our program page to learn more today.


Recommended Reading

Career Spotlight: Aerospace Engineering

Career Spotlight: Renewable Energy Engineer

University of California, Riverside Online Master of Science in Engineering



U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Engineers 

Markets and Markets, Virtual Reality Market worth $53.6 billion by 2025

Mashable, 5 High-Tech Engineering Fields in Demand Among Millennials

Financial Times

The University of Texas at Austin, Computational Engineering

Worchester Polytechnic Institute, Robotics Engineering (BS)

International Federation of Robotics

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Electrical and Electronics Engineers 

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Biomedical Engineers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer Hardware Engineers

Quora, What is the role of mechanical engineers in IOT?

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mechanical Engineers