It’s a good time to be employed as an engineer. Based on several recent studies and surveys, the employment outlook is strong and salary figures are nothing to sneeze at. As we report in this issue’s news department, the average 2012 salary for engineers is $95,603, a raise of nearly $2,900 over 2011. What’s more, 72% of the 12,720 engineers surveyed indicate receiving a salary increase this year. But money isn’t everything: In addition to livable wages, working engineers appear to be optimistic about the future of their chosen profession.

Clearly engineers will play a critical role in meeting global challenges — namely, providing clean water, sanitation, food, and energy to nearly 7 billion people. According to a new ASME study, The State of Mechanical Engineering: Today and Beyond, engineers surveyed were asked about the ability of the engineering profession to meet these challenges over the next 10 to 20 years. Using a seven-point scale, about half of the respondents reported being optimistic, with roughly the same number moderately optimistic; very few (only 3%) were pessimistic about engineering’s short-term ability to meet global challenges. The degree of optimism was shared equally at all career and supervisory levels. However, engineers in the aerospace industry were considerably less optimistic than others, with only 34% reporting that they are very optimistic, and 6% not optimistic at all, perhaps due to the curtailed space shuttle program.

Working engineers believe that during the next two decades, the prestige and financial rewards of working as an engineer will increase, the number of engineers working in less-developed countries will be greater, and there will be a need for engineers to communicate more effectively, increase language skills, and manage global teams. Skills in motion simulation, animation, and virtual prototype creation will be needed, with most engineers indicating they will use self-study options (books, magazines, and online courses) rather than formal education. Interestingly, younger engineers indicate they prefer in-person training to self-study. Early-career engineers also tend to place greater importance on computer programming and software skills, whereas senior engineers give more weight to communication skills.

Identified as the most cutting-edge engineering fields were alternative energy, bioengineering and biomedical, computers, electronics, energy, nanotechnology, and water. Along those same lines, the top areas on the continuing education wish list include nanotechnology, renewable energy, and solar and wind power.
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