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Engineering Job Trends in Three Key Sectors

By Department of Engineering Faculty on Friday, February 16, 2024


Whether you realize it or not, engineering affects every part of your life, on every day of your life. From the alarm clock on your phone, to the car you drive, to the chair you sit on, engineers make a direct impact. 

Major branches of engineering include chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering, along with many interdisciplinary subjects. Here are some of the biggest trends to pay attention to as you consider a degree in engineering. 

Biotechnology and Biomedical Engineers 

It should come as no surprise that the medical field has some of the fastest-growing careers as it relates to engineering. Biomedical engineers often hold degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering and work to design, develop, improve, and test biomedical devices. Some of the developments happening today would have been called impossible not long ago, and would have been described as something out of a movie. 

At Northwestern, research is underway which utilizes experimental and computational methods to explore the effect of stent inflation dynamics and blood flow patterns within stented arteries. Computational models, developed by Dr. Matthew Hyre and his team of undergraduate engineering students, have already successfully predicted the balloon inflation dynamics and implantation into arterial walls. Projections like these are important to quantify, since there may be a link between how devices are positioned and the body’s acute and chronic response. 

In the biomedical instrumentation course, students worked with Dr. Michael Jacobson to modify an electronic scale for continuous data acquisition. This prototype device allowed the clinical analysis of subject balance, which is likely correlated with peripheral neuropathy often due to the progression of diabetes mellitus. 

Other biotechnology trends include wearable devices, robotic surgeons, prosthetics, neural-machine interface, and VR that provides 3D models of bodies that can be examined from all angles that allow surgeons to practice complex procedures.(1)

Environmental Engineers 

With everyone from individuals to nonprofits to government showing concern about climate change, it’s no surprise that one of the primary emerging sub-fields in the engineering industry is related to renewable energy, sustainability, and efficiency. Green engineering is responsible for solving waste reduction, materials management, pollution prevention, and product improvement. Two of the most popular jobs related to climate change a Renewable Energy Engineer or Environmental Engineer. “Environmental engineers identify environmental problems and create plans to fix them using biology, chemistry, engineering, and soil science knowledge. They create systems and structures such as sewers, aqueducts, sustainable buildings, and wind turbines.”(2)  

The renewable energy sector also relies heavily on chemical engineers and electrical engineers. According to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, “Chemical engineers work in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, design and construction, pulp and paper, petrochemicals, food processing, specialty chemicals, microelectronics, electronic and advanced materials, polymers, business services, biotechnology, and environmental health and safety industries, among others.”(3)

In order to address sustainability at Northwestern, faculty like Dr. Joel Light are teaching courses like Sustainable Urban Agriculture and working alongside students on projects like Ramsey Conservation District’s Lake Johanna project to restore the shoreline of Lake Johanna. 

Civil Engineers 

Civil Engineers deal with building the physical world we live in, making it one of the fundamental engineering disciplines for today’s engineering students. Graduates who work in the field of civil engineering can expect to help build various components of our living infrastructure, including but not limited to residential and commercial buildings, transportation systems, and various water, energy, and communication systems. 

Dr. Tony Pan, Professor of Civil Engineering at Northwestern, shares, “Emerging trends and areas with growing interests in Civil Engineering cover a wide spectrum from Building Information Modeling (BIM) which is transforming to integrate the conceptualization and execution of projects, modular and autonomous construction such as using 3D printing and prefabrication, to smart cities and integrated dwelling based on big data analysis and Internet of Things (IoT). Today’s world requires resilient infrastructure that is resistant to degradation and disasters, and sustainable technologies and practices.” 

Another emerging trend in civil engineering and construction uses Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR). This technology allows civil engineers to not only design and interact in a virtual space, but train workers in a safe artificial environment. One article says, “AR and VR enable real-time collaboration among project stakeholders, including architects, engineers, contractors, and owners, regardless of their physical location. This streamlines communication, reduces errors, and enhances project coordination.”(4)

As you can see, engineers truly impact every aspect of life. Options for work will expand as technology advances and trends will continue to change. Because it crosses over so many industries, there is a unique opportunity to blend similar, or seemingly opposite, interests to form a career. Those interested in a degree in engineering can be confident that they will find work in a flexible industry that provides a great sense of purpose and live-long job satisfaction. 

Learn more about University of Northwestern’s ABET-accredited Bachelor of Science in Engineering program with concentrations in Civil, Electrical, Mechanical, and General Engineering.