These STEM careers are the fastest growing science fields in the United States

Have you ever wondered what the outlook might be for your STEM career five or even ten years out? Or maybe you are a current student weighing your options for a chosen career path and need to know the type of degree that is required. One resource that can support your career-planning activities is the Occupational Outlook Handbook—a biennial publication issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The handbook outlines the duties, education, training, earnings and outlook for hundreds of occupations. 

Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) labor trends and workforce studies experts have culled through the BLS data and have summarized the outlook for several select STEM careers. With the right information in-hand—and a prestigious research experience to complement your education—you can increase the confidence you have when selecting a STEM career.

  • The effects of automation on employment have long been debated. But today, there is little doubt that automation and the increasing penetration of robotics in more economic sectors will alter the demand for labor and its occupational composition. As far back as 1984, a study sponsored by the National Science Foundation and conducted by Wassily Leontief and Faye Duchin projected that over time the use of automation would make it possible to use less labor than would normally be required to produce the same amount in the absence of automation. Leontief and Duchin also found one of the significant impacts of automation would be to cause a significant increase in professionals as a proportion of the labor force and a steep decline in the relative number of clerical workers.

    Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (2014) in The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies noted that technologies like big data and analytics, high-speed communications, and rapid prototyping are increasing the value of people with the right engineering, creative, or designing skills. The net effect has been to decrease demand for less skilled labor while increasing the demand for skilled labor. Skill-biased technical change results in different hiring patterns that increase the demand for highly educated workers. One of their fundamental recommendations is that students “…acquire skills and abilities that will be needed in the second machine age.”

    Automation and Robotics Career Outlook
    One industry projected to be one of the professions needed in the ‘second machine age’ of automation and advanced robotics technology is mechanical engineering.

    Mechanical engineering, one of the broadest engineering disciplines, applies to a wide variety of industries, ranging from planning and designing engines to overseeing the installation of heating and cooling systems. In addition to the engineering services industry, mechanical engineers work in the scientific research and development services industry as well as several manufacturing industries such as aerospace product and parts manufacturing, motor vehicles parts manufacturing, navigation, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing, and other machinery manufacturing.

    Mechanical engineers job outlook

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    As a group, employment of mechanical engineers are projected by the BLS to grow about a fast as the average for all engineering and nearly as fast as the average for all occupations. However, according to the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, job prospects may be best for those who have knowledge of the most recent advances in technology and those with training in the latest software tools and experience with three-dimensional printing. As a result, the employment of mechanical engineers is projected to increase more than three times faster (by 19 percent) in engineering services because of the increased emphasis on automation and software.

    Mechanical engineering requires a bachelor’s degree and internships are highly recommended for preparing students to work in the industry.

    Opportunity Title Opportunity Number Organization Program Location
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are approximately 21,300 biomedical engineers in the U.S. workforce. Workers in this small engineering occupation, however, are unique among engineering occupations in that they incorporate the biological sciences with engineering principles when designing and creating equipment, computer systems, software, and medical devices used in health care (source). These engineers can work on projects that involve many professional fields. Biomedical engineers work in in hospitals, universities, research facilities, and in industry. They work with life scientists, chemists, and medical scientists when conducting research involving the biological systems of both humans and animals. They design biomedical equipment and devices such as artificial organs, replacements for body parts including hip and knee joints, and machines used for diagnosing medical conditions. Biomedical engineers are also involved in developing and testing the materials needed to make artificial body parts. According to the BLS, biomedical engineers frequently work in research and development or quality assurance.

    The number of jobs for biomedical engineers is projected by BLS to grow slightly slower (7%) than the average for all engineering occupations in general (8%) but faster than some engineering occupations such as electronics engineers (4%) and nuclear engineers (4%). However, since biomedical engineering is a small occupation, growth in employment is projected to result in fewer than 2,000 new jobs over the 2016-2026 period. The largest employers of biomedical engineers are medical equipment and supplies manufacturing firms; organizations involved in research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences; navigational, measuring, electro-medical, and control systems manufacturers; colleges, universities, and professional schools; and healthcare and social assistance organizations. With these firms, biomedical engineers can specialize in areas such as bioinstrumentation, biomaterials, biomechanics, and systems physiology.

    BLS indicates that the field of biomedical engineering will likely see employment growth “because of increasing possibilities brought [on] by new technologies and increasing applications to medical equipment and devices. Smartphone technology and three-dimensional printing are examples of technology being applied to biomedical advances” (source). Also of interest is the likely increase of biomedical solutions to health problems as population longevity grows and the resulting demand for biomedical devices and procedures grow as well.

    According to the BLS, the annual median wage for biomedical engineers was $88,550 in May 2018, which is lower than for all engineering occupations on average ($93,080) but significantly higher than for all occupations in general ($38,640). The median annual wages for biomedical engineers in the top industries where they worked are navigational, measuring, electro-medical, and control instruments manufacturing ($101,960) and research & development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences ($110,150). Internships and educational research participation programs can provide students with training and experience in biomedical engineering design. Examples of such programs can be found at www.zintellect.com.

    Projected Employment Growth, Biomedical Engineers, 2016-2026

  • The 27,900 computer and information research scientists in the U.S. workforce represent a small fraction of the 2.6 million workers working in the computer and mathematical sciences. However, they are likely to experience excellent job prospects, because many organizations report difficulties finding these workers. Computer and information research scientists study and solve complex problems in computing for business, health, and science. Most jobs in this field require a graduate degree (often a Ph.D.), although a bachelor’s may be sufficient for some jobs. These scientists work with other scientists and engineers to solve complex computing and computational problems and are often involved in research and development projects in the physical, engineering, and life sciences. Computer and information research scientists must have knowledge of advanced math and other technical topics such as robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence. If they work in a specialized field, they may need knowledge of that field. For example, those working on biomedical applications may have to take some biology classes. They are employed by the federal government (primarily the Department of Defense), by research and development organizations, computer systems design firms, and colleges and universities.

    According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for computer and information research scientists was $111,840 in May 2016 and for those employed in research and development activities in the physical, engineering, and life sciences, the median wage was $123,180. By comparison, the median pay in May 2016 for all occupations was $37,040. Jobs for computer and information research scientists are projected by the BLS to grow significantly faster than for all occupations, all engineering occupations, and all physical science occupations.

    Projected Employment Growth, Computer and Information Research Scientists, 2016-2026

    chart of Projected Employment Growth, Computer and Information Research Scientists, 2016-2026

    Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, October 2017.

  • The 368,000 computer and information systems managers in the U.S. workforce plan and direct the work of Information Technology (IT) professionals, including systems analysts, software developers, and information security analysts. They often go by several titles including Chief Information Officer, Chief Technology Officer, and IT security manager. Almost all jobs in this field require a bachelor’s degree in a computer or related field and most are required to have a graduate degree as well. Employment of computer and information systems managers is projected to grow by 44,000 from 2016 to 2026, and demand for computer and information systems managers will continue to grow because these workers are helping organizations become more competitive by implementing digital platforms, overseeing network and data security, helping determine the business requirements for computer systems, as well as, the technology and information goals of their organizations. Most jobs in this field require several years of experience in a related job. A chief technology officer my need more than 15 years of experience in the IT field before overseeing the technology plan for a large organization.

    According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for computer and information research scientists was $139,220 in May 2017. By comparison, the median pay in May 2017 for all occupations was $37,690. Jobs for computer and information systems managers are projected by the BLS to grow significantly faster than for all occupations, all engineering occupations, and all life science occupations.

    Projected Employment Growth, Computer and Information Systems Managers, 2017-2026

    Projected Employment Growth, Computer and Information Systems Managers, 2017-2026

    Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2018.

  • Technological advances have made it faster and easier for organizations to get data. Coupled with improvements in analytical software, organizations are using data in more ways than ever before. Every sector of the economy now has access to more data than would have ever been imaginable at the turn of the century. 

    When trying to answer the question “what is data science,” the University of California-Berkeley states that “Businesses are now accumulating new data at a rate that exceeds their capacity to extract value from it. The question facing every organization that wants to attract a community is how to use data effectively—not just their own data, but all of the data that’s available and relevant.” The need to extract value from data is translating into a demand for those individuals who can work effectively with “big data” in the emerging field of data science.

    Data Science and Data Analytics Career Outlook

    Data science, or what is also sometimes referred to as data analytics, includes such occupations as:

    1. Data engineers
    2. Data scientists
    3. Statisticians
    4. Data analysts

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook does not presently include data engineers and data scientists among their occupational categories. However, the BLS notes that nearly all of the 10 fastest growing STEM occupations that require a bachelor’s or higher degree for entry are in the computer and mathematics group. Of these, the two occupations with the fastest grow rates are statisticians and operations research analysts.  

    10 fastest growing bachelor's degree STEM occupations, 2014 to 2024 (projected)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    BLS projects the employment of statisticians to grow 34 percent from 2014-2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. According to BLS, organizations will increasingly need statisticians to organize and analyze data in order to help improve business processes, design and develop new products, and advertise products to potential customers. In addition to the large increases in available data from the internet creating new areas for analysis such as internet searching and the use of social media and smartphones, biostatisticians will be needed to conduct the research and clinical trials necessary for companies to obtain approval for their products from the Food and Drug Administration.

    Statisticians job outlook

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections Program

    Employment of operations research analysts is projected by the BLS to grow 30 percent from 2014-2024, again much faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS notes several reasons why this rapid growth should occur. As organizations across all economic sectors look for efficiency and cost savings, the need for operations research analysts should accelerate along with demand for analysts in the field of data analytics as businesses look to improve their planning and decision making. Along with their more traditional areas of employment in the Armed Forces and other government sectors, operations research analysts will also be needed to help companies improve their manufacturing operations and supply chains.

    Operations Research Analysts Job Outlook

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections Program

    Data Science and Analytics-related Occupational Growth

    Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, accessed Feb. 1, 2017.

    Opportunity Title Opportunity Number Organization Program Location
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are approximately 324,600 electrical and electronics engineers in the U.S. workforce.  Workers in this large engineering occupation can be grouped into two large components—electrical engineers and electronics engineers.  About 188,300 electrical engineers design, develop, test, or supervise the manufacturing of electrical equipment, such as power generation equipment, electrical motors, radar and navigation systems, communications, systems and the electrical systems of aircraft and automobiles.  They also design new ways to use electricity to develop or improve products.   Approximately 136,300 electronics engineers design and develop electronic equipment such as broadcast and communications equipment, portable music players, and Global Positioning System devices, as well as working in areas closely related to computer hardware.  Engineers whose work is devoted exclusively to computer hardware are considered computer hardware engineers. Electrical and electronics engineers must have a bachelor’s degree, and internships and co-op experiences are a plus. 

    The number of jobs for electrical engineers is projected by BLS to grow slightly faster (9%) than the average for all engineering occupations in general (8%) and faster than for electronics engineers (4%) as well.  However, since electrical and electronics engineering is a larger STEM occupation, growth in employment is projected to result in over 21,000 new jobs over the 2016-2026 period.  The largest employers of electrical engineers are engineering services firms; telecommunications firms; the federal government; electric power generation, transmission, and distribution organizations such as public and private utilities; semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturers; organizations specializing in research and development (R&D) in the physical, engineering, and life sciences; and  navigational, measuring, electro-medical, and control systems manufacturers. 

    BLS notes three major factors influencing the demand for electrical and electronic engineers.  One, the need for technological innovation will increase the number of jobs in R&D, where their engineering expertise will be needed to design power distribution systems related to new technologies.  They will also play important roles in developing solar arrays, semiconductors, and communications technologies, such as 5G.  Two, the need to upgrade the nation’s power grids and transmission components will drive the demand for electrical engineers.  Finally, a third driver of demand for electrical and electronic engineers is the design and development of ways to automate production processes, such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems and Distributed Control Systems (DCS).

    According to the BLS, the annual median wage for electrical and electronics engineers was $97,970 in May 2017, which is higher than for all engineering occupations on average ($92,220) and significantly higher than for all occupations in general ($37,690).  The median annual wages for electrical and electronics engineers in the top industries where they worked are navigational, measuring, electro-medical, and control instruments manufacturing ($110,650), the federal government ($110,200), R&D ($110,150), and engineering services ($99,290). 

    Projected Employment Growth, Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2016-2026

    electrical engineers chart

    Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2018.

  • Here’s the thing about research careers that require geographic information systems (GIS) skills–they are everywhere. Increasingly, researchers and practitioners are gathering and working with data sets based on location. Sometimes also referred to as geospatial information systems, GIS technology enables researchers to collect data based on that location and then manipulate and analyze the information on a three-dimensional scale. As more sophisticated technologies and reliable data about location become available, scientists are mining them for discovery. Consequently, the ability to work with GIS technology and data science analytics becomes essential to a broad array of research careers.

    Jeff Kelly, Ph.D, program director of the National Science Foundation’s Trainee Program in Aeroecology at the University of Oklahoma, recognizes the impact of GIS on research. “The rapid growth of geographical big data has had significant impact on the design of ecological research and the skills required carrying out experiments and analysis. Today, most studies in this area require expertise in GIS. Gathering, managing and utilizing these large, complex data sets requires extensive academic and technical preparation.”

    Geographic Information Systems Career Outlook

    In general, geospatial sciences can be thought of as either comprised of or aligned with five core areas:

    1. Geodesy and geophysics
    2. Photogrammetry
    3. Remote sensing
    4. Cartographic science
    5. Geographic information systems and geospatial analysis

    One occupation that combines three of areas above—photogrammetry, cartographic science, and GIS—is classified as cartographers and photogrammetrists by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). According to the BLS’ 2016-2017 Occupational Outlook Handbook, a cartographer who uses GIS technology to create maps is also known as a geographic information specialist. Geographic information specialists use GIS technology to assemble, integrate, analyze and present spatial information in a digital format.

    The occupation of cartographers and photogrammetrists is a relatively small occupation, with only 12,300 workers in 2014. Other occupations noted by BLS to have a GIS component in an occupation title include GIS mapping technicians (which are a subset of the broader BLS occupation called surveying and mapping technicians) and GIS geographers (which are a subset of the larger occupation geographers). In addition to these occupations, BLS lists civil engineers, environmental scientists and specialists, forest and conservation workers, landscape architects, surveyors, and urban and regional planners as occupations similar to cartographers and photogrammetrists. These occupations tend to have more jobs, many of which may consist of more functions beyond the use of GIS.

    The career outlook for workers in GIS-related occupations appears bright. In Table 1, the most recent BLS employment projections for several occupations for comparison purposes are shown. Note that the fastest growing occupational growth rate is projected for cartographers and photogrammaterists. In fact, among all STEM occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree for entry, cartographers and photogrammaterists is projected to be the third fastest growing from 2014-2024. While the number of engineers is projected to increase at a lower rate than all occupations, civil engineers is projected to increase at a faster rate than all engineers on average. Even in the case of geographers, which show a decrease in employment projected over the 2014-2024 period, the BLS notes that job prospects are the brightest for those with experience working with geographic technologies such as GIS.

    Table 1. Percent Change in Employment, projected 2014-2024
    All Occupations 7%
    Computer 13%
    Engineers 4%
    Civil Engineers 8%
    Social Scientists 12%
    Geographers -2%
    Architects, surveyors, and cartographers 6%
    Cartographers and Photogammaterists 29%

    Geoscience is an example of a physical science occupation directly benefiting from the rise of GIS technology. This group includes engineering geologists, geologists, geochemists, geophysicists, oceanographers, petroleum geologists and several others. According to BLS, geoscientists use a wide variety of tools that range from the simple to the complex. Among those tools are remote sensing equipment to collect data and GIS and modeling software to analyze the data collected. As noted in BLS’ 2016-2017 Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Computer knowledge is essential for geoscientists. Students who have experience with computer modeling, data analysis, and digital mapping will be the most prepared to enter the job market.” The number of geoscientists employed from 2014 to 2024 is projected to grow by 10 percent, faster than the average for all occupations.

    Opportunity Title Opportunity Number Organization Program Location
  • There are currently 100,000 information security analyst jobs in the U.S. economy. Employment of information security analysts is projected to grow by over 28,000 from 2016 to 2026, or by 28 percent, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for information security analysts is expected be very high, as these analysts will be needed to create innovative solutions to prevent loss of critical information and keep hackers from causing problems for computer networks. Information security analysts must stay up to date on cyber security and the latest methods attackers are using to invade and compromise computer systems. These analysts have to be knowledgeable of new security technology to decide what will most effectively project their organizations. Information security analysts usually need at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or computer related field. Some positions require master’s level degrees in information systems. Also, some employers prefer candidates to have certifications such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional certificate.

    According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for information security analysts was $95,510 in May 2017. By comparison, the median pay in May 2017 for all occupations was $37,690. Jobs for information security analysts are projected by the BLS to grow four times faster than for all occupations, and 3.5 times faster than engineers as a group.

    Projected Employment Growth, Information Security Analysts, 2016-2026

    information security analyst  job outlook

    Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2018.

  • Materials engineering is a relatively small occupation, with only about 27,000 working in the U.S. workforce in 2016.  Materials engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering or in a related engineering field.  Materials engineers create and study materials at the atomic level, model the characteristics of materials and their components, and can work on problems in several different engineering fields.  Materials engineers may also specialize in understanding specific materials and can go by a variety of names such as ceramic engineers, composites engineers, metallurgical engineers, plastics engineers, and semiconductor processing engineers.  They may monitor how materials perform and evaluate how they deteriorate, evaluate the impact of materials processing on the environment, and determine the causes of product failure and develop ways of overcoming such failure.

    Materials engineering offers an example of a field where employment is projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to grow slower than all occupations in general, but pays relatively well.  The BLS projects employment to grow only by 2 percent over the 2016 to 2026 period.  This is generally less than other engineering occupations and all occupations in general.  Materials engineers are needed to design uses for new materials in both traditional industries and in industries focused on new products.  Since most materials engineers work in manufacturing industries, the growth in employment of materials engineers is tied to the performance of these industries, many of which the BLS expects to have declines or little change in employment.  However, a significant rebound in U.S. manufacturing could positively influence the prospects for materials engineering employment.  Demand for materials engineers is expected to come from growing fields, such as biomedical engineering where materials engineers are crucial in helping biomedical engineers develop new materials for implants and from three-dimensional printing.  Research and development firms will increasingly employ materials engineers as they explore new uses for materials technology in consumer products, industrial processes, and medicine.  Prospects will be best for those who gained experience by participating in internships or co-op programs while in college.  Also, since computer modeling and simulation are increasingly being used to predict performance of new materials, those with a background in computer modeling should have better employment opportunities.

    According to the BLS, the annual median wage for materials engineers was $94,610 in May 2017, which is higher than for all engineers, and significantly higher than for all occupations in general of $37,690.  Materials engineers are related to several other science and engineering occupations, including materials science which is discussed in a separate article.

    Projected Employment Growth, Materials Engineers, 2016-2026

    Materials Engineers job outlook

    Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2018.

  • One of the smaller STEM occupations in the U.S. workforce is the field of materials science, with an estimated 7,900 materials scientists employed in 2016, according the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  While often combined with chemists in both university academic departments (because of educational requirements in chemistry) and in occupational employment forecasts, materials scientists enjoy, on average, higher median annual wages.  Median average annual wages in May 2017 for materials scientists stood at $99,530 for materials scientists and at $74,740 for chemists.  The BLS projects employment for materials scientists to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026 as demand holds steady for cheaper, safer, and better quality materials for a variety of purposes, such as energy, transportation, and electronics.  This growth rate is the same employment growth projected on average for all occupations.  However, median average wages across all occupations was $37,690, or less than 40 percent of the annual median wage for materials scientists.

    According to the BLS, materials scientists study the structures and chemical properties of materials in order to develop new products or enhance existing ones.  Materials scientists research ways to strengthen or combine existing materials, or develop new materials for plastics/polymers, metallic alloys, and superconducting materials.  Materials scientists work in laboratories where they conduct experiments and analyze their results.  In addition to working in laboratories, materials scientists work alongside engineers in industrial manufacturing facilities.  The largest employers of materials scientists are research and development organizations in the physical, engineering, and life sciences; chemical manufacturing firms; architectural, engineers, and related services firms; firms specializing in the management of companies and enterprises; and computer and electronic product manufacturing.  A master’s degree or Ph.D. is required for many research jobs.  Laboratory experience through internships, fellowships, work-study programs in industry, and co-op programs offered by universities are useful to gain work experience in the field.

    Materials scientists tend to specialize by the materials that they work with most often, such as ceramics, glasses, metals, nanomaterials, polymers, and semiconductors.  This field is closely related to materials engineering.

    Projected Employment Growth, Materials Scientists, 2016-2026

    Materials Scientists job outlook

    Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2018.

  • One of the smallest engineering occupations in the U.S. workforce is the field of mining and geological engineering, with an estimated 7,300 mining and geological engineers employed in 2016 according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  Median annual wages reported for mining and geological engineers ($94,249), however, were about $2,000 higher in May 2017 than for engineers in general.  The higher median wage largely reflects the finding that mining and geological engineers in the oil and gas extraction industry earned $122,030 in May 2017, which was significantly more than those employed in other industries such as coal mining ($83,820), engineering services ($92,460), and metal ore mining ($91,900).  The BLS projects the total number of jobs for mining and geological engineers to grow by 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, resulting in an increase of approximately 600 new jobs.  The projected growth in the number of jobs for mining and geological engineering is driven by the increased demand for mining operations resulting from the need for coal, metals, and minerals.  Also, companies that employ mining and geological engineers are expected to outsource more jobs to engineering services firms, rather than employ mining and geological engineers directly as a way to cut costs.  Engineering service firms provide specialized mine exploration, design, and production services.

    According to the BLS, mining and geological engineers design open-pit and underground mines; supervise the construction of mine shafts and tunnels; devise methods for transporting minerals to processing plants; assess the effectiveness of mining operations; provide solutions to problems related to land reclamation, water and air pollution, and sustainability; and ensure that mines are operated in safe and environmentally sound ways.

    Mining and geological engineers can specialize by the functions they perform most often.  Some mining engineers specialize in a particular mineral or metal, such as coal or gold, and design and develop mining techniques focused on getting the most out of the metal or mineral deposits.  Others work with geoscientists and metallurgical engineers to find and evaluate ore deposits, develop new equipment or direct processing operations to separate minerals from dirt, rock, and other materials.  Mining safety engineers use their knowledge of mine design to ensure the safety of workers and to maintain compliance with safety regulations by inspecting the structures of mines and the functioning of mining equipment and by monitoring air quality.  Geological engineers hunt for mineral deposits and evaluate possible sites and plan how to extract the metals or minerals in efficient and environmentally safe ways.

    Projected Employment Growth, Mining and Geological Engineers, 2016-2026

    Projected Employment Growth, CoMining and Geological Engineers, 2016-2026

    Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2018.

  • Petroleum engineering is a specialized occupation, with about 33,700 working in the U.S. workforce in 2016.  Petroleum engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering or in a related engineering field such as mechanical, civil, chemical, or mining engineering.  Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from underground reservoirs and also find new ways to enhance oil and gas production from existing wells.  Petroleum engineers may also specialize in specific aspects of oil and gas extraction and often go by a variety of names such as well drilling engineers, reservoir engineers, oil and gas production engineers, and well completion engineers.  They may estimate how much oil and gas can be extracted from underground deposits, determine which methods can maximize production, figure out ways to increase the amount being extracted, ensure the drilling process is safe and minimally disruptive to the environment, and oversee the work to build the wells.

    Petroleum engineering offers an example of a field where employment is projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to grow much faster than for all occupations in general and which pays very well.  The BLS projects employment to grow by 15 percent over the 2016 to 2026 period.  This is generally faster than employment in other engineering occupations and much faster than the average for all occupations in general.  Since it is a small occupation, growth in employment is projected to result in only about 5,100 new jobs over the 2016-2017 period.  Changes in oil and gas prices will play an important role in determining future employment growth since most petroleum engineers work in the oil and gas industry.  Higher oil and gas prices can cause oil and gas companies to increase investment in new facilities and expand existing production operations.  Lower prices, however, can also drive increased investment in new technologies and production methods and oil and gas firms seek new ways to lower production costs for existing wells and new well development.  The BLS expects demand for petroleum engineers in support activities for mining to be strong as well, as oil and gas firms find it more cost effective to outsource production and drilling work to specialized firms.  Also, job prospects are expected to be strong because many petroleum engineers may retire or leave the occupation for other reasons over the 2016 – 2026 period.  Prospects will be best for those who gained experience by participating in internships or co-op programs while in college. 

    According to the BLS, the annual median wage for petroleum engineers was $132,280 in May 2017, which is higher than for all other engineers occupations on average and significantly higher than for all occupations in general ($37,690).  Petroleum engineering is related to several other engineering occupations, including mining and geological engineering, which is discussed in a separate article.

    Projected Employment Growth, Petroleum Engineers, 2016-2026

    Projected Employment Growth, Petroleum Engineers, 2016-2026

    Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2018.

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are approximately 20,000 physicists in the U.S. workforce, of which about 2,000 work as astronomers. Workers in this small, but vital STEM occupation explore the fundamental properties and laws that govern space, time, energy, and matter. While a Ph.D. in physics or related field is often needed for jobs in research or academia, a master’s degree in physics may provide a pathway for jobs in applied R&D for manufacturing and healthcare companies. According to the American Institute of Physics, new physics bachelor’s degree recipients entering the workforce receive some of the highest starting salaries of any undergraduate major. They often work in related fields such as engineering or computer science. 

    There are several types of physicists including astrophysicists and astronomers, atomic and molecular physicists, condensed matter and materials physicists, medical physicists, particle and nuclear physicists, and plasma physicists. Physicists can also work in interdisciplinary fields such as biophysics and geophysics. For example, medical physicists work in healthcare-related industries to help develop new medical technologies and radiation-based treatments, such as better and safer treatments for cancer patients.  Other medical physicists may develop more accurate imaging technologies that use various forms of radiant energy, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound imaging.

    The number of jobs for physicists is projected by BLS to grow twice as fast (14%) than the average for all occupations in general (7%). However, since it is a small occupation, growth in employment is projected to result in only about 2,800 new jobs over the 2016-2026 period. The largest employers of physicists are scientific R&D services, colleges and universities, and the federal government. NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Energy and their contractors have traditionally been large employers of physicists at national laboratories and facilities such as the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Goddard Space Flight Center. Many physicists and astronomers begin their careers as temporary postdoctoral researchers where they continue to learn specialized knowledge and skills and develop a broader understanding of related areas of research.

    According to the BLS, the annual median wage for physicists was $118,830 in May 2017, which is higher than for all physical scientist occupations on average ($78,790) and significantly higher than for all occupations in general ($37,690). The median annual wages for physicists in the top industries where they worked are hospitals ($170,740), ambulatory healthcare services ($163,520), and scientific R&D services ($130,530).  Working as a physicist is related to several other occupations, including computer science, engineering (such as nuclear engineering and health physics), and chemistry, all of which are discussed in separate articles.

    Projected Employment Growth, Physicists and Astronomers, 2016-2026

  • There are over 1,256,000 software developers in the U.S. workforce with one-third employed as systems software developers and two-thirds employed as applications software developers. Together, employment for software developers is projected to grow 24 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Software developers will be needed to respond to an increased demand for computer software. Demand for applications software developers, including mobile app development, is projected to be even greater, growing 31 percent over the 2016 to 2026 period. Software developers are the creative minds behind computer programs. Some develop the applications that allow people to do specific tasks on a computer or another device. Others develop the underlying systems that run the devices or that control networks. Most jobs in this field require a degree in computer science and strong computer programming skills. Software developers are in charge of the entire development process for a software program from identifying the core functionality that users need from software programs to determining requirements that are unrelated to the functions of the software, such as the level of security and performance. Software developers design each piece of an application or system and plan how the pieces will work together. This often requires collaboration with other computer specialists to create optimum software.

    According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for applications software developments was $101,790 in May 2017 and $107,600 for systems software developers. By comparison, the median pay in May 2017 for all occupations was $37,690. Jobs for applications systems developers are projected grow four times faster than for all occupations and more than two times faster that all computer-related occupations.

    Projected Employment Growth, Software Developers, 2016-2026

    software developer job outlook