Workforce trends to inform your career planning

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. Learn more about these in-demand professions and also check out the ORISE internships, fellowships and scholarships that are available under each STEM profession. 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.

Government data show that more than 1 out of every 10 physicists (12%) are employed in the healthcare sector, and those that do often earn higher pay on average. The number of jobs for physicists is projected to grow about twice as fast as the average for all occupations in general, but the number of projected new jobs is quite small since only about 20,000 work as physicists and astronomers in the U.S. workforce. The largest employers of physicists are scientific R&D services, colleges and universities, and the federal government and its contractors. 

Petroleum Engineers
As U.S. oil production and exports soar to record highs, the U.S. workforce continues to experience the impact of the shale oil and gas boom. Petroleum engineering is an example of an occupation directly affected by increased U.S. oil and gas drilling, and production. Employment of petroleum engineers is projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to grow at a faster rate than either overall engineering occupations or all occupations in general. In addition, not only does BLS predict significant employment growth in petroleum engineering, BLS data also indicate being a petroleum engineer pays well to boot.

Mining and Geological Engineers
Mining and geological engineering represents another occupation in the U.S. workforce that reflects the positive impact of the shale oil and gas boom. However, at the same time, mining and geological engineering is negatively impacted by the recent decline in U.S. coal consumption and production. While employment of mining and geological engineers is projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to grow at the same rate as employment in engineering as a whole, median annual wage data indicates that mining and geological engineers employed by the oil and gas extraction industry earned 45 percent more than mining and geological engineers employed in coal mining in May 2017.

Materials Scientists
A relatively new science and engineering (S&E) field is materials science. One of the smallest occupations in the U.S. S&E workforce (only 7,900 were employed in this field in 2016), materials scientists help create new materials and enhance the properties of existing materials used in the energy, transportation, and electronics industries. The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in the occupation will grow by 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, about the same as the average for all occupations.  However, on average materials scientists are paid significantly more than workers in all occupations. This field is related to materials engineering.

Materials Engineers
Often called by other names reflecting the materials in which they specialize, such as ceramic engineers and metallurgical engineers, the growth of employment in materials engineering is tied closely to the growth of U.S. manufacturing. The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in the occupation will grow by only 2 percent from 2016 to 2026, lower than the employment growth rate projected for most other occupations. However, on average, materials engineers are paid relatively more than workers in many other occupations, including other engineering occupations.

Computer and Information Systems Managers
The largest science and engineering (S&E) field today is computer and mathematical sciences. According to information from the National Science Foundation, about 2.6 million (or 46 percent of the U.S. S&E workforce) are employed in this field. One of the smaller components is one of the highest paid—computer and information systems managers. These 368,000 go by a variety of titles in the U.S. workforce.

Software Developers
Software developers are one of the largest components of the computer and mathematical science field.  There were over 1.2 million Software Developers employed in the U.S. in 2016, and BLS projects employment in the occupation will grow by 24 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Information Security Analysts
One of the smaller subfields in the broad occupational group of computer and mathematical scientists is that of Information Security Analysts. However, it offers the potential of much faster than average growth in jobs and salaries. It is one of the 20 occupations projected by BLS to experience the highest percent change of employment between 2016-2026.

Computer and Information Research Scientists
Computer and information research scientists study and solve complex problems in computing for business, health, and science. Because their field is so specialized, they are likely to experience excellent job prospects because many organizations report difficulties finding these workers. 

Geographic Information Systems
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) enables researchers to collect data based on location and then manipulate and analyze the information on a three-dimensional scale. As more sophisticated technologies and reliable data about location become available, the ability to work with GIS technology becomes essential to many different types of research careers

Data Science and Data Analytics
Every sector of the economy now has access to more data than would have ever been imaginable at the turn of the century. 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 and data analytics.

Automation and Robotics
There is little doubt that the increasing penetration of technology in more economic sectors will alter the demand for labor and its occupational composition. One of the professions projected to be positively impacted by increased automation and recent advances in robotics technology is mechanical engineering.