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Construction, Engineering Job Prospects to Grow
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Civil engineering professionals
The profession of civil engineering is expected to grow more than average by 2020, by 19.7 percent, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Cultura /AP Images

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has released its most recent domestic employment projections, which reveal that construction and civil engineering opportunities should expand by 2022.

January 14, 2014—Domestic employment opportunities are expected to grow by 15.6 million jobs, or 10.8 percent, between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent employment opportunity projections, which were released last month. The projections, which project the growth—or contraction—of various occupations by 2022 using 2012 as a baseline, indicate that construction and civil engineering will see overall growth over the course of the decade.

The projections are not forecasts of the specific ups and downs that might occur within the next decade, but rather snapshots that take into consideration the beginning year of a decade and its final year, according to Dave Terkanian, an economist in the employment projections program at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

“We look at the overarching trends and themes and we use those two years—now and 10 years from now—as points of easy comparison,” he says. By compiling such projections every two years, which it has done since 1960, the BLS makes available easily comparable data that can be used by researchers, policy makers, and even private citizens for long-term employment planning, Terkanian says.

In the most recent projections, “construction and extraction” employment opportunities are expected to increase 21 percent by 2022, making it one of the fastest-growing industries, nearly double the average projected employment growth of 11 percent, according to the BLS. Health care support and health care practitioners and technicians are the two categories that top the list by increasing 28 percent and 22 percent, respectively.

Architecture and engineering, as a category, is projected to see an overall growth of employment opportunities of 7 percent, a level that is below the average. Within the broad architectural and engineering category, however, civil engineering is expected to grow the most, seeing a projected increase of 53,700 jobs, or 19.7 percent. As a category, civil engineering includes licensed civil engineers and civil engineering technicians, according to Kevin M. McCarron, the analyst who covers the civil engineering occupation for the office of occupational statistics and employment projections at the BLS. Civil engineering technicians perform such tasks as surveying, data gathering, or drafting.

McCarron believes that the reason civil engineering is projected to see such strong growth within the next decade is that there is a large amount of infrastructure development and repair that is already necessary across the nation—and that need will continue to grow as the years tick by, he says.

In addition to analyzing the overall projected growth of domestic employment opportunities, the BLS also projects the education requirements, related work experience, and on-the-job training typically needed for various occupations. “One of the big places it gets used is at the state level for figuring out, [for example], how to allocate educational funds for colleges, vocational schools, and things like that,” Terkanian notes.

Additionally, “some of our most numerous users are probably individual citizens who are looking at either changing occupations—maybe they’ve been in their particular field for a few years and are looking for a change—or people who are leaving high school or entering college who are trying to figure out either what they can do with the skills that they have now, or what sort of education they need in order to get into their preferred field,” says Terkanian.

The BLS projections indicate that two-thirds of the 30 occupations that will add the greatest number of jobs—such as construction laborers—typically do not require postsecondary education for entry. This differs from the 30 fastest-growing occupations, however, which may offer fewer actual job openings but are growing at a faster clip. For these, almost two-thirds typically do require some form of postsecondary education.

Nicole Smith, Ph.D., a research professor and senior economist with Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), watches the BLS numbers, and says that by looking at entry-level education requirements for jobs, rather than at the degrees are held by successful employees who are already in a given an occupation, the BLS projections are perhaps not as useful as they could be. (See “Report: STEM Employment Prospects Are Positive,” Civil Engineering online.) Because the CEW looks at the full distribution of education requirements for occupations, “the BLS and our projections differ vastly,” Smith says. “If you were to sum up their numbers on requirements for postsecondary education, you get 34 percent by 2022. Our forecast is that by 2020, 65 percent of jobs will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school.”

By looking at the lowest possible degree that will allow a person to enter a field, the BLS projections are effectively labeling occupations as having a single, relatively low education requirement, which is misleading, Smith argues. “To say that the BLS education numbers are useful for planning is also a cause for concern,” she says. “If we tell people that only 35 percent of jobs require postsecondary education, then our nation’s colleges and universities have essentially already met that goal.”

Terkanian points out, however, that the BLS and CEW are simply measuring different things: typical entry-level requirements versus ultimate educational achievement within an occupation. “If we go and tell people that, [within a certain occupation] 30 percent have a bachelor’s degree and 50 percent have a master’s degree, and the remaining 20 percent have a Ph.D., a lot of them are going to say, to get into this field, I’m going to probably need a master’s degree or Ph.D. just to be competitive,” he says. “But the fact of the matter is that many of those people who have those masters degrees or doctoral or professional degrees may have started out with a bachelor’s degree.”

The BLS creates its education classifications by interviewing people who work in the occupations in question, the people who represent them in professional organizations, and unions, and by examining real-world job postings, Terkanian adds. The BLS also publishes, in its Occupational Outlook Handbook, specific information on occupations that have multiple paths to entry. The handbook also discusses situations in which more education can be required for career advancement, he says.

For the category of civil engineers, the recent BLS projection report states that the entry-level education requirement is a bachelor’s degree with no “additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.” While the latter is debatable, considering the requirements needed for obtaining and maintaining civil engineering licensure in various states, the former is currently the case. For its part, ASCE is advocating the implementation of higher academic requirements to raise educational standards for future engineers. (Read about ASCE’s “Raise the Bar” initiative at ASCE’s website.)

Civil engineering technicians, on the other hand, are listed in the BLS projections as requiring an associate’s degree, with no additional on-the-job training required for competency. Considering the implementation of new computer-driven technologies over the last 40 years in surveying and drafting—including global positioning systems and building information modeling—the need for on-the-job training as future computer hardware and software becomes available seems likely.

Despite their clear differences in how education and employment opportunities are linked, however, the BLS and CEW projections align for positive growth in domestic employment opportunities within the next decade, according to a statement on the CEW”s website in December made by Anthony P. Carnevale, Ph.D., the director of, and a research professor at, the CEW. The full projections that the BLS has compiled can be accessed on its web page.


 

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