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You're an Engineer? You're Hired

The unemployment rate in the field these days is a super-low 2 percent.

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Upon finishing a master's in electrical and computer engineering at Georgia Tech in December 2011, Gaurang Narvekar, 25, had three job offers in hand. Environmental engineer Jade Mitchell-Blackwood went immediately to work for the Environmental Protection Agency after finishing a doctorate at Drexel University in August 2010. Even Todd Williams, of Flushing, Mich., a mechanical design engineer in the auto industry who lost his job during the doldrums of 2008, is back to work at an auto supply firm outside Detroit.

At its worst in September 2009, the unemployment rate for engineers reached 6.4 percent, versus nearly 10 percent for all occupations. By the middle of last year, it had dropped to under 2 percent.

Job prospects for engineers "are really good, especially for young ones," says Lawrence Jacobson, executive director of the National Society of Professional Engineers in Alexandria, Va. He and other industry watchers see demand across the board, especially in electrical, biomedical, aerospace, computer, automotive, environmental, mechanical, and petroleum engineering.

Salaries are healthy, too. Narvekar will be making close to $80,000 (plus sign-on bonus and company shares) at ARM Inc. in Austin, Texas, working on memory design for processors that store data on mobile phones, servers, and other high-speed devices.

[Read about how engineering students are using co-ops as the classroom.]

The outlook is shaped both by society's growing need to devise solutions to technically challenging problems—global warming, a shortage of clean water, the demand for faster and smarter computing—and by short supply. Only 4.5 percent of all undergraduates come out of school with engineering degrees, according to the National Science Foundation.

Thanks to the auto industry's bounceback, and capital and maintenance projects at other companies now going forward, opportunities are "very robust" at the moment in manufacturing, says Tim McAward, a vice president at Kelly Services, a Troy, Mich.-based staffing company. "Automation, controls, robotics are very hot," he says.

Engineers are finding research and development work, too, in technology, the pharmaceutical industry, and energy, in particular. Electrical engineers "are in huge demand" to work in power plants, on power transmission, and on electrical systems design for buildings, says Jacobson.

Sustainability, too, is hot, says McAward—as are the environmental engineers who work to make it possible. Mitchell-Blackwood, who does chemical exposure risk analysis for the EPA's National Exposure Research Laboratory in Research Triangle Park, N.C., got a bachelor's in the discipline in 1997, when it was seen as a "stepchild" in engineering circles. No longer true, she says.

[Explore U.S. News's Best Engineering Schools rankings.]

First jobs don't require an engineering license; indeed, a license, which means at least four years of experience before sitting for an exam, is not needed for most engineering jobs. But licensure is crucial for career advancement and top pay several years down the road, when those far out from their training risk plateauing, Jacobson says.

And he believes anyone thinking about grad school might consider a dual degree, adding an M.B.A., for example. The more firepower one can aim at those pressing problems, the better.

Searching for an engineering school? Get our complete rankings of Best Engineering Schools.