Since 1983, high tech jobs in the United States (and globally) have shown substantial growth. In addition to paying well, these positions are key in the changing economy of the 21st Century. Projections for future growth indicate that hardware, software, and applications for information technology will continue to have a substantial impact on employment opportunities in the United States through at least 2017.
Use of the Internet and wireless technologies has exploded, creating outstanding growth and new technical challenges for manufacturers.1 Figure 1 shows the projected increases in occupational employment in computer-related employment. However, it goes beyond computers, software and the net. A broad spectrum of industries and occupations is considered high tech.
Estimates for 2006 through 2014 project that high technology employment will reach 21.5 million workers... nearly 16% of the 136 million total persons employed in non-farm wage and salary jobs. High tech occupations will continue to offer above average salaries. In 2003 median weekly salary for workers in technology occupations ranged between $713-$1,794, which was more than the median for all occupations ($597). 3
Whats ahead? Between 2004-2014, the number of computer specialists (researchers, scientists and engineers) is projected to increase by more than two-thirds, adding two million new jobs, or 9% of all projected growth during this segment.
However, over the last ten years, the number of engineering degrees awarded in the U.S. has declined, while the number grows every year in India and Asia. Engineering undergraduates in Asia, with a ratio of about 42% women, are eager to take on a rigorous curriculum and learn engineering, which they see as a path of upward mobility and financial stability.
Based on this information, with the demand for engineers reaching an all time high in the U.S., opportunities abound for individuals with an engineering degree, and skills applicable to technology design and development tasks. Supply measured against demand will push salaries higher, relative to other non-technical occupations.
Over the next decade two engineering frontiers the nano scale and the large systems scale will provide employment for thousands of engineers, both men and women.
New innovations at the nano scale, such as batteries (some constructed from viruses), new semiconductor designs, carbon nanotube TVs that outperform LCDs, purifying drinking water with nano rust particles, two-way interfaces between nanoelectronics and living neurons and thousands of other undiscovered innovations are what will keep the United States at the cutting edge of both engineering innovation and product development worldwide. These yet undiscovered innovations will drive the U.S. economy, and keep it prosperous.
Fields at the interface of biology, nanotechnology and IT offer new possibilities for employment, many in sub-areas that do not exist now. Biotech researchers are working on custom-designed nanoparticles that locate cancer cells and deliver doses of chemotherapy drugs. In 2007, IBM's computer scientists developed the highest performance electrical circuit based on a single nanotube, demonstrating the applicability of CMOS technology - and a possibly of a new future for computing.
We will see more groundbreaking breakthroughs in the emerging interface of nanoelectronics and biology. The number of novel nanoparticles for biomedical applications is poised for accelerated growth, and there will be an emphasis on combination products that can be used for medical imaging and delivery systems.
At the other end of the scale, understanding very large and complex systems gives engineers the opportunity to solve some of the world's biggest problems including energy, the environment, food supply, logistics, manufacturing and communications.
According to 2001 U.S. Government's Current Population Survey data, one out of 10 employed engineers was a woman (B.S. degree or higher), while two of 10 employed engineering technicians (A.A.S. degree) were women.
Among engineering specialties, industrial, chemical and metallurgical engineers were the only occupations in which women were better represented than the overall percent of total women engineers. Women made up 17% of all industrial engineers, 14% of metallurgical engineers, and 13% of chemical engineers. Among all other engineering specialties -- aerospace, petroleum, nuclear, civil, electrical, materials, RF, manufacturing, optical, software or mechanical -- women represented fewer than 11%.
At the same time, three out of 10 computer systems analysts, computer engineers and computer scientists were women.
One out of four software engineers was a woman. Software engineering is currently the fastest growing technology sector employing women, offering the highest salaries (relative to other engineering sectors).
In 2009, among natural scientists, women represented 53.6% of medical scientists and 44.6% of biological and life scientists, but accounted for a smaller portion of geologists (<22%), physicists and astronomers (<7%).
What does the growth in high tech occupations mean for women? As shown in Figure 1, between the 2004-2010 period, computer engineers are projected to have the fastest growth among all occupations 664,000 workers will be added, nearly doubling the 2000 figure.
In addition, the number of computer scientists and systems analysts is expected to increase by nearly 60% (269,000 jobs).
If women continue to make up three out of 10 computer systems analysts and scientists, then an estimated 219,000 more women could be employed as software engineers, computer scientists and systems engineers by 2012. Computer support specialists are expected to increase by 97%, or about 490,000 workers.
Many women engineers are migrating toward the defense sector. The number of software, electrical, RF, aerospace and mechanical positions they have filled since 2004 has doubled, and defense companies seek individuals who are "clearance eligible" (U.S. citizens able to obtain a Secret or Top Secret clearance) with an engineering degree. Defense company hiring of women is projected to remain very strong through 2014. Demand is at an all-time high for embedded software engineers, electrical engineers - and EEs with RF engineering or networking experience, offering the highest salaries.
If women are represented in computer support specialist jobs in the same proportion as computer programmers, one out of four, then 122,000 more women may expect to be employed as computer support specialists by 2012.
What are the educational requirements? Most high tech careers, including engineers (and scientists), programmers, natural and mathematical scientists, and managers in engineering require a B.S. degree or higher. Scientists are normally required to have a Ph.D., because they work in applied research - calling for extensive and deep knowledge of their specialized fields.
There was a significant growth surge in high technology industries, occupations, and educational preparation for these occupations in the late 1990s, and the future appears to hold outstanding opportunities for employment, and personal career growth, for women in this sector.
Employment of women has lagged in most of these engineering occupations that show promise for future expansion but this is no longer a factor. The doors are open to women engineers in every sector, and salary potential is exactly the same for both female and male engineers and engineering managers.
The challenges for women are to find more pathways into high technology engineering occupations.
Women must exploit all educational (and training) opportunities that will lead them to engineering or other technical careers. Real progress has been made during the past ten years in securing equal rights for women in the workplace with regard to salary and technical responsibilities, including senior engineering management so this is no longer an issue that discourages women from pursuing a technical path. Salary differentials have not been at issue since 2001, so salary disparity is no longer an obstacle to be considered.
When your family or friends ask you what women engineers have invented, and contributed to the world, remind them of the automatic dishwasher, non-reflective glass, a biomedical device permitting amputees to feed themselves, windshield wipers, the disposable cell phone, the CPR training mannequin, tunable lasers to remove cataracts, a home diabetes meter, a scalable computerized PBX switch, a compiler, the antifungal antibiotic Nystatin, an optical system that identifies imperfections in repeating patterns, a maritime pyrotechnic signaling system, the spread spectrum radio, disposable diapers and a computer language (COBOL). The list is far too extensive for this article, but women engineers have contributed significant technical innovations in every aspect of engineering.
Between 1809 (when the first patent was issued to a woman) and 1840, only 20 U.S. patents were granted to women. The women inventor patent share rose from 2.6% in 1976 to 10.3% in 1999. In the past 20 years, 83% of the grants to women were for utility patents, 16.5% for design patents, and 0.5% for plant patents... with 42% of the total from 1977 to 2002 coming from California, New York or New Jersey. In 2007, thousands of women engineers and inventors applied for or received a patent. It is estimated that nearly 20% of all inventors are female and that number is predicted to rise to 45% over the next 20 years.
In the past ten years, we have seen (for the first time in history) women as CEOs of Fortune 500 technology companies and as Principal Engineers, Chief Engineers, Product Managers, Program Managers, Lead Engineers, Software Architects, Technical Directors and CTOs (Chief Technical Officer). We anticipate this will continue, with women engineers either founding more emerging technology startup companies - or managing existing firms.
Salaries for women in engineering will continue to outpace most other occupations (excluding medicine and law), and opportunities are projected to remain in abundance through 2014, due to the supply measured against fast rising demand. Women engineers at the B.S., M.S. or Ph.D. level entering the high demand technical sectors software, electrical, mechanical, aerospace, biomedical and RF engineering can expect higher salaries than their counterparts in most other professional fields.
1 Industry output and employment projections to 2008, Monthly Labor Review, November 1999, p. 49.
2 High-technology employment: a broader view, Monthly Labor Review, June 1999, pp. 18-28.
3 Employment and Earnings, January 2001, pp. 210-211. U.S. Department of Labor
4 The top line in Figures 2 and 3 represents total men in the occupation and the lower line represents total women in the occupation.
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