What will be tomorrow—€™s best occupations?

March 2011 » Columns » THE VIEW FROM HERE
Richard G. Weingardt, P.E.

At the pinnacle of America’s best professions of the future, according to Money magazine (“The 50 Best Jobs in America,” November 2010), are software architects. Ever heard of this field? Here’s how the article’s authors describe the field’s members:

“Like architects who design buildings, they create the blueprints for software engineers to follow — and pitch in with programming too, at times. Plus, [software] architects often serve as a link between the tech and business staffs.”

Wow! Doesn’t the average software engineer have the wherewithal to do this?

Following software architects on the list of top 10 jobs are:

2. physician assistants,

3. management consultants,

4. physical therapists,

5. environmental engineers,

6. civil engineers,

7. database administrators,

8. sales directors,

9. certified public accountants, and

10. biomedical engineers.

The highest salary of these 10 careers — for sales directors who “manage a company’s sales strategy and sales staff” — is estimated as $142,000 for the median and $222,000 for top pay. The highest paying job among the top 50 is emergency room physicians at $250,000 median and $368,000 top. These folks rank in position 25.

The article was developed under this premise: “As the employment market starts to climb out of the deepest hole in decades, some industries will bounce faster than others. Those hot fields are where the next great opportunities lie.”

Where do structural engineering and architecture rank in this analysis? Architects are not listed among the top 50 jobs, while structural engineers are in position 47. With projected salary levels of $88,000 median and $114,000 top, their salaries are in the same range as their fellow (but higher ranked) engineers in the civil and environmental disciplines. All three are paid about 50 percent less than sales directors.

According to this article, civil engineers “design and supervise the creation of highways, bridges, sewer and water systems, and power plants and the like,” while environmental engineers “use engineering skills to protect the environment and human health” and “work on air-pollution control, water treatment, waste management, alternate energy, and conservation.” Engineers may well find the distinction between the two misleading or unclear.

Civil engineers, the article reports, will be in demand because, “Huge infrastructure projects in countries like China and India are creating a shortage of qualified local engineers, bolstering demand for American talent. America’s own highways [and bridges], water/sewer, and light-rail systems are in desperate need of overhaul. Despite current budget battles in Congress, experts say those projects are bound to be funded over the long run.” Really? Today’s sour economic situation, political confusion, increasing governmental red tape, and out-of-control entitlement spending certainly don’t bode well for this happening anytime soon, at least not in significant numbers.

Similarly, the article states that environmental engineers will be in demand because, “Companies must stay in compliance with federal and state regulations. Plus, businesses are realizing that environmental stewardship not only burnishes the brand, but it can also boost the bottom line. The push to develop alternate energy sources could eventually help the field too.”

Why are software architects No. 1? “Every company is facing increasingly complex tech and security challenges. And even though programming jobs are moving overseas, the face-to-face aspect of this position — [software] architects are often called on to work with customers and project managers — helps cement local demand. Small firms like [software] architects for the two-for-one deal: a designer who can also code.”

Might not structural engineers be in the same lucrative demand situation as software architects and civil/environmental engineers? After all, with the world’s current spiraling population, the accompanying infrastructure demands such growth that a massive number of modern structures will be needed. It’s professional designers and engineers who know how to plan and build such things.

The ranking of structural engineers might be a lot higher, given the reasons stated for why software architects and civil and environmental engineers are placed where they are. And for the responsibility, intelligence, education, and training their profession demands, structural engineers being paid 50 percent of a sales director’s pay won’t cut it. Not if America is serious about attracting greater numbers of bright, young Americans into the field.

Richard G. Weingardt, P.E., is CEO and chairman of Richard Weingardt Consultants, Inc., a Denver-based structural engineering firm. He can be reached via e-mail at rweingardt@gostructural.com.

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