Engineers are vital to Maine’s economy, yet there is an approaching crisis: There are too few engineers to fill available jobs. In the last year, there were 1,450 job postings for engineers in our state. Although these positions range from entry level to senior managers, it is sobering that this total is roughly four times the number of engineering graduates produced annually in Maine. Given this disparity, it is no surprise that University of Maine engineering graduates enjoy a 99 percent placement rate.
This shortage of engineers should be of concern to all Mainers. Although they make up less than 1 percent of Maine’s workforce, more that 70 percent of the state’s international exports rely on engineers for their design and production. Each year, engineers have $4 billion of direct and indirect impact on Maine’s GDP — $600,000 for every engineer working in our state.
To address the state’s needs in the coming decade, Maine will require nearly twice as many new engineers as are currently produced. That engineering workforce need has grown 14 percent — 810 new engineering positions — in the last 10 years. In addition, we need to replace engineers in Maine who retire. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 27 percent of Maine’s engineering and scientific workforce is age 55 or older.
There are companies where a small number of engineers are essential to supporting dozens or even hundreds of employees. A good example is Procter and Gamble Tambrands in Auburn, where the work of 55 engineers is vital to a manufacturing operation employing a total of more than 400. There is a similar story at Old Town Canoe, where five engineers support the work of 300. Then there are companies like TRC with offices in Augusta and in Greater Portland that provides engineering services to the electric power industry across the United States, where 110 of their 325 employees are engineers. While some of these companies are not household names, they and scores of others are bright spots in Maine’s economy. Without engineers, these companies would grind to a halt.
It is essential that Maine businesses, policymakers and education leaders commit to investing in the higher education infrastructure Maine needs — both modern teaching facilities and faculty — to increase the capacity to graduate the engineers that are vital to Maine’s economy. This must be a public investment because Maine relies on three public universities to produce engineers: the University of Maine, the University of Southern Maine and Maine Maritime Academy. Most importantly, Maine’s young people need the great careers and good-paying jobs that result from engineers. And Maine needs them.
Dana Connors is president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is a supporting partner organization of the Maine Engineering Workforce Summit, which will take place Thursday in Lewiston. For more information on this summit, and to register to attend, visit http://engineeringme.com/mews.