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Spring 2007 Vol. 51, Number 1

High-tech jobs for a high-tech economy

by Nicholas Terrell



Almost every product, from cars to carrots, is the result of engineering. Engineers use science to solve practical problems. They design, develop, and test new products, such as computers, machines, and chemical fertilizers; they also design, develop, and maintain systems, including assembly lines and electric power grids. Drafters, engineering, and mapping technicians help in those efforts.

Specialties. Most engineers specialize. Agricultural engineers, for example, design farming equipment, irrigation systems, and food processing systems. Biomedical engineers develop medical devices and instruments. Civil engineers, the largest specialty, design bridges, dams, and other public works projects; some plan highways and solve traffic problems.

Electrical and electronics engineers design consumer electronics, electrical robotics, and other electrical equipment. Mechanical engineers design, manufacture, and test tools and other mechanical devices.

Among the other engineering specialties are aerospace, chemical, environmental, and petroleum.

Drafters and technicians. Drafters, engineering, and mapping technicians assist in the development of new products. Drafters use computers to make detailed technical drawings of products or construction projects. They sometimes suggest what type of components to use in a product or structure.

Engineering technicians build models, do calculations, and perform other engineering tasks. Mapping technicians aid surveyors, cartographers, and photogrammetrists in measuring and mapping the Earthís surface.


Many occupations use mathematics. But some occupations focus on mathematics almost exclusively.

Actuaries, for example, analyze statistical information to determine the risk of uncertain future events, such as hurricanes or automobile collisions. They use these calculations to decide what kinds of insurance a company should offer and how much that insurance should cost.

Mathematicians develop new mathematical theories and tools to solve problems. Some devise or decipher encryption methods to protect confidential information.

Operations research analysts use math to model complex logistical chains to determine the most efficient way to move materials or meet other management objectives.

Statisticians collect, analyze, and interpret data. Some write surveys.


As a group, STEM workers earned about 70 percent more than the national average in 2005, according to BLS. Every major group of STEM occupations enjoys overall median earnings that are above the national average. (See chart 2.) Higher than average earnings are often an indicator of strong demand for workers.

Like occupations in other disciplines, STEM occupations that require more education usually pay more than those that need less. For example, biochemists and biophysicists, who often have a Ph.D., had median earnings of $71,000 in 2005; biological technicians, who often have an associate degree or less education, earned a median of $34,270.

Earnings vary by subject matter for the highest paid occupations within each STEM group. The highest earning scientists were astronomers, with median earnings of $104,670. Among technicians, nuclear technicians had the highest median earnings, at $61,120. The highest earning engineering specialty was petroleum engineering, with median earnings of $93,000. And actuaries, with median earnings of $81,640, made more than other mathematical specialists did.


In addition, starting salaries are higher for STEM workers than for workers in many other disciplines. According to a fall 2006 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, students with a bachelorís degree in engineering had the highest starting salary offers, on average, compared with students who have bachelorís degrees in other subjects. (See table 1.)


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Last Updated: February 15, 2007