West Michigan’s manufacturing industry has a long-standing, strong history in the region. Recently, The Right Place business research team updated our manufacturing stats (NAICS 31-33), with our labor market information tool, Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI). According to EMSI’s data, there are over 157,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector within West Michigan and over 2,600 individual pay-rolled manufacturing businesses.

In today's West Michigan Dataconomy blog, we’re going to dig a bit deeper into one of the key occupation groups within the manufacturing sector. We believe this is an important topic to cover, because engineers of all types are a critical piece to any regional economy’s ability to develop and maintain a competitive edge.

In the most basic sense, an engineer is, “A person who designs and builds complex products, machines, systems, or structures. Engineers want to know how and why things work. They have scientific training that they use to make practical things. Engineers often specialize in a specific branch of engineering,” (National Geographic Society, 2012).

According to a study commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) in London, England, there is a direct and strong link between engineering strength and real economic development for a region. Their research found a correlation between the strength of engineering within a region and that region’s GDP per capita. In fact, it was identified that a 1 percent increase in the Engineering Index (a method to demonstrate the strength of engineering within a region) led to a 0.85 percent increase in GDP per capita, an important measure that demonstrates the trend in a region’s standard of living.

West Michigan’s Engineering Talent

Now that we have a high-level understanding of the positive impact engineers have on a region’s economy, let’s look at which types of engineers are in West Michigan and in which industries they provide value.

While engineers can work in a variety of industries, including engineering services, manufacturing, industrial/commercial design, architecture, construction and government, in West Michigan, the greatest concentration of engineers lies within the manufacturing sector.

Currently, there are more than 13,500 engineers in West Michigan’s 13-county region. The makeup of this talent, according to EMSI, is:

West Michigan has particularly high employment rates for mechanical and industrial engineers. Both occupation groups are concentrated more than 300 percent in West Michigan when compared to the US average concentration rates. Due to the 2,600+ manufacturing businesses in the region, engineers in these fields are needed to help design and build the products those manufacturing companies produce and export.

Top Industries Employing Engineers in West Michigan

  1. Architectural, Engineering and Related Services (provided to construction, infrastructure, and manufacturing projects) - 10.7 percent
  2. Motor Vehicle Parts Manufacturing (automotive and aerospace) - 9.7 percent
  3. General Purpose Machinery Manufacturing - 5.3 percent
  4. Employment Services (contract workers) – 4.9 percent
  5. Navigational, Measuring, Electromedical and Control Instruments Manufacturing (avionics, etc.) – 4.7 percent

Engineering Education in West Michigan

Jobs in these fields require a bachelor’s degree with a particular engineering focus. Within the region about 75 percent of engineers possess a bachelor’s degree, 22 percent a master’s degree and 1.5 percent a doctorate degree.

There are eight regional higher education institutions producing engineering degree students within a 60-mile radius of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Those colleges and universities produced 780 degrees in 2017. However, this is well short of the nearly 2,200 annual openings for engineers, which accounts for new job creation, retirement, etc.

Top West Michigan Schools by Engineering Degree Completions

Demand for Engineering Talent

In 2018 our business development team met with nearly 400 individual businesses in the manufacturing, agribusiness, IT, and medical device/life sciences industries. During those meetings we asked employers which occupations were in greatest demand; engineers were the second most frequently stated occupation, accounting for more than 11 percent of all the jobs and occupations employers expressed a need for.

According to EMSI’s job positing analytics, there were more than 3,600 individual job postings for engineering positions within the 13-county region. Employers demonstrated a strong need for engineers, as these individual openings were posted more than 20,700 times across various sites. The top job titles posted included:

  • Design Engineers
  • Controls Engineers
  • Quality Engineers
  • Manufacturing Engineers
  • Product Engineers
  • Mechanical Engineers
  • Process Engineers
  • Electrical Engineers

Looking Forward

In the age of automation and Industry 4.0, employers, employees and experts alike are wondering what effect disruptive innovations such as autonomous and electric vehicles have had, and will continue to have, on the engineering field.

According to most experts, including the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), engineers will continue to be in high demand, not only in spite of these new innovative and disruptive technologies, but because of them. ASME argues that mechanical engineers will focus on specific components like the drivetrains, transmissions and steering controls of electric vehicles, “Such parts are carryovers from traditional auto manufacturing, along with others including brakes, suspension and heating/cooling systems. Even with the looming decrease in importance of the gas-powered engine, there is still more than enough work for mechanical engineers to perform in ensuring the efficiency, safety and cost-effectiveness of mass-produced EVs.”

The State of Michigan’s Bureau of Labor Market Information projects net job growth for engineers in WM to continue to grow at rate of 1.2% each year.

Interested learning more about Industry 4.0 and automation as it relates to your business? Sign-up for this free webinar hosted by MiBiz and The Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center-West (The Center) on Thursday, March 28th.


Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI) / www.economicmodeling.com

Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives

National Geographic Society, C. R. (Ed.). (2012, November 09). NASA for Kids: Intro to Engineering. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/nasa-kids-intro-engineering/

Winkless, L. (2016, September 27). It's Official - Engineering Helps Economies to Grow. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/lauriewinkless/2016/09/26/its-official-engineering-helps-economies-to-grow/#4dc1f1bf76c5