Engineering talent critical to state, national economic progress

Engineering fields are facing a major skills gap that isn’t going away. Engineers do more than make things; they provide the backbone for a state and country’s economy. Learn how a university is changing the message.

By Renee Meiller June 10, 2021


Learning Objectives

  • Engineers play a major role in virtually every aspect of life.
  • Industry demand for engineers is outpacing the supply of graduates.
  • The University of Wisconsin-Madison is looking to expand enrollment and upgrade facilities.

Many of Wisconsin’s most notable companies have grown from family businesses founded decades ago into multibillion-dollar companies with an international reach—and engineers drive the innovations that underlie their progress, global competitiveness and economic success.

“Engineers are a multiplier in the workforce,” said Todd Kelsey, CEO of Plexus, a global company specializing in highly complex design, manufacturing, supply chain and aftermarket services based in Neenah, Wisc. “They create things, and by creating things, they create jobs. Engineering is critical to make our economy grow.”

Beyond manufactured goods, engineers also play a major role in virtually every aspect of daily life. Engineers design transportation systems, buildings, water supplies, and energy infrastructure. Engineers enable all aspects of  digital infrastructure, from smartphones to 5G wireless networks to the cloud—and create systems to keep data secure. In healthcare, engineers pioneer solutions for diagnosing and treating disease or improving the way in which patients receive care.

University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Engineering enrolls 4,500 undergraduate and 1,500 graduate students annually; each year, approximately 1,500 students earn engineering degrees.

Even with that, industry demand for engineers is outpacing the supply. “We can’t grow our company without continuing to innovate and develop new technologies, and we need more UW-Madison engineers coming in to help us do that,” said John Pfeifer, president and CEO of Oshkosh Corp.

As of April 2021, there were nearly 9,400 full-time engineering jobs posted in Handshake, UW-Madison’s online career management system, and Wisconsin occupational employment projections show a 7.77% increase in engineering jobs from 2018-2028.

Plexus is among those employers seeking to grow its engineering workforce, which in Wisconsin includes 350 engineers. “Over the last five years, we’ve hired well over 100 engineers,” Kelsey said.

Admission to the College of Engineering is extremely competitive, said Robertson. “Each year, some-7,000 talented students apply to UW-Madison with a desire to become engineering undergraduates,” he said. “Our college can admit only about 1,000. That capacity is limited by the space and the facilities we have available, as well as the number of faculty and staff we have to educate our students.”

With an ambitious plan to enroll 1,400 additional students each year—bringing the total annual number of engineering graduates to more than 2,000—Robertson said the UW-Madison College of Engineering needs to follow suit.

“We need to grow not only to meet student and employer demand, but also to remain attractive to them. If we want to continue to recruit the best talent—and that means at the faculty, staff and student level—we need facilities that are comparable to our peers,” he said.

Renee Meiller, director of communications, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

[Editor’s note]: Control Engineering, along with CFE Media and Technology, believe education is critical for engineers and society. This is what led to the launch of the CFE Edu platform, designed to keep engineers informed and updated on the latest trends in their industry and give them a way to continue earning accreditation by learning from experts in many different fields. Editorial and other webcasts are designed to provide a chance for engineers to learn from their peers.

We help subscribers learn more about what engineers of tomorrow are learning in the classroom, in research advancements and implementations in industry. These engineers today are making a difference in ways that wouldn’t have seemed possible even 10 years ago. While engineering is facing a skills gap and a STEM gap, it is encouraging to know the people who are pursuing engineering as a career path are making a positive impact on the world.

Chris Vavra, web content manager


Keywords: workforce development, STEM, engineering education


With this article online, see additional college and university stories at Also take a look at the Control Engineering 2021 Career and Salary Survey, published in May, for more information about engineers today.


What inspired you to be an engineer and what advice would you give to an aspiring engineer?

Author Bio: Renee Meiller, director of communications, University of Wisconsin-Madison.