The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has engineers feeling optimistic about their firms and the sector, even if they’re less sure about the economy as a whole.

The American Council of Engineering Cos. Research Institute projects that engineering and design services economic output will increase annually from $338 billion in 2020 to $433 billion in 2026. That will be $21 billion higher in 2026 than what ACEC estimates the sector’s output would have been without the $1.2-trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed last year. 

The research institute’s first-quarter engineering business sentiment study of more than 600 firms found that 91% of its surveyed members had positive expectations for their firms’ overall finances and 85% were positive about the state of engineering and design services. Meanwhile, only 51% had positive expectations for the U.S. economy and 22% had negative expectations. Jeff Urbanchuk, senior vice president of communications and marketing for ACEC, says the shift in engineers’ expectations is directly attributable to the infrastructure act.

“The engineering [sector] survived the pandemic extremely well,” Urbanchuk says. “It really did grow," because it was able to pivot from the traditional office work model to working at home and then to a hybrid model, he adds.

Most Optimistic

Survey respondents are the most optimistic about water/wastewater, health care facilities and data center market sectors, though expectations for data centers were down slightly from the 2021 fourth-quarter survey. They also indicated the greatest increase in optimism, since the prior survey, for aviation and science and technology projects.

The survey indicated a shortage of engineering professionals. Nearly a third of surveyed ACEC members said their firms had more than 10 openings, and 90% had at least one opening. John Carrato, chair of ACEC Research Institute, says 1.5 million people are employed by engineers. The group expects about 82,000 full- and part-time jobs will be added to implement the infrastructure act.

Despite domestic demand for professional services, many engineers from outside the U.S. return to their nations of origin after receiving their education and training in the U.S., says Urbanchuk. He adds that questions remain about how to keep talent in the U.S., and about how to incentivize more students, in general, to enter the engineering professions.