Welcome to our second annual The State of the Industry issue. Business within the electronics industry is percolating at a much stronger clip compared to this time last year. But for many design engineers, job worries prevail. Even as electronics product sales climb, the number of employed U.S. electrical and electronics engineers continues to decline. Per the IEEE, the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 327,000 employed EEs in the first quarter of this year, down from 349,000 in the fourth quarter of last year and down from 386,000 earlier in 2003. EE unemployment jumped from 4.5% in the final quarter of 2003 to 5.3% in the first quarter this year, a startling increase of 17.8%.
So in considering The State of the Industry, we wanted to do more than revisit growth trends in the major vertical markets that make up the electronics universe. We wanted to consider career issues as well, creating a special issue that would not only be a barometer of industry trends, but also provide perspective as to where jobs can be found today and where they will be in the next decade. To this end, we've highlighted today's highest growth markets, taken a look forward at the likely winners in the coming decade, and brought fly-on-the-wall insights in our Career Paths sidebars located throughout the issue.
We picked the markets that look to us like "sure bets" right now for developing a career map. One look at today's gas-pump prices will show that alternative energy will finally come into its own. Data security will be vital as mobile communications encompasses e-commerce. Aging baby boomers will be wired like never before as electronics in medicine alters the boundaries between biology and technology. And it will take nanotechnology to achieve the topologies required for next-generation semiconductors.
In addition to talking to experts in these markets, we spoke with hiring directors who discussed the skill sets they're looking for today and tomorrow. Many of them are, indeed, on the hunt for talented engineers. There's reason to be optimistic: Lockheed Martin will be adding 5000 U.S.-only engineering positions. Also, the unemployment rate for computer hardware engineers fell from 9.0% in the fourth quarter to 4.9% in the first quarter. So get pencil and paper, and starting sketching out that map!