Employment Outlook: San Diego

September 28, 2019
By Mary Anne Thompson, Founder and President, GoinGlobal, Inc.

Ranked one of the best places to live in the U.S., San Diego boasts high livability marks, an excellent climate, varied job opportunities and a healthy economy among its many attributes.

San Diego, California, is consistently included among the best places to live in the United States. This year, it ranked sixth in Money’s ‘Best Big Cities to Live In Right Now’ list for its livability, health, education, and economy and taxes.

It was the only city in North America chosen to appear in National Geographic’s ‘Smart Cities’ series, featuring 18 cities around the globe. The cities scored highly for livability, culture of innovation, smart planning, green practices and strong technology.

San Diego’s location on the West Coast and stable year-round climate made it a natural draw for the US Navy as a major port for the Pacific Fleet. In fact, the economy once was primarily supported by a huge defense industry. While the Department of Defense continues to play a major role, the region’s economy has become more diverse, in part because of efforts begun by city leaders in the 1980s.

Today, San Diego’s tech sector is a major economic force, thanks to a large influx of tech start-ups in recent years. The city’s large millennial population, the third largest in tech cities, plays a large role.

Other key job sectors include:

  • Life sciences and medical devices

  • Aerospace and defense

  • Manufacturing

  • Clean tech

  • Health care

The area is also home to two Fortune 500 companies: Qualcomm, a wireless telecommunications research and development company, and Sempra Energy, an operator of pipelines, storage facilities and natural gas-fired power plants.

The top employers in San Diego County are:

  • Active duty military and Department of Defense – 140,000 employees

  • Government (except public education) – 120,200 employees

  • Public school districts – 66,800 employees

  • University of California, San Diego – 30,000 employees

  • Sharp HealthCare – 17,800 employees

  • Scripps Health – 14,600 employees

  • Qualcomm – 13,000 employees

  • Kaiser Permanente – 7,500 employees

  • UC San Diego – 7,300 employees

Most San Diego’s industries are small to medium-sized companies. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees make up 95% of all local companies and account for nearly half of the workforce.

Areas of Job Promise

San Diego County is the second-largest county by population in California and the fifth-largest county in the country. Over the past 12 months, the metro area added 25,700 non-farm jobs.

The current unemployment rate is 2.8%, much lower than the 4.2% unemployment rate in California and the national rate of 3.7%. Twelve months ago, the unemployment rate was about the same. Analysts predict San Diego’s unemployment rate will hold steady in the coming year and decrease to 2.4% next year.

Sectors with the most projected job growth this year include:

  • Professional and business services: 6,900 jobs

  • Education and health services: 5,700 jobs

  • Government: 3,900 jobs

  • Manufacturing: 3,400 jobs

  • Construction: 2,600 jobs

The job market is expected to be upbeat in the short term, according to the most recent Manpower Employment Outlook Survey. Of the local employers surveyed:

  • 21% plan to hire more employees

  • 4% expect staff reductions

  • 75% foresee no hiring changes

  • None are unsure of their hiring plans

The survey found job prospects best in construction, durable goods manufacturing, transportation and utilities, financial activities, education and health services, leisure and hospitality, and government. Hiring is expected to remain unchanged in non-durable goods manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, information, professional and business services, and other services.


Those living in San Diego County not only make more money than elsewhere in the nation, but wages are also rising faster. This year, incomes were the fastest growing in the nation, up 5.4% to 76,207 USD annually.

Analysts predict incomes will rise by 2.8% this year and another 2.4% next year.

The following are average hourly wages for selected occupations in the San Diego metropolitan area:


Average Hourly Wage, San Diego (USD)

Average Hourly Wage, National (USD)







Electro-mechanical technicians



Financial managers



Registered nurses



Retail salespersons



Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Industry Trends


  • Skilled aerospace workers remain in high demand.

  • The aerospace industry throughout Southern California has grown by more than 5,000 new jobs in the past three years, exceeding industry forecasts.

  • Aerospace has benefitted from US military spending and a growing commercial market. The area’s two naval bases and a Marine base all rely on aerospace technologies and help fuel the sector.

  • Additionally, the production of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or, more commonly, drones) is a growing local subsector. Two of the largest UAV manufacturers in the country, Northrop Grumman and General Atomics, are located in San Diego County. UAV production accounts for 12% of all Department of Defense spending in the region.

  • The average annual wage for an aerospace worker in San Diego is 105,715 USD.


  • The US Department of Defense employs more than 140,000 local workers.

  • Defense-related spending contributed 26 billion USD to the local economy last year.

  • Local specialties include command and control systems, cyber security, reconnaissance and surveillance systems.

  • While some defense manufacturing has moved away, much of the R&D and design of new products still takes place here.

  • Areas that are predicted to see growth in this field are intelligence surveillance, cyber security, unmanned aerial systems, and defense-related electronics and software.


  • Civil engineering jobs are in high demand right now. With upgrades needed to existing infrastructure, engineering and architectural services grew by 8% last year.

  • However, engineers are in short supply, and employers are experiencing a shortage of skilled workers. In addition to civil engineers, local employers are seeking biomedical engineers and computer hardware engineers.


  • Biotech is growing quickly in San Diego, and employers are looking to hire.

  • In the next year, 88% of biotech employers across the state plan to hire. Most companies are willing to train on the job, according to Biocom, an industry group representing more than 1,200 local companies.

  • San Diego, with its world-class research laboratories and institutions of higher learning, has become a major center for biotech/life sciences, fostering local start-ups and attracting international corporations.

  • Locally, the industry specializes in medical devices and diagnostics, biopharmaceuticals, industrial biotechnology and biofuels, life sciences wholesale distribution, and research and lab services.

  • Life science employment in San Diego County includes 37,800 employees at 1,225 firms.

  • The California Employment Development Department reports that biomedical engineering is among the fastest-growing occupations in San Diego County, with a growth rate of more than 40% through 2024. 

Information and Communication Technology

  • In recent years, the area has seen an influx of tech start-ups, bringing tech to the forefront of local industry.

  • Approximately 61,000 workers are employed in information and communications technology (ICT) professions in San Diego.

  • Local ICT companies specialize in the areas of gaming and big data, security and mobile technologies. The industry also supports the area’s clean-tech, biotech, defense and health care sectors.

  • The fastest-growing IT occupations for the San Diego-Carlsbad Metropolitan Statistical Area through 2024 include: computer hardware engineers, web developers, computer systems analysts and software developers.


San Diego has so much going for it, including great weather, a healthy economy and an enviable quality of life. The future looks just as bright as the present on the jobs front, as well. From aerospace and defense to IT and engineering, the opportunities are varied and abundant. You can’t go wrong job hunting in one of the U.S.’s most livable cities.