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How Can We Lure Engineers Back to Engineering?

Posted August 10, 2011 1:05 PM
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Getting an engineering education is only the beginning of the path to a career in the field. You also have to "get your hands dirty." Many graduates opt for more lucrative careers, such as finance. How can we convince recent engineering graduates to work as engineers? How can we make the field seem exciting and rewarding, even if it lacks the prestige and visibility of some of the alternatives? And how do we get them to remain engineers and stop the "brain drain" that is sapping our ability to innovate?

The preceding article is a "sneak peek" from Test & Measurement, a newsletter from GlobalSpec. To stay up-to-date and informed on industry trends, products, and technologies, subscribe to Test & Measurement today.

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#1

Re: How Can We Lure Engineers Back to Engineering?

08/10/2011 11:21 PM

Yes, some or many qualified engineers use their graduation as just steeping stones. The irony is many guys practicing engineering out of willingness are unable to merge in to main stream with some proud recognition.

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#2

Re: How Can We Lure Engineers Back to Engineering?

08/10/2011 11:31 PM

You can't is the short answer, not when they are being recruited by large companies that want them fresh out of uni to mould them into managers. So what is the incentive to get their little white hand dirty? None, as they know in 4 to 5 years they will be able to sit in their own office on a 6 figure salary, telling everyone how to do the job.... with little or ZERO experience how to do it themselves.

How can I say that.. see it done it, been on the receiving end of numbnuts graduated "engineer" TRYING to tell me how to do the job who can't even find the toilet without a map, or his butt....

Damn I'm all worked up now thinking about it.. I'm off to bed!

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#7
In reply to #2

Re: How Can We Lure Engineers Back to Engineering?

08/11/2011 10:41 AM

The American and the Japanese corporate offices for a large multi-national corporation decided to engage in a competitive boat race. Both teams practiced hard and long to reach their peak performance.

On the big day they felt ready. The Japanese team won by a mile. Afterward, the American team was discouraged by the loss. Morale sagged. Corporate management decided that the reason for the crushing defeat had to be found, so a consulting firm was hired to investigate the problem and recommended corrective action.

The consultant's finding: The Japanese team had eight engineers rowing and one person steering; the American team had one engineer rowing and eight people steering.

After a year of study and millions spent analyzing the problem, the firm concluded that too many people were steering and not enough were rowing on the American team.

So, as race day neared again the following year, the American team's management structure was completely reorganized. The new structure: four

steering managers, three area steering managers and a new performance review system for the engineer rowing the boat to provide work incentive.

The next year, the Japanese won by two miles. Humiliated, the American office laid-off the engineer for poor performance and gave the managers a bonus for discovering the problem.

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#3

Re: How Can We Lure Engineers Back to Engineering?

08/11/2011 3:42 AM

We turn engineers into drafters. We didn't do that 50 years ago.

Who wants to go through a rigorous 4 or 5 years mathematics based education to be put in front of a computer monitor and do not only designs but also the drawings, requisitions, expediting and a bunch of other clerical stuff?

50 years ago engineering managers were exclusively first rate engineers. You didn't get to manage engineering unless you were one of the best. Today the criteria for promoting people to enginering mangement seem to have changed. The standards seem to have been lowered. A poor manager will sour any young engineer and there seem to be a lot of them on the loose these days.

But I think the biggest issue is that young engineers are hard pressed in today's world to accomplish anything to crow about other than a good paycheck for which in most cases they have to put in 50, 60 and sometimes 70 hour work weeks.

Ed Weldon

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#4

Re: How Can We Lure Engineers Back to Engineering?

08/11/2011 7:44 AM

High pay, excellent working conditions (40hr/wk), great benefits...just look at what's being offered to get them to move to other fields. I've seen many Phd scientists lured into the financial community by money.

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#5

Re: How Can We Lure Engineers Back to Engineering?

08/11/2011 8:53 AM

Wow this is a tricky one, and one that I've personally been wrestling with for some time now. I graduated three years ago with a mechanical engineering degree and have been doing design work since then. I enjoy what I do, most of the time, but there are some very strong incentives to switch careers.

Over half of my graduating mechanical engineering class went into finance. When you are graduating college with $60,000+ in student loans, the prospect of being paid 6 figures in your first year out and paying off those loans in 3 years rather than 20 is pretty captivating. The level of compensation in finance, even for entry level positions, is truly staggering. I saw some very talented engineering students, the ones who really had a mechanical knack, get lured away. In discussions with friends about the decision to "sell out" and go into finance, a pretty consistent strain has come up: "If I'm going to be getting paid to do something I just am not that interested in, why would I go for the lower paying job?" For me the better money has never been a great sell, because I am genuinely interested in what I do.

In the Northeast, entry level engineering salaries are solid, and I live comfortably despite the burden of my monthly loan payments. So I don't think pay is the whole story. Opportunities for advancement seem to be hard to come by in engineering. At least for the best and brightest, the concept of a rigidly set schedule of promotions which plateaus about 10 years out can be quite a turn off. Again, using financial services as a counterpoint, a rockstar employee can earn the title of Vice President within five years of graduating. Who doesn't want that have the title on their business card by the age of 27?

Also, I agree with Ed's point that it is just hard to accomplish "anything to crow about." Engineering is a low glamor career. Anything truly impressive takes years to complete, which again can be a turn off to a rearing-to-go young professional. And if all you are working towards crowing about is a good paycheck, again, why not be in finance?

Still, engineering definitely has it's draws. When I tell people I am an engineer they are genuinely impressed (maybe that's because it's become so uncommon for young people?). There is definitely a desire amongst people in other professions to actually work on a concrete product, and actually contribute something of enduring value to the world. The pride and satisfaction I get from doing this type of work is the main thing that keeps me doing it.

The opportunity to be truly creative is another draw. I can't speak for all fields of engineering here, because I've only done design work, but I get to flex my creative muscles just about every day. This is probably an area where engineering has an edge over other fields, but how to use it to attract people to the profession seems unclear.

I'd say that the best way to keep people in engineering once they are there is to not stifle them. Organizations that let people contribute, grow, and develop at their own pace (aka, faster than the promotion schedule dictates) would definitely post higher marks for higher employee satisfaction. And I doubt a satisfied engineer would change careers.

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#6

Re: How Can We Lure Engineers Back to Engineering?

08/11/2011 9:07 AM

Lucrative does not mean happy.

Hey, if the lout wants to go into finance because the money is better, then I don't want him as an engineer in the first place. Good riddance. (Meaning their motivation for engineering was inherently flawed and they will make a lousy engineer anyways.)

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#8

Re: How Can We Lure Engineers Back to Engineering?

08/11/2011 10:44 AM

Wow, that's a tough one, and I wish I knew the answer(s) to the question. I think I'll hang in here and watch for good answers.

I failed in my last attempt to retain a youngster to remain in engineering:

My only son, age 19 and living with his momster (my X: aka T-Rex and the Anti-Christ LOL), and attending engineering school for Electrical Engineering called me last Wednesday to say he's quitting school and has Enlisted into the U.S. Air Farce for 6 years to try his hand at being a Combat Controller, whatever that is (MOS????). All he's told me about it is that he'll be involved with USAF Special Ops, choppers and what not. The reason he called me is that he's filling out the 40+ page long Security Clearance Application and needed my info, data, dates, places etc etc etc (amount of belly button lint too? ) ....been there done it long ago.

He also told me that he's bored with EE and doesn't intend to finish. Well, for over 2 hours I tried to convince him to at least finish school first and earn an Officer's Commission, then go in if he still desires it. My opinions, suggestions, and advice fell on deaf ears. At least he agree to save up his spare cash for his further education latter on if he decides to go back to school.

Other than the education SNAFU, I am very proud of him to want to serve his country...he will now be the 7th generation of his family to serve in the US military. Maybe now he'll finally grow up and become a man, and not just another Y-Generation soory excuse of a wingnut swinging a dik in one hand while Twittering with the other....LOL

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#9

Re: How Can We Lure Engineers Back to Engineering?

08/11/2011 12:17 PM

Find out if you have FIRST group in your area. (www.usfirst.org). This is the best thing going to bring kids of all ages into the engineering and science fields. A global program "For Inspiration of Robotics Science and Technology".

Dean Kaman (Segway) funded this with $12M of his own seed money and it is taking over the high schools like wild fire. From 1st grade (Lego League) to high school seniors (FRC) this program challenges students and gets them excited and involved in math, science, robotics, business planning, etc. It is an almost all volunteer program. Monies received into the program go largely to scholarships (~$10-14M/year). Get involved. It will make YOU excited about your job and hopeful about the world.

If you can't find info - get in touch with me and we'll get information to you.

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#10

Re: How Can We Lure Engineers Back to Engineering?

08/12/2011 1:56 PM

In my humble opinion,the engineering resources in the USA will continue to decline until management fully understands the asset they manage, what motivates them and how to both challenge & respect engineers for their worth.

Engineering is not a function that can be properly managed without substantial knowledge of the particular field. Most staff management's background today is increasingly more from the finance or marketing fields. One can not budget technical creativity or development efforts properly without at least some engineering experience. Developing engineers need mentors for sustained personal growth.

As an engineer who "grew" into management, I can see the considerable difference in both respect and motivation imparted by managers with and without engineering disciplines.

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#11

Re: How Can We Lure Engineers Back to Engineering?

08/15/2011 7:25 PM

Musings...

Engineering 50 years ago had a different "glow" about it. Given all the technological advances and engineering "marvels" that people have grown up with in the last 15-20 years, that glow is somehow different, I think... less virgin if it can be termed that way. I think a valid comparison can be made with the making of movies.

The creative juices that flowed in the beginning of the media were so tied up with the exploration of the media, that one could argue that the media itself was part of the Muse. It's like the first time a musically inclined person holds a guitar or sits at a piano. I think engineering has been much the same way. When one grows up with the computer and communications technology we have now it is so ever-present that it becomes taken for granted. Kids of the last generation grew up with video game consoles, went and go to movies which are just extensions of those game themes. Technology pervades our lives to such a saturated degree, that the creative spark is different. At least, that is my opinion. Others may certainly disagree.

The idea of majoring in Engineering and then going on to get an MBA has been around for a long time. These are the folks whose primary goal was the business world all along. It was seen as the necessary credentials to go from engineering to engineering management, on to upper management.

So the question does arise, "How many people really go in to engineering just for the love of engineering? And then, how many find jobs that really allow for the expression of that love?

If there is truth to this assessment, then it may be harder to get engineers to "come back." For a long time I've wondered how it might turn out to get a bunch of engineers from different disciplines together to brainstorm for ideas/projects that would interest them and then hopefully, have some that could also become commercially viable. But at least there would be some people who were eager to pursue those ideas from enthusiasm, rather than thinking of their job as "just another day at the office." Even still, with all the technology we do have, it may be harder for engineers coming up to think they can make much of a difference. They may see less frontiers to "explore."

I think engineers are, at heart, inventors. And inventors will give themselves over to their ideas in a passionate manner. As long as this side of engineers is stifled or ignored, I have my doubts about dispelling the disillusionment that many feel after working in environments where they lost that sense of self-expression. One clear example is cited by Ed of turning engineers into drafters. I worked with one such engineer years ago. He had gotten his engineering degree in India. He was frustrated that his chief work was drafting. He finally decided to pursue a P.E. certification to have his degree "accepted." After certification he left the company.

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#12

Re: How Can We Lure Engineers Back to Engineering?

08/16/2011 7:38 AM

Re-develop respect and trust for what engineers say and do.

Do not "should" all over them. Management to remove phrases such as:

"That should only take a few hours to develop."

"That should be easy to design."

"You should not have to analyze or test that."

"You should not need tools to do that."

Rather, engineers "should shall" drive the development schedule

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#13

Committment to development of sustainable technologies.

08/17/2011 4:33 PM

I'm no expert, but what I see includes the following:

1) In other countries engineering is considered more prestigious than it is here.

2) More and more, engineering is moving to the countries where the hardware is produced.

3) The only big exception to 2) in is weapons-related development.

4) Younger people have more concern about personal and group survivability.

5) In the US at least, engineers are more and more being used to do things that technicians (non-college-trained) used to do.

You could say that the focus in the US has shifted off innovation and onto protecting gains made in the past. This is a situation that goes way beyond the engineering community.

But the challenge I see now is to connect the willingness that young people have to innovate with the survivability issues that have been pushing us into a more defensive approach. And to use their creative energy to develop a more "offensive" approach to survival.

A money-motivated career choice indicates that the individual has lost trust in the group and has retreated to a defensive personal survival strategy. Reversing that trend will require systemic changes that must result in a new-found belief that the nation and its institutions can survive and want to survive. And that is a tall order. I am seeing levels of public cynicism that I have never seen before. There is a lot of house cleaning to be done among the groups that form the supporting structure of our country today: banking, the corporate sector, medicine, academia, and all branches of government. These have all become tarnished institutions and must now go through a process of re-evaluation and reform if they want to regain the trust of the public and of our young people in particular. I have been sickened by what I have learned in the 30 years since I was 25. A revivification of our country and its institutions will not take place if we don't change our operating basis.

And I believe that means moving away from simply defending our position on the planet and towards leading it in the direction of a sustainable future.

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#14

Re: How Can We Lure Engineers Back to Engineering?

09/28/2011 8:46 AM

Oh. Good one. Now let me see..... <cough, wheeze, sneeze, dribble>

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