Are Engineers Curbing Their Enthusiasm For The Engineering Profession?

Sept. 13, 2004
Are you crazy? Many EEs might say Yes. After all, what sane person would take on the pressures associated with having to solve complex problems every day? Who would want to contend with an influx of foreign workers combined with an outflow of jobs?


hat a difference a year makes. In our 2003 survey, 82% of respondents said they would recommend engineering as a career path to a young person looking to choose a profession. This year, that number slumped to 77%.

What's behind the waning enthusiasm for engineering as a long-term career bet? According to this year's survey, those who remain high on engineering have greater tenure at their present company, are employed at firms that outsource less design work, and are more likely to work for businesses that plan to grow their engineering ranks in the coming year.

Perhaps not surprisingly, these individuals also sit higher on the pay scale and expect bigger raises and larger bonuses in 2004 than their disgruntled colleagues. They also receive more company perks like tuition reimbursement and health-club memberships.

But engineering itself, not finance, remains at the heart of the profession. "Engineering is a profession that impacts society through innovation," stated one survey respondent. "The results of the innovation—whether it be a cell phone, a pacemaker, or a plane—continues to benefit society long after the engineer is no longer around. Compare that to an accountant who after years of work has nothing tangible to show for it."

Other engineers were more guarded in their passion for the profession. "Although the employment environment is not as good for engineers as it has been in the past, there are few jobs as gratifying as engineering," said one. "Also, I believe that the U.S. has gained its greatness as a result of technology leadership, and we need as many new engineers as possible to regain the ground that we have lost in recent years."

Those who have soured on the profession tend to worry more about job security, as well as the financial health of both the economy and their company. Job-related issues like outsourcing and age discrimination weigh in, and their companies currently offshore more R&D and design work, particularly to China and India. Consequently, nearly half (47%) of those with a negative long-term outlook said they were either somewhat or very concerned about the prospect of losing their job to outsourcing, compared to just 25% of those who advance a more positive outlook on the profession.

But conceivably, the biggest source of division between supporters and cynics can be found in the weekly pay stub. Nearly two-thirds of those who advocate the virtues of engineering say their company adequately compensates them for their work. That's a view shared by fewer than half of those who feel somewhat alienated by the profession. Accordingly, only 6% of those who continue to give high marks to engineering said they were actively seeking a new position.

Nearly a third of this group indicated they couldn't envision changing jobs in the foreseeable future. By comparison, engineers who would advise a young person to seek some other career are three times more likely to have their eyes and ears peeled for new employment opportunities. And, only one in six said they couldn't envision changing jobs anytime soon.

Yet when all is said and done, three out of four of you still drink the Kool Aid and beat a drum for the engineering profession. Why? As one reader put it: "Engineering may not look the same in 10 or 20 years as it does today, or even 40 years ago when I began this path. But it will always be an attractive and rewarding profession for a young person with the brains and the heart to contribute to a better quality of life for his fellow man." And what could be better than that?

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