Not Your Father’s Career

Not Your Father’s Career

Engineering has changed a lot and continues to change. I think a lot of the technological aspects of this are pretty obvious. But something that might be more appropriate to this economy is what engineering means as a profession. I remember earlier this year when we asked on here whether engineering was a respected profession. But now I think there’s a new question being asked: whether engineering is a stable job.

According to the census bureau there are something like 1.6 million engineers employed in the US. A whopping 12% of those are direct employees of state, local or the federal government. It doesn’t list how many engineers are indirectly funded by the government by working on government grants in science or engineering, working for companies that receive direct payment for goods and services from the government for infrastructure programs or even direct commercial goods, or how many are employed by the defense industry. It seems certain now that we can’t necessarily expect growth in government employment in the coming years. The US seems to be graduating somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 engineers a year. A look at any online career site over the last couple months will generally show about 50,000 jobs open for “engineer”. Though roughly 20,000 of those or more are for software engineers.

The BBC reported last month nearly a quarter of UK engineering grads take unskilled jobs. And a study by reed.co.uk is reporting that only 56% of engineering graduates feel their degree positioned them for a better job. About 30% think their degree has not helped them find stable employment. Many older engineers now will say that layoffs and job insecurity are not new things. I’m personally aware of how swings in the defense industry due to the upswings and downswings of the cold war personally affected engineers, designers and technicians. But in many cases they were able to bounce back within a few years. We know that this economic recession is a special case. But I think it’s just shining a light on issues that might turn out to be trending. Engineering is not what it once was: a solid, stable career that led to a staunchly middle class lifestyle. Already many engineers I went to school with have backup plans of business or law degrees or are willing to take international jobs to meet their financial goals.

What do you think, like the engineering graduates surveyed would you recommend or do you wish you had chosen a different degree? Do you think this is a temporary blip for engineers or the harbinger of new dark economic times ahead?

(Photo credit: Kacey3)

4 comments

Engineering was going to be my pick if my plans to get into nursing school fell through (luckily it didnt) One thing that I am finding with the majority of my peers that are going into engineering is their entrepreneurial spirit isnt there. As with most college students, we are not learning any leadership abilities. Instead most students feel as if their degree will lead to a lifetime of being on someone else payroll. If the companies out there are not willing to hire in new grads, then the new grads should make an attempt to ban together IMO.

I am the child of two engineers, I am married to one and my brother recently graduated with and undergraduate degree in engineering, so I might be a bit biased (I am an academic scientist). I think that engineering (especially computer and electrical engineering) is actually one of the few remaining great ways to make a decent living in this country without going into enormous debt. You might not work for the same company your entire career but you can go to a good school, and get a degree, and actually make money right out of college. In contrast people with a BS in my area of science typically make about half of what the engineers do out of college.

About a year ago I moved with my husband to from one small east-coast city to a larger one, and my husband had 3 jobs offers in a week after we arrived. I think we’re way better off than other people I know where one partner is a lawyer or something like that.

“nearly a quarter of UK engineering grads take unskilled jobs.”

An unfortunate truth for many right now. Highly skilled individuals are forced to take jobs they are vastly overqualified for in order to make ends meet. Hopefully a bounce back isn’t far off.

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