Re-branding Engineering

Recently there was an comment / article in the EE Times about re-branding the engineering profession as one that is rewarding on many different levels. I wanted to share my reaction to the article, for anyone who might grace these pages with their eyes.

I would definitely agree with Cohn's perspective. He is the IBM fellow who spoke out about his love for the profession, and how he would do it for free. I myself feel the same. John Cohn spends a lot of his time trying to re-brand the engineering profession, and make it exciting for youths. On the other hand, there is a lot of truth to the follow-up saying that the job market for people like us is getting smaller and smaller in North America and Western Europe.

People who don't understand engineering practise, see it as just another expense to get what they want in the end. Yes, that sentiment is directed at the majority of management. So why would any business entity, in their right mind, spend more money to have engineering done in the western world, when they can get the same product from the eastern world at a fraction of the price? From an engineer's perspective, meaning we think sometimes too much about process and financial efficiency, our natural answer to that question, would be 'none'. Maybe the engineering curriculum should include a course about the societal responsibility towards engineering.

Our social system, in North America at least, is starting to become tarnished. We have some of the best technical universities in the world. However, once our engineering graduates step out of the gates, they find themselves in one of the worst job market declines in history. I find it somehow disturbing, that a high-school dropout working on an automotive assembly line can have more in wages, benefits, and job security than a lot of engineers that I know.

Engineering is one of the most demanding disciplines in terms of training requirements, but the social and financial rewards of a career in the discipline are starting to disappear. Training (in North America at least) costs a lot of money. When the payback is not there after graduation and there is only incentive to move to Asia to find work, or to push a pencil at desk somewhere doing some unrelated job, it can be a very discouraging experience. Society today does not reward engineers for their hard work. Aside from labelling engineers as geeks or nerds, this does not paint a very great picture for the future generations.

Aside from outsourcing, middle-management is another problem. I like my company because we have relatively few overpaid executives. The result is that the engineers hold a large part of the business responsibility and decision power. My boss still writes code - it's amazing. The structure of our organization is more-or-less flat, as opposed to hierarchical, like a pyramid, where each manager has a manager.

Maybe these tough economic times will fertilize the industrial landscape for new and unique companies to sprout up. Undoubtedly, this requires that the government make some venture capital available. New graduates who attend a job fair should see a booth that says something of the form
Are you a fountain of new ideas? Are you independent and self-motivated? Good leadership skills? Get a government grant to jump-start your company!

Aside from bailing out the auto industry (don't get me wrong, we definitely need more gas-guzzling cars on the road ... cough, cough, ahem ...), the government should also be making initiative for our young engineers to start rebuilding the industry closer to home, from the rubble of industries that once were.

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