Is engineering suffering from an identity crisis?
If somebody asked you what you perceived to be a career in engineering, there are dozens of different aspects you could look at. Civil engineering, chemical engineering, electrical engineering, design engineering, the list goes on. Is it fair to suggest that engineering is suffering from an identity crisis of sorts?
Engineering means something different to everybody
The word “engineering” is connected with a whole array of different careers all of which come under the engineering umbrella but can be very different. It is, therefore, difficult to educate the wider public with a one ideal fit. This is where we need to look at school education and post-school education so that potential engineers of the future do not fall between the gaps. Many people leave school with a particular set of skills and aims which would be perfectly aligned with a career in engineering. How many of them make it into the world of engineering?
Different skills in engineering
Design engineering is very different from mechanical engineering, and chemical engineering is very different from electrical engineering, and the list goes on. As a consequence, the particular skill sets required for various areas of engineering need to be publicised to a greater extent. Skill sets, potential career advancements as well as remuneration and employment opportunities are all areas which need to be promoted a lot more than they are today.
The old idea of an engineer slipping on a set of overalls, working with engines all day and getting covered in grease and grime is long gone. True, there are various areas of the engineering industry where manual labour can take centre stage, but there are many other alternatives including computer-aided design, etc. In a world where computer skills are central to the development of children going forward, why are more people, both male and female, not even considering a career in engineering?
Male and female divide
The idea that the engineering industry is a male-dominated workplace is still relatively strong in the minds of many people today but is this a fair reflection of the opportunities available? As we touched on above, the perception that manual labour is an integral part of the engineering sector today has actually been superseded by the development of computer-aided design, etc. So, while many potential female engineers are more than able to hold their own in the manual labour stakes, those looking for non-manual labour intensive careers have more opportunities than they perhaps think.
Potential female engineers of years gone by have on numerous occasions mentioned what many see as a “sexist” element of this perceived male-dominated industry. It is easy to forget sometimes that recent equality legislation has changed the whole working environment right across the board. Any inappropriate language should be reported and challenged as soon as possible, inequalities between the remuneration of female and male engineers are now few and further between and in theory there should be equal opportunities for both male and female engineers.
In practice, there is still much to do, but there is no doubt that the perceived “male dominated” era of years gone by has been diminished somewhat.
Why is engineering not a first choice career for many?
We have only just touched on the massive variation in engineering opportunities across the UK and indeed across the world. Whether you are looking towards electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering or design engineering, naming but a few, the opportunities are immense. The fact is that engineering as a career needs to be promoted more in schools and further education with more apprenticeships made available and more funding required.
It would be wrong to suggest we have not seen significant changes in the way in which engineering is perceived as a career, but there is still a long way to go. Inequalities in the workplace are being addressed, different types of career are now more heavily promoted and the old stigma often attached to a career in engineering is gradually disappearing. Have you ever considered a career in engineering?