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Engineering Graduates *not* Going into Engineering

  1. Dec 20, 2014 #1
    This thread isn't for myself as I took a job in engineering after graduating from it. It's something I'd like to ask here due to the large American readership of this forum.

    In the UK there is a perception that "most" engineering graduates do not then progress onto careers in the sector. I looked at the numbers and although that statement is false, it's not far from actually being true: only about two thirds of engineering graduates take up jobs in the sector, and that is out of those who secure jobs only, not those who do not find employment.

    Whilst I knew that not all went into the sector, I never expected the numbers to be that low. Thankfully for engineering graduates, but perhaps not for the engineering sector, the degree is highly valued by employers across a wide range of sectors, many of which offer better salaries like accountancy, finance, banking, media, consulting etc., who tend to "steal" many of the brightest engineering graduates. Many even actually enter the subject with little intention to make a career in it, or quickly lose interest in such a career, having only chose the subject due the level of respect it receives amongst employers. Is it like this elsewhere?

    Another thing is that many engineering students struggle to find jobs in the sector, and sometimes feel "punished" for their lack of real world engineering experience, whereas many other sectors can feel more open to those who have no such experience. It seems somewhat bizarre that an engineering graduate may find it easier to get a job as an accountant than an engineer if they did not manage to secure any relevant experience during their degree, but from my own experience I can't say that engineering is a sector that is kind to those who don't have relevant experience of some sort.

    So what's the situation like where you are?
     
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  3. Dec 20, 2014 #2

    SteamKing

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    It's hard to say. I believe most of the graduating members of my class went into engineering at first, but, over time, people sometimes drift out of engineering into other fields, move into management, go into teaching, etc. At my school, other alumni have given up engineering and gone into the clergy, gone to law school, jumped to a career in another branch of engineering, and studied medicine.

    I have been fortunate (or cursed, I don't know which) to have practiced for 35 years the engineering field I originally studied without the desire or need to switch careers. It hasn't been easy, but I've managed to keep plugging away at it.

    Engineering is like most other professions. What you study at college is only part of the training required in order to have a successful career. I know of no engineering graduates fresh out of school who were fully practicing from Day One on the job. There are some things which come only with experience and in-field training, things you can't get in school. To even become a professional engineer and to obtain a license as one, you have to sit for an engineering in training exam, train for a period of time (usually four years), and then sit for another exam in the principles and practice of engineering.

    It may seem to you that engineering graduates moved into another field because they couldn't find a job as engineers, or because you perceived that it is easier for an engineering graduate to get a job in another field like accounting, but this perception is probably inaccurate to some degree. If an engineer jumps into another field, he is likely to start at the bottom, learning the basics of that new profession.

    This is not to say that some engineering graduates lose interest in engineering, because they do. Sometimes they lose interest while in school, and either switch to another course of study, or they drop out altogether.
     
  4. Dec 20, 2014 #3
    As Shaun_W points out, people often begin a study and then lose interest. I think that's universal to all professions. There are also a few casualties when people encounter the real world and discover that it wasn't what they studied in school, so they move on to other things. These are normal acts of self discovery. Engineering would not be any different in that regard either.

    What disturbs me is the career track in many companies I've seen. One starts off as an engineer and then quickly move toward management. Why? Because that's where the promotions and money are. There is virtually no room for a well-paid senior engineer who mentors and guides the new engineering staff. So the junior engineers go off and do ignorant things. The company then decides that engineering must be hard, so they outsource it to some other entity with even less familiarity with the problem than the junior engineers in the company already have.

    And that is when the slide toward stupidity happens.

    Engineering is an avocation. It is a mindset. It is a skillset that dulls quickly if one does not make an effort to keep them sharp. There is still a great deal of apprenticeship in engineering that is overlooked by almost everyone. So the concern about engineers migrating toward other endeavors is real.
     
  5. Dec 20, 2014 #4

    SteamKing

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    If you make a mistake as an accountant, somebody might lose some money. If you make a mistake as an engineer, well ...
     
  6. Dec 21, 2014 #5
    Thank you for your replies.

    Yes, I fully understand that one does not immediate start fully practising their profession from day one.

    What I was trying to convey was that other professions can feel a lot more open for entry to fresh graduates with little to no experience. To graduate with a good mark in an engineering degree, one has to be both quite bright and reasonably hard working. And many engineering students are getting the impression that other professions are a lot more willing to take on someone who is bright and hard-working, and provide the necessary training, than engineering.

    Thank you for your replies.

    Most engineering students know the deal in that career progression within engineering can top-out quite rapidly unless one wants to go into management, so I don't think this puts off people from going into engineering careers. I wouldn't classify taking up an engineering management job as leaving engineering, not like, for example, taking up a job as an actuary or working in the marketing department of an energy company directly after graduation from an engineering degree. They still served time as engineers. Although it clearly is an issue of companies are forcing their talented employees away from the area of their talents.
     
  7. Dec 21, 2014 #6

    SteamKing

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    It's not clear what those professions might be.

    A lot of engineering jobs are advertised looking for candidates with so many years of experience, and especially with experience managing projects. I think if the engineering student wishes to overcome some of the disadvantages of graduating with zero experience and trying to find a job, seeking an internship while going to school will give prospective employers an 'audition' so to speak of the student, to see if he would be a worthwhile hire after graduation. Some internships are paid, but I also understand some are not.

    I can't speak to what impressions students are gaining from their job hunts, but times have been tough lately, not only for engineers, but many other professions as well. It costs an employer a lot of money and time to take on a fresh hire and get him the necessary experience.
     
  8. Dec 21, 2014 #7
    I have noticed in the U.S that certain engineering positions require one to have a PE license. Getting a job as an engineer is difficult without it for certain fields, mainly aerospace and civil. I was not an engineering major, but many of my friends were. They did not have difficulty getting jobs, however the type of jobs they got were varied. My friend who majored in bio medical engineering is a consultant for a pharmaceutical company. It really depends on the type of job you want and the companies you look at.

    I have seen many advertisements for entry level engineering positions for software engineering and electrical engineering.

    I think if one wants a job as an engineer, it's very important to have experience. All of my friends had internships under their belt. Getting an A in a course does not say much about how one can perform at a job. Just like recommendation letters from professors one did research with are strongest for graduate school, I think LORS from people you have worked with are strongest for getting jobs. I know people who weren't even close to being top of their class that got decent jobs with decent pay. It goes to show how much experience matters for getting jobs.

    I agree with one of the above posting that engineering is a skill set. It can prepare you for a wide range of careers, not just engineering. You won't know which type of career is right for you, if you don't explore.
     
  9. Dec 21, 2014 #8

    OldEngr63

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    Jake is right on the money here. The federal government is about the worse in this regard, with the US Navy as a prime example. In the mid-20th century, there was a Navy office called the Bureau of Ships that designed all US Navy ships. They were really quite good at what they did. The Navy eventually decided that outsiders could do a better job, so they now let the ship builders design all the ships. There is NO DESIGN COMPETENCE for ships in the US Navy, and I think that is a tragedy. The builders design what they want to build, telling the Navy that their design will meet the performance spec set by the Navy, often a lot of bull.

    Senior engineers (non-managers) are often left up a creek as far as promotion and salary increases. This necessarily forces people into management.
     
  10. Dec 21, 2014 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    But now there are more admirals than ships! *

    * Not technically true. There are 288 "deployable battle force ships", which includes submarines, and 220 admirals.
     
  11. Dec 22, 2014 #10

    StatGuy2000

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    Jake, I certainly agree that the career track in many companies for engineers involve moving toward management, but I don't see how this is really any different for almost any job out there, at least in the private sector, and probably also for many public sector jobs as well. For example, for those who work in construction, the promotions involve becoming a foreman (i.e. manager of construction staff). And ideally, part of the job of the manager is to serve as a mentor and guide to new staff (now of course, this does not happen necessarily for many companies, although I've been lucky in my career thus far).
     
  12. Dec 23, 2014 #11
    The main competitor for engineering graduates I heard was accountancy, probably due to the huge numbers that are recruited into the profession each year. Actuarial was also supposed to be quite common, as well as a host of financial positions that themselves may or may not technically be a profession.

    It's actually very difficult to get an internship of some sort. One of the companies I interned at only offered around a fifth of the amount of interns as they did graduate positions. They strongly preferred candidates with internship experience for their graduate positions. I don't think my current employer offers internships or work experience to undergraduates, but I will have to check, just out of curiosity.

    Exactly. But other sectors and professions seem to manage. Accountancy firms, for example, will happily take a graduate with absolutely no previous experience in accounting, with a degree that is not in the slightest bit relevant, and turn them into a fully practising chartered accountant in three years, via expensive exams and tuition and time off work to study. Yet engineering firms seem more content with thinking about reasons why they can't do things than coming up with solutions that will enable them to do things.
     
  13. Dec 23, 2014 #12
    That's interesting about the accountancy firms in the UK.

    In the US I've never even heard of someone with an engineering degree going into accounting. They won't have (or be able to get) their CPA, and non-CPA accounting jobs tend to have mediocre pay and be horrifyingly dull.
     
  14. Dec 23, 2014 #13

    SteamKing

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    I think it's easier to turn an engineer into an accountant than vice versa. Forty years ago, my late father, who had worked in the space program with a degree in industrial engineering (obtained from going to night school, no less), took correspondence courses in accounting as preparation for transitioning to a job in income tax work, after the space program contracted following the cancellation of the Apollo program.

    Whether accounting firms are forced to make conversions because too few students seek to study accounting when they matriculate to college is another thing. Accounting is one of the fortunate professions, IMO, which has a built-in hedge against tough economic times, unlike engineering, which waxes and wanes according to how much investment is available to fund new projects. The economy's up or the economy's down, you'll always need an accountant working somewhere to figure out how well you're doing.
     
  15. Dec 23, 2014 #14

    russ_watters

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    Which isn't even relevant anyway, since admirals rarely command ships...
     
  16. Dec 23, 2014 #15

    Vanadium 50

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    But it does show managerial bloat.
     
  17. Dec 23, 2014 #16
    I agree with your first paragraph, but I still think you're missing my point in your second. They (accounting firms) take on graduates of any degree discipline (whether mathematical or not) because their goal is to secure the best talent for their organisation, and the best talent studies a variety of disciplines, from maths to music, physics to history. They have a goal, and they are proactive about reaching it by making themselves as open as possible to those they need to recruit. Sadly, I think many engineering firms are the opposite.
     
  18. Dec 23, 2014 #17
    It's not uncommon in the UK because a newly qualified accountant can be on the type of money that some types of engineers can expect to retire on.
     
  19. Dec 23, 2014 #18

    SteamKing

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    I don't think that engineering firms necessarily want to avoid taking on new hires, but given economic conditions at large, it may not be wise for them to do so. It might come down to having to make room for new junior engineers by laying off more experienced senior engineers, and this is a trade-off which engineering managers may be quite reluctant to make.

    Accountancy firms have the luxury of taking on people from outside their profession and throwing some training their way because it means they will be able to better serve their clients; i.e., the demand for accounting services is such that it makes economic sense to train those from outside the profession. The change in the regulatory landscape in the financial services industry means more accountants, from whatever source, are needed.

    OTOH, when no one is buying large commercial aircraft, for instance, it's very hard to get a job at Boeing, engineering or otherwise, unless a vacancy opens up which the company wishes to see filled.

    Of course, it goes without saying that professional organizations strive to seek the best talent, otherwise the future of the organization would be put in jeopardy. But it is another thing to say that accountancy firms, or any others, simply stockpile employees because they can. I think accounting and engineering are two very different fields, not only from the technical aspects, but from a business sense as well. If there is no engineering work to be had, you see the private consulting or design engineering firms downsize their staffs, consolidate, or close up shop altogether.
     
  20. Dec 23, 2014 #19
    Interesting. Here's what a quick google search turned up:

    If I convert this to dollars (assuming that's meaningful), I suppose it's a little higher than I expected, but not that much.

    I think the ability to become chartered on the job is very cool (and probably part of the attraction), and something we should have in the US as well. (The idea that you must have a degree in accounting to become a CPA is just stupid).
     
  21. Dec 25, 2014 #20

    StatGuy2000

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    Is that really the case in the US? To become a CPA you really must have a degree specifically in accounting?
     
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