Engineers build the world around us. From skyscrapers to nanotechnology, roller coasters to third-world water systems, engineering touches every aspect of our daily lives. And it shows.
According to Statista, engineering careers represent a $4 billion industry. If it’s true that engineering shapes our entire world, and there are so many lucrative career possibilities, why do only 6 percent of current college graduates earn engineering degrees? Why is this fascinating and ubiquitous field of study so overlooked by many students? What’s preventing some of the most diverse and intelligent individuals from working in engineering?
While we can’t say for sure, there are definitely some common themes we’ve noticed at the Nevada Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors (NVBPELS). Let’s address some of the myths about engineering that could be stifling interest in this fascinating field of study.
MYTH #1: YOU HAVE TO BE SUPER SMART
AND GOOD AT MATH
Yes, there is math required for most engineers. And intelligence is certainly helpful for completing the coursework and examinations. But engineering is not a field of study reserved for the super smart. Engineering studies focus on teaching systems, process and (most importantly) how to approach and solve problems. This is something that people with many different types of personalities and talents can work toward quite successfully. People who are artistic, creative, or skilled at ideation or writing often have unique perspectives on the exact types of problems engineers solve every single day. And with the right training and education, they are desperately needed in the field. The issue is they simply don’t see the connection between creativity, problem solving and engineering. Yes, they will have to survive the mathematics and science courses and learn the systems of engineering, but a little hard work and perseverance can lead to a lifetime of excellent career opportunities.
MYTH #2: YOU’LL SPEND YOUR CAREER SITTING BEHIND A DESK DOING MATH
Some engineers do spend their careers (quite happily) crunching numbers, drawing plans, and digging into data. But that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of engineering jobs available for those who want to get their hands dirty. For those who have a humanitarian drive, there are careers available helping third world countries get clean water and sewage systems set up. Students who love marine life can build massive ships or work with oceanic robotics. Those who are passionate about maximizing our energy resources might try chemical, nuclear, or petroleum engineering on for size. Future doctors might consider earning an undergraduate degree in bioengineering and contributing to the artificial intelligence, medication, or devices that save human lives. Adrenaline and entertainment junkies could use a mechanical engineering degree to design roller coasters.
Regardless of what someone is passionate about, engineering is likely involved. Because it’s founded in principles, systems, and logic, engineering provides the foundation for a successful career in nearly any field. Even banks are hiring engineering majors to work in the financial sector thanks to their mathematics, planning, logic, and problem-solving skills. And the best part? Engineers are actively creating the world around us, so we are truly only limited by what our imaginations can engineer.
MYTH #3: YOU’RE STUCK IN ONE CAREER TRAJECTORY FOREVER
It is true that historically, civil, mechanical, electrical, and other engineers would have stayed in those fields for the entirety of their careers. Times, however, are changing. Today’s engineers are much more interested in pursuing specialties that make them happy and are quite willing to cross fields to make that happen. Just because an engineer starts in one field doesn’t mean they have to stay in that field forever. In fact, many of the careers that will exist over the next decade are in microspecialties revolving around technology and concepts we can’t even imagine right now.
Engineering educators see the writing on the wall and are adjusting curricula to meet those needs. For example, students can study AI and robotic engineering right now instead of going through mechanical engineering and learning about robotics on the job. Even students who are interested in studying medicine can get their undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering and go on to medical school. Ultimately, these doctors will have more options once they graduate, while building a solid foundation in medical and mathematical principles that will help them throughout their academic and professional careers. The foundations of a degree will ultimately translate to many diverse specialties, so students shouldn’t feel trapped by education or even initial job choices. There is room to move and grow depending on where their passions lie.
WHAT’S THE BEST PLAN FOR FUTURE ENGINEERS?
We may be a little bit biased, but we strongly encourage anyone to consider a career in engineering. Students who are interested in math, sciences, or creative fields, or even students who don’t have a strong idea about what they want to do should definitely consider studying engineering. They can speak to current engineers about opportunities, visit the Engineering department at local universities, and speak to current students and professors to learn about available opportunities.
Once someone has chosen to major in engineering, it’s very important to plan for licensure now, so it’s not a surprise at the end of the academic career. Remember all of those amazing careers in the “built environment” (i.e. things that create the world around us)? Those careers often require licensure. Jobs that span the globe, specialties, government opportunities, and roles that directly serve the public will all require licensure. Licensure is simply a credential that proves engineers have met a certain standard that demonstrates that they can practice engineering in a manner that protects the health, safety, and wellbeing of the public. So engineers looking for opportunities, adventure, and diversity should be ready to get that license to add more opportunities to their career. According to Klaus Schwab, we are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, one that centers on robotics, artificial intelligence, and technology. Engineers are going to be at the forefront of that revolution, imagining and creating whatever our future looks like. People who want to be leaders in that revolution will use the power of engineering to change the world.