Quick poll: The amount of new engineers and scientists entering the profession is critically low. Why do you think this is?
Comment from Justin Roux, Senior Vice-President of Communications at Luvata
Let me begin with one of the most frightening statements you may ever read
The average age of the qualified engineer increases by 3 years, every 5. It is currently at about 56. That means that, in about 12 years, the average engineer will have retired. Just when we run out of oil, reach the height of our battle against global warming and the human population breaks over 7billion, our problem solvers will be switching off their PCs and leaving work to sit in the garden for the rest of their lives. That will leave us with Paris Hilton, George Clooney, David Beckham and our politicians – none of whom have ever seen a spanner, so you can forget critical combustion calculations.
I’m terrified. We need to know why humans are abandoning their natural desire to solve problems and invent things. Let’s look at the poll.
At the bottom of the list, workload scores 12%. I’m not surprised. Who can say they don’t feel guilty if they leave the office before their boss does more then two days in a row? We’re working harder than ever before and I don’t imagine there’s much variation across the professions. However, a student entering university with no long-term career plan (and I suspect this is the majority) might be faced with a choice: engineering with its 37-hour lecture timetable and 6 hours of laboratory work per week, versus a 2-year masters' diploma in golf-course management and the Spice Girls, involving a 2-hour lecture timetable and a field trip to Sunset Beach. I can see why engineering loses out.
The image of engineers comes second from bottom. I’m surprised by that. Back in 1989 when I graduated, engineers had less idea about fashion than farmers, knew more about mathematics than the entire economics department and were usually found in the corner of the bar talking about bridges falling over. They all listened to heavy metal and had beards – even those who couldn’t grow one. A recent increase in television programmes showing how much fun there is in engineering may have changed that. That’s a good thing – it’s high time our children started playing with dirt in the garden again instead of hanging around shopping precincts and buying £500 pairs of training shoes that they’ll never run in.
Lack of knowledge of the profession? Yes. I agree. I believe that the engineering profession is guilty of not defending its reputation. We have no shortage of doctors, lawyers and chartered accountants because these are all professions that have controlled their identity. People know what they are. You can’t call yourself a lawyer if you’re not qualified as one. Engineers? Everyone from the designer of the space shuttle to a self-trained DIY plumber can call themselves an engineer. What does an engineer do? If you asked that question on the street you’d get a million different answers. Until the profession can present something that people will understand, it will not attract new talent.
Finally: salaries. Obviously, an expection of salary would depend on what sort of thing you imagine an engineer does (see previous paragraph). However, a quick look on Google shows that engineering managers earn 20% more basic salary than bank fund managers. However, when you include bonuses, the fund managers take the lead. In fact, the average engineer doesn’t seem to get a bonus at all. And let’s face it – if you were qualified with enough brainpower to fly a robot to the Moon, why not walk into a job in city banking and aim to retire with a cool $1milllion at 30?
Perhaps the recession will put a stop to that. The banking system we’ve relied upon has crumbled and it’s happened just when we had bigger things to worry about. In the media, we can already see fewer images of expensive watches, fast cars and massive personal wealth. People are reacting more to messages of integrity, care and compassion. Perhaps a time has come for people who are not motivated by green pieces of paper but by how much better tomorrow could be.
Perhaps the day is over for the person in the $5,000 suit and diamond watch. One way or another, we’ll survive this recession and maybe we’ll learn that money isn’t everything. Maybe, without an Xbox 360 to play on, our children will go outside and find out what they can do by nailing two pieces of wood together. Maybe tomorrow’s heroes won’t wear moisturiser and pluck their eyebrows – they’ll have dirty fingernails, they’ll eat common-sense food and they’ll know how to fix their own plumbing. Perhaps it’s time to roll up our sleeves and fix our own problems again instead of ordering solutions on eBay.
6 months ago, I walked past a BMW that had broken down. There was steam coming out of the engine. The people who were sitting inside (they happened to be a pair of jewel-covered young ladies) had no idea what to do. “Open it up.” I said. “Let’s have a look.” “Are you a mechanic?” They asked. “No. I’m an engineer.” They smiled at each other.
For a moment, I knew how it felt to say: “My name is Bond… James Bond.”
I think our time has come.