Engineering fields are experiencing massive growth throughout all sectors of the job market, but even with the push of getting more engineers through schools, the US economy is seeing a shortage in qualified workers. Sitting right around $93,000 a year according to Census.gov, engineering has the highest potential average salary for workers across all majors. Potential pay is certainly a driving factor for many who go into engineering, but once students get out of college with an engineering degree, few end up working in their respective field. Many graduates end up leaving the engineering fields altogether. So, what is pushing our students away from engineering jobs and into other areas of the market?
Data gathered by the Washington Post suggests that as many as 75 percent of those with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees don’t work in their respective fields. This is a staggering number when you consider the lack of workers with technical degrees in the US. Wages in these fields are up, and companies are constantly seeking qualified individuals. Still, engineering degree holders are getting drawn to other industries. Let’s get to the bottom of what is causing this. Below, you can take a look at a graphic generated by the US Census Bureau. Colored lines connecting majors to work fields show the number of graduates working in STEM fields, whereas the gray lines depict graduates working in non-STEM fields.
There is a major incentive for students considering various college degrees to pursue a career in the engineering and technology fields over other options. The most influential factor in this decision could very well be money and allure rather than passion for engineering. Many mechanical engineers, for example, are recruited into the degree path with allures of designing cars and other machines. Many of us already know, these jobs are few and far between, whereas the more common job available is something seemingly mundane such as air conditioner design. There’s nothing wrong with a technical job in this field, and as a country, we need smart individuals pursuing these jobs. Here inlies the problem, as an institution we are getting people interested in what STEM can offer them, rather than STEM itself.
When a student spends four to five years of their life thinking they can become the next car designer, only to end up mindlessly creating machine plans, they will naturally gravitate towards other fields. Instead of interesting students in money and fancy jobs, we should be interesting them in the core of engineering: math, design, problem-solving, creativity.
A life of fulfillment through problem-solving and creativity is far more promising than one fulfilled through money.
Let’s look into another aspect of engineering degrees. As a whole, they are known to have some of the highest attrition rates when compared to other degrees. According to research from the National Center for Educational Statistics, 48 percent of engineering students between the years 2003 and 2009 dropped out before graduation. This high attrition rate is to be expected, however. Below, you can take a look at the percentage of workers with matching degrees and majors to their respective jobs.
Anyone that has been through an engineering education knows that not just anybody can handle the math and the stress. While this “in-school” attrition rate is high comparatively, it only bolsters the magnitude of the “after-graduation” attrition rate. The statistic that 75 percent of engineers aren’t working in engineering disciplines can be considered the “after-graduation” attrition rate. After students have gone through both of these high-attrition scenarios, the industry is seeing a shortage of engineers.
So, when looking into the state of the engineering educational system, we see that students are failing to recognize certain engineering jobs as exciting or interesting, thus choosing jobs in other fields. To stop this shortage of engineers, and to keep trained engineers working in engineering, we have to be real about the state of the engineering economy, and interest students in engineering, not the benefits of a career in engineering.