Summary: In this article I investigate why nobody wants to become an engineer. The goal is to make more people enthusiastic for a career in engineering and to support engineers.
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On my LinkedIn profile there are a lot of vacancies lately for technical jobs. I catches my eye. The economy is growing, big investments are being made, and people build. Next to economists, lawyers, communication specialist, I see a large amount of vacancies for engineers.
Among others, I include engineers to be, ICT specialists, architects, mechanical engineers, chemists, Geo-engineers, physicists and civil engineers.
At the moment it seems to be difficult to find suitable candidates for virtually all openings. To fact check this, I have looked at Dutch data for the third quarter in 2017:
According to Statistics Netherlands (CBS) there were 213.500 vacancies in the third quarter of 2017 (Source: CBS). In the same quarter, the Employee Insurance Agency UWV (Dutch) reports that there were 61,000 technical vacancies (for both high-and low-skilled technicians), equaling almost 30% of all vacancies. This is massive if you realize that only 3.6% of the total workforce is an engineer (Source: CBS).
There are many engineers in my network. But those are mainly from my ‘old network‘. From when I was still working at an engineering company. In my ‘new network’, which I have built up since I started in 2014 as a self-employed coach & trainer, there are just a few engineers. I really need to find them at meetings of the Royal Netherlands Society of Engineers (KIVI).
Does nobody want to become an engineer? In This article I try to verify why this might be.
Below are a number of prejudices on why nobody wants to become an engineer:
Engineers are old-fashioned and boring
When I speak to someone in my ‘new network’, I often hear: “My grandfather was an engineer as well”. It seems like something of the past. Maybe people still have the image of an engineer who sits behind the drawing board all day with a pencil and a slide-ruler. Nowadays engineers work with fast computers and 3D programs for their designs and computation models. They also often work in multidisciplinary teams with other technicians, economists or lawyers. Especially in the area of construction sites or large construction works. I was often doing fieldwork (including night shift) or with customers. That was anything but old-fashioned and boring.
There are many initiatives to make young people enthusiastic about an engineering education. There is Rolf Hut, a Scientist and lecturer at the Delft University of Technology is able to make kids really enthusiastic about engineering and gives special lectures (Dutch) for high school students. On his Instagram Feed he regularly shares inventions or assignments of his students (and his son). There are also several engineering companies who organize annually the Geoweek (Dutch) for school children to introduce them to the sciences of soil, water and GeoICT.
The Government has encouraged young people to do a technical study. Last year, several universities in the Netherlands planned to set up a maximum number of students for a number of technical studies. This resulted in protest from both companies and students. Why, old-fashioned and boring?
It is a men’s world
That depends on the industry. The contracting industry has traditionally been a men’s world. But also there, more female engineers tend to find work. The same goes for the government (Ministry of Infrastructure, provinces, water boards and municipalities) where more women hold technical jobs than 30 Years ago.
Despite that more women are opting for a technical study, I am amazed to see on the site of the CBS that only 14% of all engineers are women. Unfortunately, with 86% of men, it seems to be a men’s world indeed. And yet I know a number of female engineers who have a high place in the engineering world. Let this be a support for those young women who consider to do an engineering degree. By the way, according to This article (Dutch), women are better engineers.
It is not prestigious
Are you really successful if you are a banker, lawyer or politician? Or if you have your own business? I don’t think so.
There are countless of well-known engineers who are successful. Just think of Elon Musk, Tim Cook of Apple or Marjan van Loon (Shell).
It does not pay well
When I started as a technical assistant at an engineering company, my monthly salary was just € 1,400. That wasn’t much at all, but that was more than 20 years ago. Much has changed. A short Research (Dutch) on the internet shows that the starting salary of a technical professional (depending on a Bachelor or Master degree) between € 2,200 and €2,700 Euro. In particular, the IT jobs are on the upper limit of this salary range. If you want to earn more, then you should study medicine, fiscal economics or tax law…
Anyway, I often hear and read that engineers do not work for the money but that they are more interested to solve technical problems, innovate and get satisfaction from their work. They have a passion for the profession. Negotiating a good salary appears to have no priority…Or not?
Career advancement opportunities are poor
I started in 1997 as a technical employee at an engineering firm. In a little under 10 years I moved up to become the group manager of a department. At the same engineering office, colleagues (some with lower technical degrees) were promoted to head of department. It had mainly to do with ambition and taking opportunities. If you are happy with making calculations, then the growth opportunities are limited. I see enough engineers in my network who are advancing inside or outside their organization.
It’s about knowing what and why you want and that you communicate this (read my previous article about this).
Technical studies are difficult
Technical studies seem to be popular because there are a lot of math and physics or chemistry courses. If you study Dutch language you also have to read a lot of literature and learn about grammar. It comes to the field. I once heard someone say that his chemical engineering study helped him to think logically. Not everyone has the character strength to follow a technical study. But is it difficult? It seems rather a conviction of people who a technical study is difficult and therefore not ‘fun’.
If your heart is in engineering, I would certainly follow a technical study. I you under perform with your exams, then I would like to know where that comes from (too little effort or knowledge) and do something about it. That means study more, look for a mentor or change to another study, as I did.
There are too few jobs
The number of vacancies for technicians, especially in ICT, do not really show a shortage of jobs (see the data in the fourth paragraph of this article). Many non-technical industries such as banks like to hire engineer. That can lead to a shortage of engineers because they do not work in their field, but work as a consultant for a non-technical employer.
Current and future challenges in the field of environmental and sustainability issues require technically skilled people. This also applies to development in the field of ICT and the development of technology. In the future, much will be automated, and that will have a lot of pressure on the skills of most of today’s workers. But there will always be a need for people who can define strategies, install & maintain equipment and who create.
An engineer is resourceful and ingenious (hence engineer). He/She appeals to the creative essence that is present within each of us. So everyone is an engineer in his or her own way.
Take action now!
Do you have any doubts about your career as an engineer? Are you looking for what gives you satisfaction? What should be a next step in your engineering career? I can help you! Please contact me and I’ll give you the details so you can start as soon as possible to find the right direction for you so you can work and live with joy, purpose and happiness!
Why do you think nobody wants to be an engineer and is this true? Let me know in the comment box below. I look forward to read from you!
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