Although engineering has been, and in many cases continues to be, a rewarding career, some respondents to my August editorial say it has become much less attractive in recent years. Opinions vary about advising young people to take up engineering, and some are concerned about the effect on our country as engineering becomes less viable as a career choice.
Comparisons with other professions are inevitable. For example, one reader says "In the year 1900, a good American doctor could expect to make $2,500 per year; an engineer could expect to earn $5,000 in a year. These incomes were well above those of other Americans, including baseball players. Since then, the incomes have all flipped, and engineers are trailing other professionals-even nurses and some school teachers-in regard to pay, benefits and retirement packages. So why would anyone want to go through the extra school work to become an engineer when, in comparison, a business course is a breeze and provides greater earning potential?"
Although some employers continue to lament a shortage of engineers, most engineers say this is phony. There might be a shortage of engineers with extensive experience in a few specific disciplines. But more often than not, the so-called shortage is simply cherry-picking.
"If there were truly a shortage of engineers in this country, wages would reflect this condition," says one reader. "Yet wages in this country remain stagnant, if not declining, even though housing, health care, energy and college tuition continue to rise at rates greater than inflation. I feel the most concern for recent college graduates, as entry-level salaries for engineers have suffered the most. About one-third of our engineering staff is comprised of co-ops, and it is no surprise that the majority don't return for a second term. I urge many of them to consider engineering careers related to health care, defense or any job where they don't have to work for the same salary their entire life."
Other readers concurred in discouraging their children and other young people from taking up engineering, although one says he advises high school and college students to "do what really interests you, but take a serious look at an engineering career because of the positive effects engineers have on society and how engineers make a difference every day."
A common and discouraging thread is that industry leaders emphasize business education more than technical education and capability, and short-term gains rather than investing in the company's future. "I believe that we will see the shortage of engineers in the United States increase as older engineers retire with no new engineers to replace them," says one reader. "There will be a serious need for experienced engineers and our national competitiveness will suffer." As another reader put it, "a strong technical and manufacturing base is the foundation for a strong and secure long-term economy." We couldn't say it any better!