Career Pathways

To the chagrin of many graduating students, more employers than ever have begun to require fluency in science, technology, and engineering skills as well as comprehensive knowledge of mathematics—even for jobs outside traditional STEM fields.

That’s because today’s employers seek workers who possess more than a high level of cognitive skill and ability. Many jobs involve critical thinking, complex and creative problem solving, and an ability to adapt. These are the skills and structured methodologies that students develop, by and large, through STEM curricula that emphasize applying classroom instruction to hands-on, project-based learning.

“In the era of Google, we don’t need people who can memorize, we need people who can think,” stated Dan Barstow, who is education manager for the International Space Station, in “State of STEM,” a report released last year by STEMconnector.

But colleges and universities don’t always require STEM training for non-technical undergraduates, thus leaving some graduates unprepared for the rapidly evolving labor market, according to the report.

Skills are a constantly moving target, changing all the time. To successfully deal with this, schools and communities must look to build strong workforce ecosystems comprised of students, educators, and employers where candid discussions will take place about the skills necessary to succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s job market

In this month's cover story of Mechanical Engineering magazine, "New Manufacturing Takes Flight," senior content manager Jeff O'Heir writes about Pratt & Whitney's push to tighten its relationships with local technical schools, community colleges, and universities so that the company can recruit the types of graduates it needs most. P&W executives and engineers also sit on school advisory boards to suggest courses to add or trends to explore in order to prepare students for careers in Industry 4.0.

For many reasons, it’s a great time to pursue a technology career. Engineering, for example, is a dynamic discipline that integrates and applies knowledge from various fields and draws on a broad and expanding portfolio of technical and professional skills: creativity and design, oral and written communication, teamwork and leadership, interdisciplinary thinking, business acumen and entrepreneurship, and multicultural understanding.

These skills open doors. While almost 90 percent of degreed engineers use their engineering skills in their jobs, many do not work directly in engineering over their careers, according to “Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers,” a 2018 report from the National Academy of Engineering. Only 36 percent of engineering bachelor’s degree holders work in engineering occupations in the United States, while another 46 percent are employed in closely associated occupations that draw heavily on technical and professional engineering knowledge and skills. The remaining 18 percent work in non-STEM jobs.

Staying in engineering makes financial sense. The median lifetime earnings for those working full time in engineering is far higher than for other majors: $2.18 million for electrical engineers, $2.09 million for mechanical engineers, and $1.91 million for civil engineers, compared with $1.34 million for other majors.

On a final note, the National Academy report notes two activities that make it more likely for students who start out as engineering majors to stay that way until they graduate. The first is participation in internship programs. The other is joining a club or an organization. So don’t forget to send in your ASME membership renewal.

John G. Falcioni is the Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering Magazine.

Reprinted from Mechanical Engineering magazine.

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