June 24, 2007
June 24, 2007
June 27, 2007
12.1436.1 - 12.1436.11
The Incredible Shrinking Job Description: Trends and Consequences of an Increasingly Technical Engineering Profession
Abstract: ASEE promotes the importance of graduating engineers who possess a host of non- technical skills to complement their technical competencies. As this year of dialog draws to a close, the authors are interested in the extent to which such well-roundedness is reflected in the actual work that engages engineering graduates. Using quantitative data from the 1993, 1997 and 2003 National Survey of College Graduates, this paper analyses the changes in work characteristics of jobs that employ graduates of U.S. engineering programs. Contrary to expectations, the authors find that engineering work has become more narrowly technical over the last decade. While some may celebrate this trend as evidence of an increased “purity” in engineering work, the authors argue that if this trend continues, serious negative consequences could ensue for engineering education, industry, and the social conception of engineering.
The American Society for Engineering Education is committed to reforming engineering education to give students the skills necessary to excel in an increasingly complex occupational world. It promotes the importance of graduating well-rounded engineers who, in addition to their technical competence, have refined communication skills, political savvy, and deep-seated commitments to ethical practice. The visibility and positive reception of the National Academy of Engineering’s The Engineer of 2020: Visions of a New Century1 attests to the increasing importance of this commitment. The purpose of this article is to examine the extent to which such well-roundedness is reflected in the actual work that engages graduates of U.S. engineering programs.
In undertaking this study, the authors expected to find evidence of graduates applying their problem-solving skills to non-technical arenas such as policy work, public service, or legislation. This hypothesis was introduced by The Engineer of 2020, and serves as an axiom within the ASEE community. The authors ventured beyond The Engineer of 2020’s “suite of recommendations” to conduct a more quantitatively rigorous analysis of engineering work over the last decade. Contrary to expectations, the work that engages engineering graduates does not reflect this well-roundedness and is instead becoming more narrowly technical. While staunch traditionalists may celebrate such a narrowing trend as evidence of an increased “purity” in engineering work, the authors argue that serious negative consequences could arise if this trend continues.
This paper will describe the narrowing trend in engineering through a quantitative analysis of a decade of national survey data, and critique the trend from the vantage points of education, industry, and society. Analysis of the causes of this trend is beyond the scope of this paper. As a result of this study, the authors provide provocative insights into current engineering trends in the hope that it will fuel reform in engineering education.
Cech, E., & Boettcher, K., & Sherick, H. (2007, June), The Incredible Shrinking Job Description: Trends And Consequences Of An Increasingly Technical Engineering Profession Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. https://peer.asee.org/2518
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