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Engineers Mostly Upbeat on Future of Profession, but Want More Training

August 29, 2012

The start of a new school year is already underway leading to the often dreaded task of choosing a major. For today's students, balancing a rewarding career with one that offers in-demand employment opportunities has become even more of a struggle. Results from a new survey suggest the engineering field might just fit the bill, however. A survey of more than 1,200 mechanical engineers offers insight into a profession where most hold an optimistic view of their work and their ability to impact lives and meet global challenges. To do so, engineers expect to work more in interdisciplinary teams, enhance their skills, and learn to better communicate outside their field.

The survey conducted by the American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME) addressed the level of optimism toward the profession, changes anticipated in the work environment, fields and disciplines most likely to gain prominence, and tools and techniques needed to succeed, among others. Engineers were asked to rate their level of optimism about the ability to meet global challenges over the next 10-20 years given the current state of the economy and present levels of investment in R&D. While the level of optimism was high overall, it varied significantly by industry. Engineers in the aerospace industry felt much less optimistic about their field, which may be a reflection of the final shuttle flight and space program reorganization, according to the report. Only 34 percent of respondents felt good about this industry.

Energy Cited As Most Cutting-Edge Discipline of the Future
Respondents identified energy and energy-related topics such as sustainability, renewable energy, and clean or green energy as the most cutting-edge fields in the next 10-20 years, followed by bioengineering/biomedical and nanotechnology. A majority of engineers surveyed said they would need additional skills or training in solar/wind, renewable energy and nanotechnology, and 86 percent said they would go about this through self-study.

Communication Skills Most Needed to Succeed
Communication skills and computer/software skills ranked highest when asked what skills or techniques are most needed for engineers to succeed. Early-career engineers placed greater importance on computer programming and software skills while senior engineers put greater emphasis on communication proficiencies. The need to increase language skills and manage global teams also was cited as very important. When asked about personal skills, engineers ranked the ability to deal with the unexpected as the most crucial skill for today and in the near future.

Multidisciplinary Team Work Essential for Meeting Global Needs
Most engineering professionals expect to acquire more multidisciplinary skills and to increasingly work in teams with people outside the engineering field to help solve bigger problems in the areas of clean water, sanitation, energy and food needs for an expanding global population. This will require engineers to update continually their interdisciplinary skills to remain competitive, the report states.

ASME surveyed mechanical engineering professionals in 2011 to better understand the current state of the field and to better anticipate what might occur in the field over the next decade. Read the report: The State of Mechanical Engineering: Today and Beyond.

stem, workforce