Professional engineers earn some of the highest salaries in the US market. It certainly isn’t money for nothing. Engineers routinely shoulder the ultimate responsibility on multimillion dollar projects and carry some of the largest professional liabilities in the modern workforce. It is a testament to their skill and diligence that, even with these huge responsibilities and the huge numbers of projects completed every year, errors and omissions insurance is called upon to pay for damages far less often than any other type of professional liability insurance.
As a licensed PE, an engineer’s education continues throughout his/her entire professional career. Engineers must earn continuing education credits annually, on top of an already rigorous education in mathematics and the scientific principles of mechanics and physics, to maintain state licensing. Although degrees from MIT or Caltech or Stanford carry a great deal of prestige in engineering, every credentialed US college or university can be expected to provide a solid foundation in engineering principals. For the most part, a degree in engineering is what it is.
Several years ago, engineering news sources buzzed with market assessments predicting a coming shortage of qualified engineers. These assessments typically result in a push for primary schools to produce increased numbers of viable candidates. They also result in career counseling at secondary schools or higher institutions for students to consider majoring in whatever career is predicted to be in demand.
Unfortunately, American colleges and universities are not the only ones listening. Foreign schools also eagerly read these reports and change their offerings to take full advantage of the American market demand. Engineering careers serve as a textbook example of this behavior.
The President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness released a report in November of 2011 that cited a lack of skilled engineers in the US as a hindrance to competitiveness and economic recovery. Primary schools began stressing mathematics and sciences, government funding was increased in these areas, and colleges began emphasizing engineering programs. As a result of this activity, we will see higher numbers of newly minted engineers hitting the job market in 2014 and 2015.
For the time being, as the job market makes do with a limited supply for skilled engineers, demand for their services – and the salaries that accompany that demand – should be high. They should be higher, in fact, than they currently are. Why is that?
One reason for this discrepancy is the number of engineers seeking employment. Although there may be a lack of skilled engineers, there is no lack of engineers. Statistics show that the US produces approximately 70,000 undergraduate engineers per year. India produces 350,000 engineers per year, and China graduates 600,000.
When these overwhelming statistics were first publicized, they caused a great deal of concern that the US was becoming less competitive in the global engineering market by simple virtue of numbers. To provide an accurate assessment, however, the statistics must be evaluated properly. In the US, undergraduate engineering degrees require completion of a four-year program. Many of the engineers graduating from India and China have completed only a three-year training program or less.
Do foreign schools produce skilled engineers? Certainly they do, and engineers with foreign degrees should be allowed to compete with engineers with US degrees for employment opportunities. Open competition on a level playing field produces the highest quality results. A level playing field means that engineering degrees must be compared with education of similar quality.
When you are reviewing engineering candidates for an open position, be sure to look beyond the word “degree.” If you are an engineer applying for a position yourself, be sure to emphasize the quality of your education.