10 ways to encourage students to take up engineering as a profession

Compared to other majors, engineering does not graduate enough engineers to meet the demand. This imbalance points to a potentially chronic shortage of engineering professionals which in turn threatens the our ability to create and develop necessary innovations for a growing population. To further complicate this predicament, it is a known fact that some of the world’s best engineers are not practicing engineering, and some of the best potential engineers are not even studying engineering.

Considering that emergent advances such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, information and communications technology will only require more engineers, it is perhaps a good time we as a profession took a different route in attracting more student to the profession.  The following solutions consider the global importance of the engineering profession and offers insights into how to make the profession more appealing to the next generation of engineers.

1. Enhance Understanding of Engineering

Around the world, engineering establishments need to develop a coordinated effort to promote public understanding of engineering and technology literacy at the grassroots level.  There is a common misconception that engineering is for ‘nerds’ and that it is a difficult profession to pursue as it involves a lot of mathematics. Such myths often dissuade students from considering a profession in this industry. The public has little understanding of the nature and value of an engineering education.

Engineering schools should help the public understand what engineers do and the role that engineering plays in ensuring their quality of life. A strategy to realign engineering education must be developed within the context of understanding the elements of engineering.

2. Promote Exchange Programs

Exchange programs within the engineering field is critical as it aims to introduce students to the innovations and developments within other cultures;  fostering interactions among the next generation of pioneers in science and technology; and building long-term linkages and collaborations across disciplines, cultures and countries.

For instance, the UK and Japan governments promote Internet links between British and Japanese schools; and encourage exchanges of students and teachers.  Aside from exploring further co-operations through international organizations, both countries are providing wider opportunities for young British and Japanese people to experience, and develop a fuller understanding of the other’s country, culture, people, society and way of life.

3. Development of engineering research centers

Engineering research centers provide an unparalleled collaborative framework between major industrial players and educators to increase mobility of students and faculty. The growing body of research about how students learn can serve as a guide and check at each stage of the work of transforming the under-graduate learning environment.

By focusing on research on learning schools will be able to identify how to serve students with different learning styles, what approaches and pedagogies work and how to support them to become lifelong learners. It also helps them to identify what specific skills are required for the practice of engineering in the twenty-first century.

4. Expand scholarship opportunities

Leveraging scholarships provides a value added incentive for applicants who may want to pursue engineering but are unable to afford the fees. This is a major concern in developing countries that face a critical shortage in skilled manpower due to issues such as poverty.

With recent oil discoveries within the Eastern African Region, Tullow Oil Plc, a prominent industry player announced that it was offering a total of 114 scholarships across its countries of operation. The scholarship would aim to build capacity in areas where the company’s host countries experience significant skills gaps, especially around their oil and gas industries.

Such incentives from industry players provide opportunities to students who are unable to support their own educational pursuits due to economic and financial constraints.

5. Active collaboration with industry players

Engineering is a dynamic field, constantly metamorphosing as new technologies are introduced. To expose students to a wide facet of skills, collaborations with industry players has become imperative for most engineering educational establishments. Some courses on offer may not be beneficial to the industry and result in a large number of unemployed graduates, effectively shying off other prospective engineering students from pursuing this field. Educational establishments need to collaborate with industry players to identify what specific skills they are interested in and set that into the curricular they offer.

Industry leaders should also be encouraged to create internship and research opportunities to allow students to experience a more hands-on approach towards engineering. It also assists students and schools to identify and understand the skills that are sought for during the recruitment process.

6. Raise awareness among high school students

In order to effectively handle various myths that circulate about the field of engineering, governments around the globe should tackle support the development and maintenance of innovative high school level programs. Study materials for high school students should be designed towards a successful engineering career.

Established societies and engineering students can also act as mentors; exposing high schoolers to exciting engineering activities and encouraging them to take pursue this field.

7. Develop international engineering programs

By providing a program that allows students to receive foreign language ability, cross cultural skills and professional experience to effectively work within a multinational environment revolutionizes the overall conception of engineering. Students are able to experience adventure, interaction skills as well as increase their employability prospects and work within different backgrounds.

The University of Rhode Island has an International Engineering Program which trains students both in engineering and German, French, or Spanish. IEP students study language and culture each semester along with their engineering curriculum. In their fourth year, they then go abroad to work as interns in an engineering based firm in Europe or Latin America. Such a program ensures that students graduate not only with an excellent engineering background but fluency in at least one language other than English. Currently, the program boasts 100% job placement rate after graduation.

8. Competitions to popularize engineering to society

In order to increase enthusiasm and attract students to the engineering field, several competitions and campaigns have arisen within educational establishments as well as within the industry. The competitions continue to attract increasing attention from engineering programs across the globe. The participation in these competitions is beneficial to both students trying to develop their design and networking abilities, and institutions trying to promote their programs and increase their visibility.

In France there are various competitions for school students which bridge the education and industry sectors. For example, Course en Cours50 (Race Course) is a contest organized by Dassault Systèmes and Renault, in partnership with the National Ministry of Education, Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, and the youth magazine Science & Vie Junior. It is a collective challenge which allows teams of secondary pupils to conceive of, manufacture and promote a mini-racing car, with the help of a university student tutor. The competition relies on a tight partnership between the school community, the academic world and industry, and is aimed at encouraging students to take up vocations in the scientific and technological fields.

9. Curricular reform

The public’s perception of engineering is influenced by some factors: the nature of engineering practice, the credentials required of engineering practitioners, and the structure and rigor of an engineering education vis-à-vis other baccalaureate or professional education programs. In order to attract more students to the profession the stature of being an engineer must be enhanced.

Furthermore, a great majority of engineering faculty have no industry experience. There is a need for greater collaborations with industry players to develop up to date and relevant curricular for students. Engineering educators should also explore the appropriate use of a case-studies approach in undergraduate and graduate curricula.

In 2011, Israel revised the science and technology curriculum of primary schools, with the purpose to clearly define the knowledge and skills every student should acquire by the time they finish their final year of primary school.  This will ensure that the country’s biggest sectors has a constant supply of future engineers who are exposed to the latest skills and technologies.

10. Overarching technology strategies

Powerful new technologies are already transforming every industry globally. These technologies could possibly also be harnessed to transform education and training. Incorporating ICT into engineering education is also highly rated for providing students with the latest e-skills and opportunities for international networking, needed for effective participation in today’s globalized world.

Rapid advancements in the years ahead could enable new learning environments such as using simulations, visualizations, game playing, intelligent tutors and avatars, networks of learning, and more. The technologies that are coming could create rich and compelling learning opportunities that meet all learners’ needs, provide knowledge and training within a flexible environment, while boosting the productivity of learning and lowering its cost.

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