I am an engineer with a bachelor of engineering, or as my friends refer my job as “nerd by trade”. Unlike the rest of the world, in Australia does not hold engineers with much esteem. This is because of many slurs and misrepresentation of our name and the complete failing of educational facilities and industry to meet standards.
The biggest problem for engineering is bad engineers. As with any other profession, you get good ones, and you get bad ones. Every professional engineer has a level of arrogance; it is just the type of people they are, just like strippers are exhibitionists. Do not get me wrong, not all engineers are egotistical bastards, but you will never find one without some proportion of their head up their arse.
The thing that pisses most engineers off about our bad reputation is the misrepresentation. For an example, I will refer to the movie Kenny where he refers to himself as a “sanitation engineer”. He is a plumber. He is a tradesperson. Kenny would have done an apprenticeship with a few TAFE modules. Kenny did not go to University; he cannot call himself an engineer. Or at least that is how some of my peers see it.
A common definition among us is that an engineering degree makes you an engineer, but I guarantee you that every tradesperson you talk to would say that an engineering degree just makes you a knob, and they would be right. A lot of engineers I have met with degrees are in fact knobs stemming from the fact that they are arrogant.
“Engineering” has many different definitions. Some mention qualification, not what level, but all have something in common; an “Engineer” is someone who uses knowledge to find solutions within the constraints of a problem. It is simple as that. An Engineer finds solutions, but solutions to what?
Engineers live in every aspect of our lives. Be it mining, manufacturing, traffic control, etc; you name it, and I bet you an engineer was frustrated designing it. Some of the best creations of the human race were not created by people with degrees; tools, the wheel, iron, roads, communications, etc; the list is endless.
Engineering should not be an elitist society, but nor should we hand out the title willy-nilly. A fair proportion of the best engineers I have worked with have come from trade backgrounds, and they do not have a bachelor, but they have what matter most to clients; experience and practical knowledge. This is what makes them good engineers – effective and practical solutions.
Graduate engineers facing the workforce now find themselves in a tough position. Not only has the double dip global financial crisis de-valued them, but they face an ever expanding industry that relies on many things to support it. Even now, there are specialities that did not exist 30 years ago. Some not even 10 years ago. For example, I have a bachelor in mechatronic engineering - even Microsoft Word does not even recognise it – it was created in Japan in the mid 80’s for a more efficient marriage of mechanical and electronic equipment in industry.
Now we have robotics, pharmaceutical, petroleum, mining, software, communications engineering, and even now the University of Adelaide has a “Sustainable Energy Engineering” degree. It has been going a little mental, some would question the universities about their true motives, but these young people will get out into the work force and ask questions, like they should. Their older, and more experienced peers will turn to them and ask “what the hell are they teaching at universities these days”.
The work place is demanding more and more from graduates and universities to squeeze more and more into their courses. But how about they help with solutions instead of pointing out the problems? The best thing for them is to get out into the work force and gain experience. I’m not talking about “work experience” because at times that is not really working, nor am I talking about a “graduate program”, because that is the sure fire way in gaining an over qualified photocopier.
I believe two to three years of courses, part-time, in conjunction with a traineeship position in industry for four years like a trade. That way they will get the best balance from both worlds and less head clogging up the tail end of their digestive system. More importantly, it will free up space within Universities, help fight the student poverty line, and provide that light at the end of the qualification tunnel. Most importantly, education should be free.