Is Engineering Dying?

"Is engineering dying? It isn't clear, but in developed countries around the world young people would rather go to the dentist than go into engineering,"writes Dave Goldbergin the October issue ofPE. "Law, business, and medicine—just about anything but engineering—seem to be the preference of today's youth."

Goldberg, a former professor of entrepreneurial engineering and president and founder of ThreeJoy Associates Inc., says the future needs more capable engineers, but something happens to students on their way to becoming engineers. He sees three reasons engineering may be dying:

1. Engineering education is upside-down and backward. Engineering education is a math-science death march in which mathematics and science are viewed as "the fundamentals" and design and technology are viewed as mere "applications."

2. Engineering education is embedded in a dysfunctional culture that delights in the failure of those it educates. It is common enough to have become a cliché. An engineering professor stands at the front of a class and says, "Look to your right, look to your left, two of the three of you won't be here next year."

3. Engineering is perceived as a low-status profession in which the engineer is socially captive to the will of nonengineers. There is a belief that engineers often work in organizations in which they have little control over the work they do, following the orders of professional managers, who carry out goals set by corporate chieftains.

Read the rest ofGoldberg's article, including his suggestions for what to do in the October issue ofPE.

What do you think?

Published October 26, 2012 by NSPE

Filed under: Education,


I agree.

I work a consulting business part time, but I have a full-time "real job".

My education was a mathematics death march.  My managers and "bean counters" make all the decisions.  We are expected to fix problems and deliver product based on the promises made by sales people.  Let's fix it.

We have to do more to gain respect, but I am unsure what to do.


Monday, November 12, 2012 11:06 AM by Nathan Jarboe, P.E.

I really have no idea, I am currently a student at the University of Louisville Speed Scientific and Engineering School and there are a lot of students. I actually feel there are too many!!! But on the side note that is probably because we have a good Engineering program and students come from all around to study.

Thursday, November 15, 2012 8:12 PM by Aaron

His comments are dead accurate and reflect my less than fun experience studying Chemical Engineering 20 years ago.

I'm back for a second helping studying Mechanical this time.  I see nothing has really changed in the past two decades.  Fortunately I have 20 years experience from the military on how to plow through all the bureacracy and BS that is the world of Acedemia.  I pass that on to the 19-21 years olds I see floundering around me when ever I can.

Engineering school still seems to be nothing more than 4+ years of trick questions and unit conversions drudgery rather than actually know...Engineering.

If I didn't need the damn license to do what I want to do with my second career I wouldn't even bother.

Saturday, November 17, 2012 10:05 AM by Jeff

I remember those days as a student when we were told to look at those on each side of us etc.  As a professor of 40 years, I prided myself in starting the first class each year by telling the students that my goal was to have everyone of them pass with a standard of knowledge in the course that was acceptable to the profession.  I have never known anyone to learn in a culture of fear.

Also, the courses in math and science,taught by non-engineers were often not geared to the "engineering mind".  It was not until I was taught by an applied math professor that I realized why differential equations existed and what types of real-world problems they could solve.  The early university math courses are usually taught by "recreational math" professors, who get their kicks from the thrill of solving the problem, even if the problem has no useful application.

Another problem is that most professors are hired for their research abilities and many have little practical engineering work experience.  While this is changing, as there is more interaction with industry and real world experience, only those who go into research will ever use the level of math taught in most undergraduate engineering programs.

Friday, November 30, 2012 1:36 PM by Dr. Ron Gilkie, P.Eng.

I'd have to agree. What I studied in engineering school has nothing to do with what I do now in the working world at a consulting engineering firm: tedious drudgery. I even got a P.E. license, only to discover that it's worthless.

I would get out of this industry if I had something else to go to.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013 7:58 PM by Steve

I would argue that it has been dead for some time.  I've been out 26 years now with a Bachelor's in Chemical Engineering and emphasis on Environmental.  I spent my first 5 years doing worthwhile leading edge remediation, however once this project was complete Environmental Engineering on the corporate side became a tedious march towards deforestation caused by bureacrats and paperwork.  Fundamentally outside of the electronics industry we are not doing anything leading edge in the USA.  One can blame the economy but any study of this leads one to understand that our needs or at least "perceived" needs as a society are being met with less than stellar imported products.  Couple this with an affable population that does not believe in american exceptionalism and most of our jobs can be compared to "Just Doing Fries" in which we get up and maintain the machine just to do the same thing over again tomorrow.  In my case I found some satisfactin in the Construction Industry which is a bit of an odd fit for a Chemical Engineer, but at least each project is a bit different and of course a technical background is essential.
No doubt a primary issue lies with who we respect as leaders of our country but more importantly the culture of spectatorship (Sports hero worship) has sidetracked our country into complacency.  Whether it be infrastructure improvements or inventing the fusion reactor our relative comfort has eased our necessity for change and improvement.  I have always been a proponent of engineers as leaders in society.  That said and based on some of the reactions we have seen over the past year on college campuses across the country based on unfounded truths in the election process there has never been a greater opportunity for engineers to step forward.  Our country needs individuals who are bounded by substantiated facts and backed up by sound principal.  This is what an engineer does.  We need to look at this challenge as a derivative of sorts.  Couple an engineerng education with an education bound to a good constitutional history, world history, and a patriotic bent and now we are talking!

Friday, March 10, 2017 2:17 PM by Brian

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