The cost/benefit of education

Around the western world there’s a critical lack of engineers. Governments are concerned because they see skills shortages effecting local industries and taking business away. Many see lack of interest as the cause of dwindling numbers, but I disagree. The reason that engineering degrees aren’t as popular as management or business degrees aren’t because people are lazy or that they wouldn’t LIKE to be engineers, it’s because the cost/benefit ratio is less favorable than management or business. To become an engineer and get paid a decent, but not high, wage, you need a masters degree. So that’s 8 years of costly university education and when you come out you aren’t making a fortune. A person can go into management or business with just a bachelor’s degree and it doesn’t even have to be in those areas.

Compare engineering to IT. There are few university degrees in IT, anyone I know who has a computer sciences degree who works in IT say that most of the comp sci curriculum is useless and that they learned most on the job. You can get certifications and qualifications by self-study and make as much or more than an engineer with 8 years+ of university and still be doing interesting work. There’s an awful lot of very smart people in IT who would be great engineers, so why aren’t they? Because the costs/benefit breakdown of being an engineer as opposed to being in IT is not favorable. It’s not lack of interest, it’s just not that appealing.

Engineering schools use advanced mathematics as a weeding-out mechanism. Why? Is someone good at calculus going to make a good engineer? Not really, it just shows they’re good at math. Most engineers never use much advanced math once they get out, and even if they do they have to re-learn how to use it so why make it such a huge requirement? Engineers will tell you that they learned most of what they needed to on the job.

If you want more people to become engineers you don’t have to lower the bar, just change the system so that people can become one without spending a fortune in time and money, and then pay them better at the end. That will improve the cost/benefit prospect.

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