Although this chapter is focused on the history of engineering, it is important to recognize another significant component of the technology workforce, engineering technicians and technologists. Formal engineering technology programs, which were developed in the mid-twentieth century, provide students with a distinctly hands-on, practical education, in contrast to engineering programs, which focus more on theory and design (Grinter, 1984). Today, there are both two- and four-year engineering technology programs in the United States. Graduates of the former are often called engineering technicians; graduates of the latter are called engineering technologists. Engineering technologists typically implement designs created by engineers. They may be involved in making incremental design changes, building and testing products and processes, managing the installation of complex equipment, and developing maintenance procedures. Engineering technicians are primarily operators of technology, but they also have installation and maintenance skills beyond the capabilities of skilled tradesmen. In practice, there may be considerable overlap between engineering technologists and engineering technicians.
In 2006, 511,000 engineering technicians were working in the United States, a third of them electrical and electronics technicians (BLS, 2008b). The U.S. government does not collect employment data on engineering technologists in a separate job classification. However, the Engineering Workforce Commission estimates that there were about 10,000 bachelor’s degrees in engineering technology awarded in 2007 (ASEE, 2007b).
Women and minorities are greatly underrepresented in engineering schools (both as students and faculty) and engineering jobs in the United States relative to their proportions in the population at large (Table 2-1). Although their participation has been increasing over the past two decades, the rate of increase has slowed—and for women the upward trend has recently reversed. This situation has many people in the engineering community worried about the future supply of engineers, especially as the U.S. population becomes increasingly diverse.
Some have expressed a concern that other countries—particularly China and India—have been outpacing the United States in the production of engineers. Although it is difficult to make comparisons because of differences in the methods of collecting data and differences in how engineers are defined, the trends are clear. The number of engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded in the United States has increased gradually over the past seven years to slightly more than 74,000 in the 2005–2006 school year (ASEE, 2007a). This is a jump of about 20 percent since 1999. In China, by contrast, the number