National Academies Press: OpenBook

Engineering Employment Characteristics (1985)

Chapter: 1. Introduction

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Suggested Citation:"1. Introduction." National Research Council. 1985. Engineering Employment Characteristics. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/584.
Page 4
Suggested Citation:"1. Introduction." National Research Council. 1985. Engineering Employment Characteristics. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/584.
Page 5
Suggested Citation:"1. Introduction." National Research Council. 1985. Engineering Employment Characteristics. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/584.
Page 6

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1 Introduction The Panel on Engineering Employment Characteristics sought to identify significant patterns and trends in demography and practice in the engineering community in the United States. The panel's goal, broadly, was to provide a data base that describes the engineering work force, its main activities, its capabilities, and its principal employers. Such a data base is a prerequisite for assessing the capability of the engineering community in meeting the nation's future needs. In its analysis of the engineering community, the panel considered three broad groups: engineers and engineering technologists, computer specialists, and technicians. Another of the panels of the Committee on the Education and Utilization of the Engineer, the Panel on Infra- structure Diagramming and Modeling, has formally defined engineer, engineering technologist, and engineering technician. This panel sub- scribes to those definitions, but the available statistical data bar strict adherence to them in characterizing the engineering work force. In this report, engineers and engineering technologists include those holding at least a B. S. degree from a traditional engineering curriculum, those with a B.S. degree from a four-year curriculum in engineering technology, and people trained in nonengineering disciplines who are working as engineers or engineering technologists. Computer special- ists may be engineers, but they are not specifically so characterized and are employed in a number of areas in addition to engineering. Techni- cians are employed in engineering or scientific work that does not 4

INTROD UC TION 5 require the qualifications associated with a B.S. degree; they may hold degrees from two-year curriculums. These classifications are fluid. An individual classed as a computer specialist, as noted above, may be a fully qualified engineer; a B . S. -level engineer may be working as a technician; an individual working as an engineering technologist may have been trained initially as a techni- cian. In a given organization, moreover, all people who are doing engi- neering work may be classified as engineers, regardless of educational field and degree level. For statistics on engineering employment, the panel relied princi- pally on standard sources, including the Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Commerce; the Bureau of Labor Statistics ALSO, U.S. Department of Labor; and the National Science Foundation [NSFJ. Although the surveys conducted by these and other organizations sup- ply much useful information, each is designed to meet specific needs and has no apparent reference to data from other sources. This lack of coordination leads to data bases that have gaps and inconsistencies and are poorly suited to integrated analyses. Estimates of the number of engineers in this country in 1982, for example, range from 1.2 million to 1.9 million. Given the nature of the available data, the panel believes that conclusions reached from the data are best viewed in terms of trends rather than in terms of absolute numbers. The strengths and weaknesses of the data collection system as a whole are treated in detail in the report of the Panel on Infrastructure Diagramming and Modeling. To develop current information on the characteristics of engineering employment, particularly subjective characteristics, the panel con- ducted an informal survey of employers of engineers. The survey was designed to obtain the views of employers on the quality of recent engineering graduates, the utilization of engineers, and the impact of new tools on engineering productivity. The Role of Engineering To establish a context for this report, this section briefly reviews the types of work that engineers do and the role of engineering in society at large. Engineers basically use scientific and empirical knowledge to create useful products, processes, and services. They may pursue this task in any of a number of disciplines, such as electrical, mechanical, civil, or chemical engineering. Within each discipline, however, engi- neers are found in a variety of functions, including research, develop

6 ENGINEERING EMPLOYMENT CHARACTERISTICS meet, design, production or manufacturing, technical marketing, and englneermg management. The engineer's principal task is the conversion of knowledge to prac- tical use in other words, coupling technology to the marketplace. This task is clearly reflected in the demographics of the engineering work force. More than 75 percent of the engineers in this country are employed in business and industry. ~ More than 40 percent of employed engineers work directly in or manage research and development, the heart of the engineering process; about 16 percent of them work in production and inspection. Only about 2 percent are engaged in teaching. The primary work activities of industrially employed engineers and scientists differ significantly. In development, engineers outnumber scientists by four to one. In research, on the other hand, scientists outnumber engineers by more than two to one. These differences underscore the distinction between science and engineering. The sci- entist fundamentally seeks new knowledge with no specific goal in mind; the engineer, even the research engineer, generally works with some practical goal in mind. The two endeavors are synergistic: engi- neers use the knowledge developed by scientists to open and advance new fields of engineering, which in turn create demands that lead scien- tists to open and advance new fields of science.

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