Five reasons high school students should choose engineering

A flexible career path and positive job outlook are among the benefits of pursuing job in engineering.


Sonny K. Siu is a senior electrical engineer at Jacobs-KlingStubbins. He has been in the engineering business for more than 30 years. His elder son received his PhD in mechanical engineering controls (robotics) from UC Berkeley in May 2013, and his youngeA major milestone in every young person’s life is choosing how to spend the rest of his or her professional life. Based on personal experience, here are five reasons I think high school students should apply to engineering programs.

1. Large selection of engineering paths gives career flexibility.

Entering an engineering program opens the door to multiple branches of engineering. Many schools require the student to complete a general first-year curriculum (math, science, English, and computer skills) before moving forward in an engineering specialty. This allows the student to explore and firm up his or her engineering interest. A typical college may have the following engineering majors: aeronautics and astronautics, agricultural, biological and food processing, biomedical, chemical, civil, computer, construction, electrical, environmental and ecological, materials, mechanical, and nuclear.

All engineering majors lead to careers in subdisciplines. The IEEE lists 38 technical societies related to electrical engineering alone.

2. Engineering occupations are high-paying.

In a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) The Editor’s Desk (TED) report, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) occupations were classified as high-paying. The mean annual wage for all STEM occupations was $77,880; only 4 of the 97 STEM occupations were below the U.S. average of $43,460. The highest paying STEM occupations of $100,000 include managerial, petroleum engineers, and physicists. The BLS reports that civil engineers made $77,506/year (2010) or $37.29/hour, mechanical engineers made $77,560/year (2012) or $38.74/hour, and electrical engineers made $87,920/year (2012) or $42.27/hour. The bachelor of science degree is the entry-level education requirement. 

The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)’s 2013 Engineering Income and Salary Survey reported that the average income of respondents was $95,420. The range from engineer level I through VIII was $55,500 to $156,000.

3. Engineers’ job outlook is positive.

The BLS’s June 15, 2011, TED report indicated that technical jobs in STEM represented approximately 6% of U.S. employment (nearly 8 million jobs). The largest STEM occupations were computer support specialists, computer systems analysts, and computer software engineers; each had employment of approximately 500,000. 

The BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook projects positive job growth from 2010 to 2020. Employment for civil engineers is expected to grow 19% from 262,800 to 313,900; mechanical engineers is expected to grow 9% from 243,000 to 264,500; and electrical engineers is expected to grow 6% from 294,000 to 311,600.

4. Engineers’ work is fun.

Civil engineers plan, design, construct, and manage physical infrastructure such as buildings, bridges, tunnels, transportation systems, wastewater treatment systems, coastal and ocean facilities, and public works. Mechanical engineers apply principles of mechanics, dynamics, and energy transfer to the design and analysis of complex buildings and to the testing and manufacture of machines, engines, power generating equipment, vehicles, artificial components for the human body, and other products. Electrical engineers apply engineering concepts to power generation, transmission, and distribution of power. At the building infrastructure level this includes standby generators, transformers, switchgear, protective devices, and uninterruptible power supplies.

5. Engineering work is challenging.

Engineers work in a professional environment where there is an opportunity to learn and grow through on-the-job and formal training using the most up-to-date technologies. There will never be a shortage of new challenges, as engineers are constantly faced with having to adapt solutions and change technology to move with the trends and needs.

Based on the above reasons, if any young person has strong STEM aptitudes, has completed the STEM coursework, and has a desire to work in problem solving and help the world, entering the engineering program is the right choice as a means to a better life economically, job satisfaction, and a good career.

Sonny K. Siu is a senior electrical engineer at Jacobs-KlingStubbins. He has been in the engineering business for more than 30 years. His elder son received his PhD in mechanical engineering controls (robotics) from UC Berkeley in May 2013, and his younger son just began at UCLA in electrical engineering.

PHIL , TX, United States, 10/22/13 05:10 PM:

It is fun and the only limitations are those you place on yourselves.
Anonymous , 10/23/13 09:06 AM:

Where's the balance?

1. Half of engineers are out of the profession in 15 years. It's a job, not a career. More than half of STEM graduates are not working in their field.

2. Low pay - 40 years ago a good engineer earned a comparable salary to a physician (check the stats) As a top performer, you earn comparatively little, top off quickly and have to leave the market.

3. Competition - It pays for companies and academia to hawk a STEM shortage to keep enrollment rates up at colleges and salaries low. Large numbers of H1B Visas are issued to bring international engineers in and treat them as chattel.

4. Long hours, little flexibility, little family time. Most engineers work
55-65 hours per week. Show
the statistics for woman
engineers - most have to leave or take backseat "management support" positions to allow them to
have families.

5. No ongoing training or advancement - use engineers up until they are obsolete and then hire some more.
There are a few "show" programs but most engineers cannot be spared from projects for training or education.
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