Why is further education so important in the engineering world?
Becoming an engineer is an excellent career choice for a number of reasons. It is a well-paid profession, for a start, with figures showing that the average salary for an engineer is just over $100,000 in the US. It is also a job that provides those who are scientifically minded with an opportunity to use their abilities. Engineering combines different skills, such as critical reasoning and scientific analysis, and creating systems that people use.
It is also a career choice that requires some upfront time commitment: usually, it takes up to a decade to qualify in this profession. But learning in engineering is a lifelong task, not just something you do once when you first study. For example, it can help you find opportunities more suited to what you want to do, such as a specialist type of engineering like mechanical or civil engineering. In some places, it is also necessary to continue to study – or at least to keep up with the latest trends – in order to maintain particular professional accreditations, which can have a knock-on effect on your capacity to keep jobs. This blog post will delve into these important questions and look at how you can find ways to enhance your further education opportunities once you have qualified.
There might be multiple reasons why training and development are prioritized in this sector, but one of the main reasons that people take the leap into further engineering training is financial. Studies have shown that further training can have a hugely positive effect on the amount you might go on to earn. As of 2018, for example, median weekly earnings in the US were highest for those with a professional degree.
Engineers can generally expect to earn relatively well from the moment they enter the workplace, as starting salaries are comparatively high when assessed alongside various other professions. This is down to several reasons – not least the fact that the supply of engineers or people with engineering skills is scarce. And there are plenty of different ways to earn more in the engineering world, such as – potentially – staying at one company for a particularly long time.
But further study is attractive to many engineers because it allows them to combine higher earnings with all the other benefits that this study brings, many of which will be touched on in this article. Staying at the same firm for a while might increase your chances of pay bumps, but it won’t necessarily help you retain your interest in the sector or allow you to keep an eye on trends in quite the same way.
It is also often necessary for those with an eye on a management position in the engineering industry to undertake further study. They must be licensed to acquire such a supervisory position, and licensing cannot be maintained without continuing professional development. After all, under the law, it is impossible to be in a management role as an engineer in the US without being licensed. So, to get to those management roles and be competent and confident, an engineer must ensure they know their stuff and keep on top of trends.
It is worth remembering that simply enrolling in a training course is not a silver bullet to wealth and riches. Neither is it an effort-free endeavor, Instead it can be seen as a way of investing in yourself. You will still need to study, but it can lead to rewards further down the line.
Staying on top of trends
The engineering world is ever-changing – and for those working in it, it is essential to stay informed. For example, take engineering in the context of artificial intelligence, where things are moving extremely fast. What is known as physics-informed AI is beginning to have transformative effects on how the engineering world operates. As firms begin to see the value of artificial intelligence in ensuring that their systems run with the minimum of cost and maximum efficiency, they need people to build these systems and AI engineers are there to help.
This prevalence of new trends happens across the sector, and it’s unlikely that any engineer is not affected by this process. Falling behind can have a serious effect on your career. For example, it can mean that you are more limited if you decide to move. It can also mean that new engineering graduates accumulate more knowledge than you and gradually become more attractive to employers, not by virtue of their age but simply because of what they know. Think about it. Engineers who graduated in 1990 still have tons of valuable skills, as the core skills of being an engineer – like attention to detail and technical knowledge about basic systems – have not changed. However, it is unlikely that an engineer trained at this time would know about things like robotics or the Internet of Things unless they had enrolled in further study.
Luckily, further study is there to help with this. Courses can help you ensure you do not fall behind on key trends within the sector, such as renewable energy systems and sustainable system creation. A course like the master of science in lean manufacturing at an institution like Kettering is an example of how this can occur. Students in this course learn about things like effective supply chain management and diagram construction, which are essential in a world where firms are increasingly looking for ways to cut costs. And it is not necessarily hard or time-intensive to train in these fields either, as many courses can fit around your existing work, as they are designed for people who are busy with multiple commitments. And with courses often delivered online rather than in person, you can cut down on the college commute time and complete it from home.
It is also important to remember that many postgraduate engineering qualifications offer flexibility in terms of qualification type. You will not necessarily have to study for a straightforward Master of Science in engineering. For example, you may also be able to choose a program of study that rolls in the engineering qualification with something like a Master of Business Administration, or MBA for short. This offers you the chance to enhance your engineering knowledge while enhancing your other skills, such as being a leader within a business. That way, it is possible to merge your different strands of professional development. You can move into other roles within an engineering business while maintaining your professional accreditation and continuing to practice in the discipline you love and have studied hard for. It is a win-win.
Maintaining your professional accreditation
Depending on where you’re based, it could be that your ability to practice as an engineer is significantly curtailed if you don’t participate in some form of continuing professional development. The National Society of Professional Engineers is one place to look if you’re in the US. This practice dates back to the early 20th century when one US state decided to institute a new system for verifying engineers coming onto its books were qualified and skilled enough to do the job. Since then, the practice of accrediting people as engineers has taken off. And the National Society of Professional Engineers is clear about its requirements: to “retain their licenses,” it writes, “PEs must continually maintain and improve their skills throughout their careers”. If you do not do that, your license to practice may be at risk, or you may find yourself discredited by potential future employers.
It is also important to ensure that when you choose a qualification, you ensure it is accredited by an appropriate institution. In the science and engineering world, this institution is usually ABET – which is in turn affiliated with the International Engineering Alliance, a major name across the globe. Do not forget to check with your preferred provider that they are affiliated so that you can ensure you get the quality of postgraduate education that you require. It is possible to check this by speaking directly to the university or institution in question or heading to the ABET website and verifying it independently.
If you are thinking of working abroad, it could also be the case that you need to engage in some further study to ensure that you are still permitted to practice. In the UK, for example, the Engineering Council has over 200,000 engineering technicians on its books, and again requires its engineers to keep their skills up to date. This is a situation repeated across many nations around the globe as part of a push for standardization.
Safety and security
It is also wise to think about safety and security, too. Engineers often work on projects that impact on the health and safety of those using them. Engineers who design a bridge over a river for vehicles to drive on, for example, have a direct and measurable impact on the safety of passengers and drivers. And, increasingly, engineers are working on technological systems – such as those which capture data. While there may not be a direct risk to life as a result of work carried out on these projects, there is certainly a cybersecurity risk if these projects are not carried out correctly – and people’s financial, personal, and other data can be at risk of being lost.
The National Society of Professional Engineers is clear about this. Engineers must ensure they apply “high standards for ethics and quality assurance”. For many engineers, the core learning on this will have been done while they were studying in college for their initial qualification. There they would have explored things like health and safety protocols or robust system design. But it is vital to keep your skills refreshed in this regard. As a busy engineer, the temptation to cut corners can always be there, especially if you are under pressure from a client deadline or similar. As a result, it is essential to be sure that you are knowledgeable about the latest safety mechanisms and protocols and still in that important mindset of never allowing your attention to detail to slip.
Keeping your interest alive
Finally, it is also worth considering the impact that continuing to study can have on you as a person, as well as on your bank balance and your employability. Often, engineers are drawn to the sector for particular reasons, perhaps because they like to solve problems, for example, or because they enjoy complex challenges and being part of a solution to them. Others become engineers because they want to use specific skills, like system design or mechanical modeling.
Studying this at college as an undergraduate or postgraduate is something that many engineers enjoy and have fond memories of. But, for many, life as a professional engineer often goes on to get in the way. Engineers get jobs and have to do tasks that might become specialist or repetitive, for example, or they may also have to pick up other skills such as financial leadership or project management, especially if they work in a small organization. And, wherever they work, it is likely that an engineer will need to engage on some level with questions of office politics.
By topping up their studies later in life, engineers can reconnect with the topics, skills, and interests that previously gave them such joy – without thinking about them in a necessarily commercial or employment-related context. Instead, they can be thought about in a way that allows for interests to be pursued or for self-development to occur – independent of the work the engineer has to do to bring home their salary. This way, they can give themselves the best possible chance of remaining in their engineering career for a long time and feeling satisfied as they do so.
In summary, anyone who qualifies as an engineer will want to consider pathways to further study – and the benefits are obvious. It is an essential part of the process of enhancing your employability. By studying courses such as lean manufacturing qualifications or even just short courses in principles of artificially intelligent engineering tools, you may well find that employers respect you more and give you more opportunities to rise through the ranks. It can also have huge benefits in enhancing your salary levels, and ensuring that you do not find yourself locked out of promotions because your knowledge has faded.
And on a deeper level, it is also a way for people in this profession to reconnect to the career they found themselves drawn to in the first place and to keep learning simply because it is meaningful. And in a world where technology is changing rapidly, those in the engineering industry must ensure they have an advanced and up-to-date knowledge of how things work in the sector. So, if you are an engineer seeking a management position, a salary raise, or even just to continue as you are with your accreditation secure, why not consider a professional postgraduate training qualification today?