Wednesday, 03 February 2016 12:44

Engineering degrees a pathway to jobs in many fields

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Engineering degrees a pathway to jobs in many fields Image courtesy of Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net/images

Less than half of Australia’s recent engineering graduates are working in their field, but most of them are likely to work in highly skilled and highly paid jobs, according to a newly published  research report.

The study found more than 14% of all engineering bachelor graduates were working in the IT and other technology-related industries outside of engineering.

The research by Deakin University’s Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment found that 46% of graduates aged 20-24, who had gained an engineering undergraduate degree, were working in a professional engineering role. That number fell to 32% when including Australia’s engineering bachelor graduates across all age ranges.

Deakin lead researcher Associate Professor Stuart Palmer said the research complements data from Graduate Careers Australia which shows that an engineering graduate is more likely to find paid employment than the average Australian graduate.

Professor Palmer said the research team analysed data from the most recent Australian Census, which occurred in 2011, in which more than 200,000 respondents reported a bachelor-level professional engineering qualification.

He said the study - ‘The relationship between engineering bachelor qualifications and occupational status in Australia - published recently in the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, was an important tool to help guide universities and governments make policy decisions.

Associate Professor Palmer said the data showed that many engineering graduates worked in highly-skilled and well-paid industries.

“This demonstrates that investment in engineering education was a sensible and efficient investment of resources,” Associate Professor Palmer said.

“The last Census occurred when the Australian economy had only begun to recover from the global financial crisis, so the good 2011 employment outcomes for engineering graduates shows that universities are educating highly employable graduates.

“Our study shows that an engineering degree is a valuable qualification to have in a wide range of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) industries, as well as many non-STEM industries.

“This is further supported by a separate analysis of the 2011 graduate outcomes published by Graduate Careers Australia, which showed 80% of bachelor-qualified engineering graduates reported being in some form of work, compared to 70% for graduates across all disciplines.

“We already know that an engineering degree is a valuable qualification to have for a whole range of jobs, particularly in high-tech fields and it wasn’t a surprise that our study found more than 14% of all engineering bachelor graduates were working in the IT and other technology-related industries outside of engineering.”

Associate Professor Palmer said traditionally, many engineers took on management roles within engineering, and Deakin’s research found that more than 12% of engineering bachelor graduates also found a general management role outside of engineering.

“We also found 10% of engineering graduates were working in general, non-professional roles, while other fields in which graduates ended up working in included marketing, construction, finance, science, education and health.

“Engineers have high level maths skills, and it is those skills, combined with technology, analysis and design expertise, which can make them prized recruits in the commerce and finance fields.”

According to Associate Professor Palmer, the findings were similar to those from research in the UK and US.

“In the UK, the idea that engineering and other STEM graduates can work outside of their primary field is actually promoted, but that’s not something that is commonly done in Australia, which is a shame.

“In our paper, we recommend that engineering students would be better informed about, and equipped for, the world of post-graduation work if they were exposed to the likely options for their career trajectory.

“This research also suggests that secondary school students and others considering engineering undergraduate study would be more honestly advised if they were informed about the full range of career possibilities for engineering graduates and the probability that they are just as likely to work out of engineering as in it.

“Likewise, the findings also suggest that modern undergraduate engineering curricula should take the portability of an engineering qualification into consideration.”

The paper’s authors also included Deakin University’s Mr Mark Tolson, Dr Karen Young and Professor Malcolm Campbell.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired and is a "volunteer" writer for iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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