Undervalued!

Undervalued!Ninety per cent of electronics engineers questioned in Electronics Weekly’s exclusive survey on the status of engineering in this country feel undervalued by society. Our quest to have the engineer recognised is a real and important issue…. Electronics engineers in this country are undervalued by society, the government and their employers. So say a clear majority of the Electronics Weekly readers in our national survey of engineering status. With over 90 per cent of the 218 electronics engineers questioned feeling undervalued by society it is obvious that the issue of engineering status in this country is real enough. More significantly, if the Electronics Weekly survey is an accurate representation of feelings on the issue of status then many engineers have definite ideas were the problems lie and who should be addressing them. Engineers tend to be level-headed pragmatic individuals, but there seems to be real concern over this issue of status. More than 92 per cent of Electronics Weekly readers questioned in the poll said that they were worried about the low status of the electronics engineering profession in this country when compared to equivalent professions like the law, medicine and accounting. As one reader recently argued in an E-mail: “Historically we are undervalued. Engineers have always had greasy overalls and a big spanner in their hands e.g. blacksmiths, victorian plumbers, etc. They were servants to the rich. When electronics came along we were simply the same guys doing a similar job and so got paid the same.” However, a majority of engineers believe this historical image of the engineering function is still present in society, in the corridors of power and in the companies they work for. A significant proportion, some 74 per cent of the 218 engineers questioned, claimed that they were undervalued by their employers. Now, this can be attributed in part to the commonly held belief that no employer fully appreciates the job we do for them. How many of us can say that we have not felt this way on occasions? Yet there are indications that this is more than just a traditional “knee-jerk” response, and that there is genuine disquiet about the attitude of some companies to there engineering staff. Many of those engineers who felt undervalued by their employer were statistically more likely to go further and state that if they were to start over again with their degree and career, engineering would not be their first choice. As another correspondent put it: “What about all those students who choose subjects in a particular field of electronics because it interests them and who work very, very hard studying only to get a 3rd class degree. But they find that all the industry wants is the 2.1 and 1st class students leaving many in my situation feeling disheartened doing a job that does not interest them.” For the main causes of the status problem, predictably most engineers point the finger at the education system, the attitude of the media and government. Perhaps more revealing is the high level of blame attributed to the attitudes perceived to be emanating from UKboardrooms. Many electronics engineers do not feel that highly valued by the firms they work for. So what is to be done and who is to do it? This is not just an issue about salaries. Less than two per cent of the engineers questioned felt that raising salaries was need to improve the situation. Over two-thirds of those questioned said that the promotion of engineering was not being tackled in schools. Over 40 per cent thought that university and college courses in science and engineering needed restructuring. This a particularly revealing statistic as all of those questioned would have experienced these university and college courses at first hand within the last few years. While half of those questioned called on the government to act, more than 60 per cent said that institutions, like the IEE, should take a more central role in raising the status of engineering in this country. When asked about the relevance of Chartered status to today’s engineers the views were split exactly down the middle. Yet almost 55 per cent went further and called on the government to make Chartered status statutory for professional engineers. This is an option already being considered by Science and Technology Minister John Battle. When asked about tackling status many engineers look abroad to see how other countries have developed their high technology sectors. The Silicon Valley-style start-up is one positive image for engineering which many would like to see adopted here. While many engineers still believe foreign firms have a more positive attitude to their engineers. It is all too easy to get hung up on the negative points in a survey such as this, while dismissing the positives that continue to shine through in the figures. For example, two thirds of those questioned find the engineering careers they have chosen stimulating and rewarding enough to confirm that they would choose the same profession again were they given the chance. There are clear concerns over status amongst this country’s electronics engineers. This takes the form of doubts over the value society and, more importantly, the organisations they work for put on their activities. However, this final statistic demonstrates the rewards, both financial and through personal fulfilment, that a majority of electronics engineers feel are still to be had in one of the country’s fastest growing high technology sectors.


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