Once upon a time, I wanted to be a toy engineer. Halfway through my seven years of working on helicopters, I wanted a change of pace in my career. The first thing I thought of was working with toys. I’m pretty much a big kid at times, and I can make a direct correlation between my love for engineering and my toys growing up. I would constantly think of how to make upgrades to my toys or build new ones.
I started down the traditional route: job applications to toy companies. Even after finding a friend who knew a HR representative of a very popular toy company, I still couldn’t get my foot past the front door. I knew what was holding me back. I was an aerospace engineer. Whenever I applied somewhere, all they ever saw was my years of aerospace experience. My Master’s degree didn’t matter, nor did the fact that I had taken several machining and manufacturing classes along with my fluid classes. All they saw was my years of working on helicopters.
When you go to college for engineering, you’ll run into a list of the classic majors: chemical, civil, mechanical, environmental, electrical, and computer engineering. Some schools will have aviation, biomedical, materials science, and maybe even manufacturing to choose from. Toy engineering, for example, is never presented as an option.
I focused on fluid courses throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies. It interested me the most out of my other options. But that was the problem—I never knew what other options were available.
Universities tend to group several professions into these majors. If you want to work in the petroleum industry, is that chemical or environmental? Can a mechanical engineer work in the environmental, plumbing, and water industries or civil construction? If you want to work on bridges, is it civil or mechanical? You might end up taking a bunch of classes non-related to your interests along the way.
I believe that we need to do a better job of telling our young engineers what they can do. A lot of our senior engineer readers have expressed to me the need for practical engineering education for young engineers; that too many of them are unprepared for the real engineering work that awaits them. If we ask incoming freshman engineers upfront what job or industry they want to end up in, rather than what major they like, we can gear their college work toward that goal. Classes become more practical and hands-on to create a group of engineers that love—and are better prepared for—their job.