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The Future of Engineers and STEM Lies in Diversity

The Future of Engineers and STEM Lies in Diversity

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Our 2015 Salary Survey highlights the current work environment of our engineering readers. It shows that our engineering workforce is dominated by white males age 50 and over. One of the major concerns expressed by a majority of our responding engineers was the ability to find qualified engineering talent. One solution to this issue is to encourage diversity among future engineers and promote STEM education among women and minorities. 

According to our Salary Survey, only 2.0% are female and 7.0% are minorities. U.S. News & World conducted a STEM Index researching the number of students from high school to university that are interested or studying STEM fields, and the number of graduates entering STEM fields. The Index also polls the number of women and minorities in STEM. Brian Kelly, the editor and chief content officer for U.S. News & World, says that “People put STEM in a box, a nerd box,” and that it is not promoted toward a wide audience. Companies in STEM fields have expressed their disappointment over a lack of qualified workers and a lack of diversity. Claus von Zastrow, chief operating officer and director of research at Change the Equation, says that “the culture of STEM jobs has not done enough to make it truly appealing to minorities and women.” To increase our talent pool of future scientists and engineers, we need to do a better job of promoting it not only to a younger generation, but to a more diverse group.

However, the future looks promising as the number of science and engineering degrees earned by women and minorities is increasing. The National Science Foundation conducted a study showing the different trends of women and minorities in science and engineering studies and occupations from the years 1991-2010. The 2013 study showed that the number of degrees earned by minorities rose from 10% to 17%. For women, the number of engineering master’s degrees increased from 12%  to 21% and the amount of PhD degrees went up from 10% to 21% since 1991.

These numbers indicate that the future of young STEM professionals has the potential to be changed by a diverse group of scientists and engineers. In the August issue of Machine Design, I wrote an article discussing how engineering internships help train the young engineers entering the workforce. Having spoken to several senior engineers, it’s clear that a young engineering workforce with a specific skill set is the best way to help overcome the engineering drought. It is up to the current engineering society to help promote STEM, whether it is through competitions like FIRST Robotics or internship programs like the ones provided by INROADS or the Society of Women Engineers. We as engineering professionals need to not only encourage STEM education among college, high-school, and middle-school students, but also increase the range of our target audience. 

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