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Engineer at work

Keeping Up: Survey Hears from Engineering on Skills Competency

Nov. 16, 2022
Machine Design’s 2022 Salary Survey polled engineers about their preferred methods for ongoing education.

In an ever-changing field of technology, engineers expect continued learning to be part of the job. Flexibility in engineering often means improving current skill sets and cultivating new ones. And if being able to adapt to changing situations is among the most important skills an engineer can possess, what do engineers perceive as the obstacles to building those skills?

Machine Design’s 2022 Salary Survey, which polled a cross-section of readers, offers a glimpse into the challenges engineers face and the opportunities employers can seize to help right-size their staffing efforts.

Watch this video with Machine Design editors for more insights.

More than 40% of all participants in this year’s survey have at least a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education. This foundational education is often not enough to support ongoing job requirements or competency. Typically, engineers will look to continuing education and training while performing professional duties to stay current.

Focusing on the education-related survey questions, we highlight a few insights into ongoing education formats and the respondents’ preferences.

You Get What You Pay For

The survey asked: “What are some of the ways you continue your engineering education?” 

Respondents replied: Engineering videos (43.55%), seminars (34.48%), webcasts (37.10%), engineering/technology publications (35.48%), engineering/technology publications websites (31.05%), white papers (33.47%), as well as in-person trade shows and conferences (29.64%) ranked favorably amongst respondents. Low on their list of preferences were in-classroom college and employer-sponsored courses (15.73%), online discussion forums (15.12%) and podcasts (12.10%).

Respondents were then asked to indicate which of the education forms are paid for by their employers. In line with engineers’ learning preferences, the survey showed that employers were likely to pay for employees’ attendance at trade shows and conferences (37.7%), as well as seminars (33.67%). Only 22.78% paid for certifications or college tuition, and 25.81% paid for engineering association dues.

Keeping Up

Asked what the biggest challenges were in staying current with engineering information relevant to your work, the most common answer was time. But if respondents were feeling time-strapped, they were further challenged to find information applicable to their job responsibilities. Sifting through useful, relevant information from an abundance of online sources, finding summarized information on emerging technologies and finding specialized courses were just a few of the impediments noted.

Concerns about knowing rapidly changing technology and which is most relevant to the company was a common refrain. “Parsing which technological advances are relevant to my company, and how soon they will be available or reasonably priced,” noted one respondent. Another pointed to the fact that the cost of new technology “is seen by management as too high to incorporate.”

At least a couple of respondents alluded to the generational divide amongst engineers and their ability to adapt technological advancements to their current work environments. “As you get older, you tend to be a little slower to learn new skills, and you need to put more effort into learning and improving,” expressed one respondent. “Young talent is abundant, and they have the advantage of age,” said another.

A Question of Trust and Transparency

There were other interesting comments that fed into the survey. One concern was that some publications miss the mark on serving the needs of their engineering audiences, and took umbrage with “dishonest technical publications that try to steer industry toward certain trends.”

Several others said the tasks of “finding accurate information and reviews along with adequate customer specifications” were arduous. “Finding accurate information and reviews along with adequate customer specifications,” was another sentiment echoed on this theme.

All told, perceptions matter. Engineers, like most employees, want to be heard. They want to contribute and want to be part of something meaningful. It all speaks to the appreciation they have for the efforts their employers make to their livelihood and the measure of effort they are willing to invest in their professional growth.

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