“Engineering-where the semi-skilled labourers execute the vision of those who think and dream. Hello Oompa-Loompas of science.” ~ Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory
The quote above illustrates a recent trend in popular culture, making engineering one of the most underrated branch of science, ignored for years as scientific underclass. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a sense of humour and I get the funny side. But from a wider perspective, these two lines outline how society regards engineering.
The branch of science and technology concerned with the design, building, and use of engines, machines, and structures.”
This trend goes beyond comedy. During an episode of ‘The Apprentice’ in 2011 Lord Sugar dropped the bombshell on Glenn Ward, a design engineer.
“I’ve had problems the past few weeks grasping what your USP is…I’ve never come across an engineer who can turn his hands to business. You’re fired!”
Engineers and technologists in most years form around 15% of all FTSE 100 company directors and at this point I can chronologically list a host of engineers who went on to create successful businesses. But let’s put aside the fact that his ‘Lordship’ generalised an entire profession on a misguided stereotype, but he chose to do it on primetime TV.
Is the engineering as a profession facing an image crisis?
Having grown up wanting to be an engineer and then currently studying civil engineering myself; I sometimes wonder what other people think engineers do. There is a state of confusion among the general public and the mass media. The profession provides very few role models (if any). Inevitably young people are reluctant to go into engineering, thinking engineering as only a trade that they can fall back on.
The lack of awareness is because engineering entrepreneurs like Sir James Dyson aren’t narcissists like Lord Sugar, but they are more engaged in solving real life problems. Perhaps engineering needs the Brian Cox effect with a single ‘celebrity’ role model.
I hope I’m not being a snob, but unlike the French anyone can call themselves an engineer in the UK. There isn’t any real distinction between a boiler engineer (actually a boiler technician) and a qualified mechanical engineer who is developing F1 cars. In the UK, the term ‘engineer’ is not legally protected. May be we should take a leaf out of the German book. Professional engineering bodies should be lobbying the government to legally protect the engineering profession and flood the market with engineering apprenticeships. Engineering can be used as a linchpin for growth and employment especially in the current fiscal environment.
Finally, it’s high time we stop stereotyping!
“I have never said you’re bad at what you do. Only that what you do isn’t worth doing.” ~ Sheldon Cooper to Howard Wolowitz, an aerospace engineer
Image courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives