Gen Y: Something to think about, from TiPs' Chris Wilson

Hi Walt, Enjoyed seeing you in Park City. I think we'll be back next year... The discussion at the Tuesday night dinner regarding the state of the engineering profession spawned a thought in my mind. I'd like to offer a [slightly] different perspective on the situation, still sensitive to the issues of unattractive salaries and unglamorous roles, but with a little twist. My wife is a CPA and a partner in her firm's Austin office. She does the bulk of the office's recruiting, which exposes her to a lot of college seniors and graduate students. As such, she's pretty in tune with the needs and wants of people entering the work force. She sent me an article to read a few months ago, and I found it very interesting. At dinner the other night, it struck me that the traits discussed in the article are very relevant to the troubles within engineering. Read through the article, then consider the rest of this email: So - "Generation Yers", as they are called, crave acceptance, or maybe more accurately, crave emblazoned praise. They hate the status quo and will persistently look for ways to do it better or differently. They are attracted to and mindful of money, but won't sacrifice their desire to make an impact or feel empowered for a quick buck. They're rebellious, but just enough to feel rebellious without really rocking the boat. In short, their persona is the polar opposite of their perception of engineering. Engineers work within physical principles that cannot be altered. Their education, training, and career paths are regimented by design. The very nature of the career of engineer is contrary to Generation Y's life path. At least at face value. That may explain why the people I know who have the capacity to be engineers, have instead become scientists. Scientists formulate the rules that engineers work within. Their job is to challenge physical principles, rather than slave to them. I think the issue of salary needs to be addressed, but I also think the issues of career politics and perceptions need to be considered as well. For example, there can be no "coming up the ranks". Potential engineers need to be assured that they will be given responsibility and authority immediately, even if under the watchful eye of a senior team member. The perception of engineering needs to be changed to promote it's role as problem solver rather than robot. Yes, engineers work within physical constraints, but the creativity with which those constraints are leveraged is what marks a good engineer. In reality, the career of engineer is an exact match for Generation Y's persona, they just don't know it. Yet? Chris

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  • We don't need many engineers to change the world. So sweeping generalizations of a generation may not have much relevance on the current crop of engineers.

    I think a far greater influence comes from career prospects. The people we seek aren't stupid. They can see for themselves what a career in this field can be like. Nobody wants to work for "the man" and then retire after a stint in middle management. Why slave over geeky things while others prosper much more from the fruits of your labor?

    Nobody wants to compete with outsourced help. It's no secret that engineers have seen their jobs sent overseas to many other countries. Trying to show how the job might be "safe" isn't something that anyone is going to listen to. The impression has already been made.

    No, what we need is a progression for engineers to make it in to leadership positions. We need to prove to the world that these ignoramuses with random decision making skills don't know what's going on, and that more progress meetings will not educate them if they don't understand the people and technologies they manage.

    Only then would you see a greater interest in engineering...

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