The experience of Mr Marcus Chew in yesterday's article ("Where have all the engineers gone?") is not unique and is one that we often hear.
It is the story of a person drawn to the engineering profession because of an interest in building cool stuff; finding that Singapore has no such companies that offer that kind of R&D; compromising by working in an industry outside of defence that still requires engineers; going through the heartache as that industry declines due to global forces; moving to another engineering job but finding that the scope is too narrow; then finally, disillusioned with the engineering industry, choosing a profession that is outside of engineering.
While comparatively lower pay and prestige are often trotted out in explaining the dearth of engineers in the industry, the reality is much more complex.
Singapore does not have R&D powerhouses in consumer products such as the likes of Samsung and Sony.
The bulk of real R&D resides within either defence-related industries or universities and university-linked research labs.
These industries have different objectives which may not speak to the interest of young engineers.
At the same time, certain companies choose to hire engineering degree holders, when a diploma-trained engineer might be more suitable, in the belief that the job will be done better.
This leads to frustration from both parties as the degree holder has to learn to do a job for which he is not trained, and the company believes that an engineering education does not adequately equip the engineer to do the job.
Furthermore, because of the scope of the job, the company will have a limited budget for salaries, leading to small pay increments for the engineer.
I have a few suggestions to boost the profession:
Create a government-funded institution that focuses on commercialising patents developed by the universities where teams of engineers look at development and manufacturing challenges. Successes can then be spun off as companies.
The curriculum for engineering should be revised so that those who wish to can work towards a professional engineer's (PE) certification on top of theirbasic degree, instead of spending a further year on an honours degree. As PEs require work experience, students can be placed out sooner to work with companies, while gaining a valuable professional certification.
Engineering Alumni Singapore
This article was first published on February 11, 2015.
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