I am regularly asked by the College of Engineering at the University of Kuwait to talk to freshmen and senior classes about the role of the engineer in society. It is very interesting to see what students in developing countries like Kuwait think about their future careers, and how those thoughts evolve over their time in school. The thoughts and opinions of freshman about the engineering profession and why they are drawn to it are significantly different to students graduating from the program after four to five years of education.
Their values have changed dramatically, a direct result of living in a dramatically changing world. This change is so dynamic and rapid that it is very difficult and complicated to measure. I recall my generation of engineers, who graduated using the slide rule. We had not seen a hand held calculator, let alone a desktop or a laptop computer, and engineering classes that graduated fifty years before us had used very similar tools.
It is also interesting to see their answers when asked: “who is your role model in the engineering profession, locally and internationally?” It is very disappointing to find out that more than 99% cannot name even one, and they have not even heard of any of the leaders of our field. Are they to be blamed for this lack of knowledge, or does the blame rest on us as the leaders in this profession? Are we, as leaders in the profession, setting a good example for the next generation of engineers? Many would say that we do not need their recognition and that their lack of knowledge is their problem. This might be true, but what are we doing to enhance our profession and set a good example? This is a question which relates to all professions. Most students do not have proper role models in any profession, let alone politics and engineering. Thus, the question becomes: can we do something about it?
What kind of engineering world is seen by freshmen? And how has this same world changed so quickly in four or five years? Students expect to find their ideal job after graduation, and they think that this job secures their future. I tell them that it is not the job that gives them security; it is their education, knowledge, and experience that will secure their future. Without a good education, knowledge, and experience, they will never get a good job, and even if they get it, they will not be able to keep it.
The main question for seniors is how to gain experience if no one is willing to hire new graduates because he or she has little to no experience? I agree with them, but this is a problem created by their own grand expectations. Most graduating students assume that the outside world is just waiting to grab them, and they will be able to pick and choose between a wide array of generous offers and good salaries. Many of them expect a top managerial job with a significant salary and so on (this might not be true in the US, Europe and Japan, but I see it in the Middle East, and especially in the GCC countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia).
The problem with most new graduates is that they view their salary as the only factor when determining their job opportunities. Many of them look for a high salary and short working hours, and I tell them that is a recipe for failure in the future.
Sabah Al Rayes