Tuesday, November 27, 2018

How to graduate more engineers ?

Image result for social class 21st century

Singapore probably regrets mistreating technical professionals. You can read all about it here.

Just like the humanities and liberal arts professors in the US who now have to explain why their students can't get decent jobs or pay, I think engineering professors and policy makers are not getting the idea of becoming an engineer right. I remember my professors doing everything they can to counter the fact that being an engineer is uncool. On hindsight, I think their efforts only makes things worse.

To truly understand why we are not getting enough engineers, I think we need to look closely at how a society like Great Britain divides their population into social classes. With that deeper insight we can possibly understand how to encourage folks to do more engineering work.

First of all, we need to understand the notion of capital. Those who read financial blogs understand that financial capital is important. But there are two less common categories of capital. 

Cultural capital is a measure of how cool people are. This form of capital is bifurcated into two separate categories. High-brow cultural capital is based on your understanding of what is considered canon in higher education. Older law partners sometimes assess an associate on how much he/she knows Shakespeare. The other form of cultural capital focuses on what is edgy and hip. This is cultural capital of hipsters who might know the best way to flesh out a website or channel the best memes on the Internet.

Social capital measures how valuable your social network is. The higher one moves up the social ladder, the more CEOs, medical specialists and senior lawyers they know. As one moves down the chain, they are acquainted with more plumbers, electricians and manual workers. 

The elite is defined as the top 6% of British society and master all three forms of capital. They mainly exclusivity not just by growing their wealth. They get to dictate what society finds cool. 

The precariat is defined as the bottom 11% of British society. They lack all three forms of capital. 

The essence of solving the problem of the dearth of engineers is to understand that engineers fall into the social class of technical professionals within the middle class of society. This social class is characterised by having a large amount of financial capital but almost non-existent social or cultural capital. I think I'm fine with having no social or cultural capital since at least 9% of millionaires from this profession in a survey by University fo Georgia in 2006.

So engineers are now scientifically proven to be rich but uncool. But still, they are better than emerging service workers who have social and cultural capital but no financial capital. These are the hipsters who graduate with humanities qualifications.

But social scientists discovered one special thing about the class of technology professionals. This social class is highly inclusive and will admit any member of society who can demonstrate proficiency in science and engineering into the middle class. Another words, no one cares where you come from if you can code or manage big projects. Even in a society where social mobility has dropped, the engineering career path has always maintained a ladder even for the poorest in society.

This gives a society a Singapore a wonderful opportunity to create more engineers and deal with the lack of social mobility at the same time. 

Imagine you have top A level student who comes from a poor family. He can, of course, study Law in order to become a lawyer. But success in legal work is not a mere function of academic intelligence. To get the right training contract, you will need the right social and cultural capital. Also note that you can get straight As in JC but still get average grades in Law School because the competition is so ridiculously tough.

So society should promote the inclusiveness of the engineering profession. The folks who can benefit from an engineering education are often the folks from the humblest backgrounds. 

Perhaps a special drive to get students to study engineering should start with the least privileged members of society. 


  1. During the 1980s & 1990s, top students went into Engineering; Biz was the dumping ground.

    Today, top students go into Biz; Engineering is the dumping ground. LOL!!!

    On a PPP basis, a typical 1990s engineer probably had higher remuneration than a similar engineer today! :)

    I did part-time engineering lecturing in a polytechnic from the late-1990s to the mid-2000s. When I started, it was not uncommon to have a class full of <=8 pointer O-level students. By the time I left, many classes had students with >18 pointer O-level results. Hahaha!!!

    Remember the days when big banks were fighting for Engr & IT grads? Banks preferred them over the traditional biz, finance & accounting grads, unless they had 1st class honours ;)

  2. Actually in light of the flexibility of an engineering graduate plus the lack of a need to be strong in language, it should be a popular choice.

    I was not around in school when engineering gradually became a dumping ground but I blame CECA for this.