Where Will I Find A Job??
As I read over the questions that readers post here on ME Forum and elsewhere, I sense a common theme in many of them. There seems to be a wide, dare I say almost universal, concern about where those currently in college will find employment after graduation. To a degree this is entirely understandable; we all wonder what is in our future. Even so, the level of anxiety that I sense in many of your postings strikes me as extraordinarily high. Let us consider this a bit.
Most readers of ME Forum are currently enrolled in an engineering curriculum somewhere. Some are just beginning while others are nearing the end of their undergraduate education. I would like to pose a question to all of you: Why did you go to engineering school? Why did you choose what is probably one of the most difficult curricula in any college? For the sake of this article, I'm going to presume that I have heard at least some of your answers.
It is almost universal among engineering students to be looking forward to a good job, one that will provide them a comfortable living and a substantial measure of security. This is not at all unreasonable, and is in fact entirely probable. Almost all of you can expect to be well employed and in the upper echelons of society wherever you live. You will not rank as high as the well-known politicians, nor will you be the most wealthy people in the area. But you will have stable work and a comfortable income from that work.
What does it matter where you find employment? One of the themes I see in what I read is a great many people looking for "government jobs," that is, employment with some government entity. Traditionally, "government jobs" have been very stable. As long as a government employee stays out of trouble, in most situations it is impossible to remove that employee from his government job. This feature makes government work extremely attractive to the incompetent, to those who really cannot do the job well and thus rely on the fact that they can almost never be fired. Is this why you struggle with a difficult college curriculum, so that you can be employed with those that are incompetent? Do you really want to spend your working days with people far less capable than yourself? Many of them have achieved their positions without nearly the rigorous education that you are undergoing, so I ask you, are these the ones you want to have for your close associates?
Let me tell you a personal experience. After a long career that involved both academic positions and various industrial research positions (with a few years as a solo consulting engineer), at age 59 I took a position with a research laboratory run by the U.S. Navy. It is a sad fact of life that, in the USA, most people are considered unemployable after age 60, so I was nearing the end of the time when I could look for and expect to find a new position. The job was attractive because it promised an opportunity to do some well funded work in an area I was quite interested in, the area called electro-mechanics. The position would be very stable and I would be well payed.
In my first week on the job, I was given a few documents to read but nothing really to work on. I was not too surprised and expected all that to end very soon. After about three weeks in the new position with still in no work assignment, I began to be very worried. Every place I had worked previously had plenty of work to be done and anyone not given an assignment was probably being set up to be fired. I spoke with my boss about this several times, and he very casually told me not to worry about it. That really did not relieve my concern, particularly when he was so very casual about the whole matter. I tried to find things to work on, to make myself look useful and busy. In conversation with the other engineers, a few problems were suggested, and I worked on some of those. I wrote a few technical notes, primarily just to show that I wasn't simply sitting idle at my desk. Time went by, weeks turned into months, and months turned into years. When I finally retired from that position after seven years, I estimated that I had done at most 18 months of real work. The rest of the time I simply had nothing assigned for me to work on.
Had I realized in the beginning how the game was to be played, I would have spent my days doing things that were much more productive, such as working on problems that I found interesting, writing technical papers on those problems, and probably writing a few books. In the nonproductive 5 1/2 years I had, I could have done a lot of work! But I did not realize how the game was played, and I kept expecting someone to assign to me real engineering work to do.
As I got to know the other people, I found that a few of them had ongoing projects that were of interest to them, but most had nothing to do most of the time. I am convinced that this is the pattern of government employment, the so-called "government job." There were very few people who were truly happy in their work them: most were fairly miserable in fact. But they were wedded to the paycheck and the job security that went with their "government job." They even spoke of these factors as the "golden handcuffs." Most intended to stick it out for a total of 30 years or more, so that they could retire with a good pension.
Now I ask you, the reader, is your primary goal to retire with a good pension? Is this your principal objective in life? If so, why don't you simply roll over and die now?? While it is true that no one wants to retire in poverty, most of your life is long before retirement. Retirement is the end stage of life. I have been fortunate to live almost a decade since I retired, but it is not at all uncommon for men to die within a year or two after retirement. It seems that many simply lose their purpose in life when they retire. So to live your life in preparation for retirement is foolishness of the highest order!
If preparation for retirement is not to be your principal purpose, then what should be your objective? I submit to you that your objective ought to be to find meaningful, rewarding work in the service of other people. I am not suggesting that a group of mechanical engineers become social workers, but I am saying that you should see some connection between your work and the improvement of your society, the people among whom you live. If your work does nothing to help other people, what is its lasting value? The money you bring home in your paycheck will soon be spent. The time you invested to earn that money is already spent. So what are you contributing to mankind?
Rather than looking for a secure, comfy do-nothing "government job," I suggest to you that you should be adventurous, looking for new opportunities and new ways to help others. This is urgently needed everywhere, particularly in developing countries. Look for small startup companies with new ideas for new products, things that will improve life for everyone. Many of these companies will fail, but you are young, and looking for another job after two or three years with the company that fails is no disaster. It will not reflect badly on you if the company fails; that reflects upon the management of the company rather than upon the engineering staff. Look also at very traditional companies that are doing things the way they have always been done. Many of these companies need engineering help if they are to remain competitive and to survive into the future. This may provide you an opportunity to keep an entire company functioning, providing employment for many people. There are countless other ways that we may help our fellow man, but this should always be high in our list of priorities for the work we will do. It is while you are young that you can afford to be adventurous, to take some risks and try out things that later in life will simply be too risky. Look for challenges, situations that will require it to you use everything that you have learned, and also require you to continue to learn.
There is absolutely no point to your engineering education if your goal is simply to doze the next 50 or 60 years before you die. Plan to do something with your life, something useful, something meaningful. Do not look for a place to lay your head and simply sleep away your career.