Why Do Kids View Engineering As Too Difficult?

America needs more engineers. Last fall, the Presidential Jobs Council set a goal of graduating 10,000 more engineering students from U.S. schools each year. But in order to do that, high school students must get over their apprehensions about the field.

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An Unfamiliar Profession

In order to understand why there's a shortage of engineering majors in the U.S., Intel Corporation and Change the Equation, a non-profit, surveyed 1,000 high school students. One of the most significant conclusions of the survey was that high school students don't know what engineers do. For example, on a list of common professions, engineering was in the bottom half when ranked by familiarity.

The survey didn't find that teenagers view engineers negatively. In fact, the survey respondents overwhelmingly labeled engineers as inventive and smart. On the same question, engineers weren't considered cool, but they also weren't boring or awkward. When considering professions, only 28% of teens think of engineering. Boys consider the profession at twice the rate of girls, who only consider engineering 18% of the time.

An Intimidating Perception

While teens admit to not knowing much about engineering, they do think it's too difficult for them. When presented with a list of words they might associate with the field, difficult was far more popular than gratifying, cool or collaborative. The gender disparity is present here as well, with nearly half of girls considering engineering difficult, compared to 37% of boys.

How to Reverse the Trend

When students learn more about engineering, they become much more interested in the profession. There are numerous facts about engineers that can change students' minds. The surveyed students were informed that the average yearly income for engineering majors is $75,000, more than that of any other field. Furthermore, the unemployment rate among engineers is 5.7%, more than 4% lower than the unemployment rate among all professions.

These financial tidbits persuaded teens to reconsider engineering. But so did facts pertaining to engineering's social impact. For example, the teens were informed that engineers helped save the trapped Chilean miners, brought clean water to rural communities in Africa and discovered methods for feeding the homeless in America. Furthermore, engineers also play a role in fun. It's engineers who make videogames, rollercoasters and texting possible.

With this in mind, engineering became much more popular. The number of teens who'd consider engineering jumped from 28% to 48% after a brief education campaign. Notably, the teens didn't stop thinking of engineering as difficult. Therefore, it's not the difficulty of engineering that prevents teens from going into engineering as much as it is a lack of information. Once they learn more about the field, they're willing to handle the challenges in order to enjoy the benefits.

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