Engineering a future for engineers

Students at NUS.
Students at NUS.PHOTO: ST FILE

It is a loss to Singapore that only about half of its engineers stay in the profession ("NUS to fire up engineers with new curriculum"; last Friday).

The engineering discipline offers training in the conception and feasible execution of blueprints. Many are untested ideas that require precision and passion. Perhaps, these qualities have held engineers in good stead in other fields.

So, what are the push and pull factors that make engineers leave the profession?

The lure of financial rewards and the attendant material comforts of other fields make engineering less attractive. The financial industry pays well, and the ability of engineers to dissect problems into minute parts and seek solutions makes them well sought after.

Better working conditions in other fields may be another draw. Engineers are saved from the elements, and working hours may be more regular outside the engineering domain. Thus, they could have more predictable schedules for work-life balance.

Beyond the dirt and grime, many may find little fulfilment in their work. Not all participate in mega projects that gain them recognition.

It is harder to achieve personal glory, as engineering success is largely a team effort. In commercial entities, engineering may not be the core part of the business.

Society also does not accord as high an esteem to engineering as to law and medicine.

But there is hope yet in shoring up this essential discipline.

Engineering is multi-faceted and omnipresent in our lives. We need engineers for our long-term survival as a country.

We should equitably reward engineering talents. Put them on a par with their counterparts in finance, law and medicine. Feature them highly in our national agendas by highlighting engineers who have made worthy contributions to nation building.

Let engineers have clearer career paths to boost their morale. They should see prospects for their future beyond the nuts and bolts of daily operations.

For the exceptional, put them in the planning and spearheading of mega projects. Pathways should also be available for the enterprising in commercialising engineering ideas.

The more academically inclined should have space for doing breakthrough research. There should be revolving doors for exceptional engineers to move between industries and laboratories throughout their careers. Most of all, make engineering cool once more.

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Engineering a future for engineers'. Print Edition | Subscribe