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Hydraulics & Pneumatics 2018 Salary and Career Report: Part 2, Educating Your Next Rock Star

In Part 1 of H&P’s Salary and Career Report, readers told us that talent grows in cultures that cultivate stars. Part 2 of our report looks at whether employers are using the raw materials their schools supply to create more Einsteins or Frankensteins.

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Among our survey respondents, nobody confessed to being a Frankenstein, but several admitted to working with or hiring a few. As for Einsteins, nobody claimed that title either, but many said they try to improve themselves by keeping up on the latest advances in science and technology. When asked how they maintain their education, 71% of responding H&P readers indicated they visit educational websites.

That can mean anything, so upon digging deeper, we found that many of those visits involved online courses offered by educational institutions. Several respondents reported they are taking responsibility for funding and furthering their own professional education.71% also use magazines like H&P to stay current. Webinars, blogs and white papers round out the extracurricular educational tools for a little more than half of our respondents.

Our respondents believe in practicing what they preach, evidenced by the fact the majority preach the importance of advanced education.

What is the Minimum Education Needed?

Most of our survey respondents (34.4%) hold Bachelor’s degrees as their highest level of education. Thirteen percent are going beyond that with some graduate studies. Our classes of Associate’s and Master’s degree earners are about the same size—both representing around an 18% share of respondent representation. Those educations, combined with their owners’ initiatives to improve their engineering knowledge, have paid off in both job satisfaction and financial security. As we noted in Part 1 of this Salary & Career Report (on Job Satisfaction), the average annual salaries for respondents break down like this: younger than 35: $67K; 35 to 50: $100K; and over 50: $106K. The next installment of this series will go into further detail on compensation and benefits. For now, let’s show you what our respondents believe to be the right educational formula to achieve success.

Across all age groups, only 31% believe an Associate’s degree is enough preparation for their job. Sixty-three percent say a bachelor’s degree at least is needed. Only about 6% believe a Masters is required, but many told us a degree in any single discipline isn’t enough for any engineer—not even those specializing in the arts and sciences of hydraulics and pneumatics.

Almost every survey respondent (93.5%) told us that engineers need to be multi-disciplined (e.g. mechanical engineers should know electronics and be fluent in the language of mechatronics).

One respondent told us his job springs surprises on them every day, and he must be ready to take those on.

“I personally like to know every aspect of the system I am designing, including electrical,” he said. “This helps when I get roped into being sent to a boat for troubleshooting.”

Another said engineers must be fluent in each other’s languages if they are to form successful project teams.

“Understanding within a team is much more quickly achieved when all the members of a team have some foundational knowledge of each other’s disciplines so they can build on that knowledge.”

“It’s frustrating trying to design a system with an engineer who only understands their own part,” a colleague agreed.

An engineer for a valve manufacturer said that advancements in their company’s products made a multi-disciplinary approach to project management essential.

“Electronics interface with our valves, so having a mechatronics and/or electronics background, in addition to mechanical engineering, will make the transition into valve design easier,” this engineer stated.

Having such expertise is valuable today, but will soon be essential as technologies learn to speak each other’s languages.

“Future fluid power designs will be smart and interface with the Internet of Things (IoT) in a predictive manner,” someone added.

Many Hats Per Head

As technology gets smarter and automation replaces manual labor, one might think any good engineer could write their own ticket to a plum job placement, but several respondents believe employers will be more selective and even rely on fewer but more multi-skilled professionals—even cultivate their own, as discussed in Part 1 of this series. One retirement-ready Baby Boomer said he will be leaving a pretty big void for his employer to fill.

“Companies are not replacing people who retire or leave the company, and resources are limited,” he said. “In order to be competitive, engineers need to be flexible and willing to expand into other disciplines.”

A multi-disciplinary approach to education will not only help to ensure more secure employment, but a safer working environment, as well.

“Over 99% of hydraulic systems are inherently unsafe by design,” another respondent added. “Moreover, the same percentage is poorly designed from the point of view of maintenance and troubleshooting.”

A maintenance specialist among our respondents offered a real-world example of this—from their world:

“On the B1A bomber program, the Stability and Control guys didn’t understand how massive the flight control hydraulics were, while the mechanical guys didn’t appreciate how sensitive the Stab Aug sensors were, and they almost had a big problem until it was discovered on the jack stands for the first plane. We fixed it with a ‘notch filter.’”

How can you teach something like this? Someone who teaches university-level multi-disciplinary engineering courses added that simply looking at a college syllabus will tell young career-minded students their future. They must become professional students and learn to teach themselves.

“The future will require skills to accomplish jobs that, as such, do not exist today,” this educator said. “The only real constant is change, and the only real skill is "Meta-Learning," i.e., learning how to learn.”

Build on the Basics

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses are started either too late or inadequately in student’s life, according to H&P’s audience. That applies even when you turn STEM to STEAM by adding the Arts. We asked, “When should students start with STEM/STEAM education?

Almost two-thirds of respondents said grade school is the ideal starting point, while 30% believe junior high is early enough.

That’s fine, but STEM is a pretty general term, especially for grade school kids. What classes do our respondents think should be taught to younger students to encourage them to be interested in STEM/STEAM? 

Math, physics, shop class and electronics were the top four.

Shop class?

“That has fallen by the wayside,” one respondent stated. “Students should learn how to use basic tools and develop the basic skills to maintain and repair household items, do minor plumbing and electrical repair, etc.”

These are practical skills for any home owner, let alone an engineer. We wondered if the rest of our survey takers were that practical, so we asked, “Approximately what percentage of the knowledge you received in your educational training was theoretical engineering (putting together a fundamental knowledge base) vs. practical applications (applying that knowledge to a real-world problem)?

Most (75%) claimed to have accumulated about a 50/50 mix of practical and theoretical skills.

That seems like a sensible mix for any well-rounded individual, let alone an artist or a scientist.

Courting Controversy

When our survey entered the sociological realm by asking what can be done to increase interest in engineering among women and minorities, we stirred up a spirited debate. Angry, even.

“Get rid of your antiquated beliefs about gender roles,” one young respondent suggested. “Especially ones regarding the notion that girls just aren't good at [insert school subject here].”

Another offered their services to help improve future H&P survey reports:

“This question should be removed from the survey,” they argued. “It is offensive and borderline racist/sexist. As long as the STEM courses are equally offered to every member of this society regardless of their gender and race, there should be no further question on 'how to increase their interest.' Instead, the question should read, 'In your opinion, what can be done to increase the interest in engineering?'”

Yet another respondent was even more blunt:

“This is a dumb question,” they said. “Girls who are interested in engineering will go into engineering. If they are not serious about their interest and are only entering a specific profession due to societal norms or social pressure, then they should reconsider their decisions. As far as minorities are concerned, that is an equally absurd question.”

Others, however, didn’t think this question was so absurd.

“This is one of the goals of our school, but I don't think there is any one answer,” one remarked. “Introducing STEM concepts and tying them to manufacturing at a very young age will help.”

“Women, especially, are more attracted to fields of study with a purpose,” another opined. “Advertise the changes that engineers make to better people’s lives. I have no idea when it comes to minorities. I have been involved with several grants to attract minority STEM students, visited churches, attended minority graduation celebrations, gave STEM scholarships, and we have always been unsuccessful.”

Someone else suggested we need more engineers to become teachers and mentors.

“I love and admire anyone dedicated to the education of our youth, but most are not trained or prepared, or even have the time, to adequately deliver a STEM experience to a class of 30 children.”

A Bright Idea

Maybe the solution lies in students teaching students, another respondent suggested.

“A program from [our] local college [has] students going down to the local schools and teaching some classes they love. Such classes in the poorer communities are key to getting people into the workforce. The need to share your skills is an everyday event.”

For such people, an engineering education can be a reward in itself. Most of our respondents might have appreciated guidance from such motivated counselors when they started out. A majority didn’t get it from their early job experiences. Almost 60% told us there was no clear path to growth when they joined their first company. That makes the 41% who did receive such guidance on their career path good role models for today’s newbies.

Being a career guidance counselor may be rewarding, but it doesn’t put much food on the table. Some engineers eat better than others, depending on their appetites. The next installment of H&P’s 2018 Salary and Career Report gets down to the raw numbers of compensation. You’ll get a chance to see where you stand in the talent market.

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