Not all the same: A look at early career engineers employed in different sub-occupations

Samantha Brunhaver, Shannon Katherine Gilmartin, Michelle Marie Grau, Sheri Sheppard, Helen L. Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


In recent years, the preparation of engineering students for professional practice has featured prominently in the engineering education literature. Organizations such as ABET and the National Academy of Engineering have even published lists of skills and characteristics required by graduates to succeed1-2. What many studies fail to address, however, are the varying experiences of early career engineering graduates employed in different engineering sub-occupations. While many engineering graduates go on to become engineering practitioners, others pursue careers in engineering consulting, management, research, and teaching, among other options. This paper aims to better understand differences across engineering sub-occupations by comparing them on various personal, experiential, and affective outcomes. Participants for this study come from a survey of engineering bachelor's graduates who earned their degrees from four U.S. institutions in 2007. Funded by the National Science Foundation and deployed in autumn of 2011, the survey received 484 complete responses which were weighted by gender, major, and institutional size to better approximate aggregate responses. Occupational lists on the survey were constructed based on categories in the NSF Science and Engineering Statistical Data System (SESTAT)3 which itself is adapted from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2000 Standard Occupational Classification4. We examined three engineering sub-occupations for this paper: engineering practitioners, consultants, and managers. Four years after graduation, 48 percent of survey respondents were employed in one of these three groups. Respondents were compared on survey measures related to their demographics, career experiences, work characteristics, and self-perceptions. Results showed several differences, specifically in graduates' perceptions of their work, current positions, and identities. Engineering managers were more likely to rely on competencies such as business knowledge and leadership in their work and less likely to rely on engineering techniques and tools. Additionally, smaller proportions of engineering managers saw their current positions and identities as being engineering-related. The findings suggest that different engineering sub-occupations require different skill sets, which may in turn affect how employees view their jobs and themselves. Determination of these differences can enable new thinking about which skills to emphasize in undergraduate engineering programs, through core courses, electives, and/or extracurricular activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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