This year’s Pulse of Engineering research project by IHS Engineering360 reveals that issues related to technical skills, team communication and expectations to do more with less remain top of mind for many of the 2,250 professionals from 94 countries who took part in the online survey. Respondents vented some common frustrations when asked to name the biggest challenges they face as part of an engineering design team.

“Complete lack of any practical understanding of manufacturing and design by 95 percent of the engineering staff,” wrote one respondent. “Getting clients to recognize the value of experience rather than the cheapest quote,” wrote another. A third added, “The number of experienced engineers in my field is decreasing while the complexity of projects increases.” This third theme in particular surfaced as a major concern among survey respondents.

And one respondent offered this assessment: “Engineering is possibly the most disrespected profession on Earth.”

Competitive Pressures

The pressure of a competitive market also emerged as a recurring theme. Some statements by survey respondents included:

· “Competitors undercutting our costs.”

· “The need to increase communication without risking security.”

· “Government regulations.”

· “Employee retention.”

· “Lagging technology.”

· “The number and quality of our competitors.”

Despite those issues, most engineers remain focused on the career. Asked what most closely describes them in their work environment, a majority chose the statement “I am loyal to my company, as they respect my work and encourage me to come up with unique and creative ways to solve problems. My professional goal is to work on new challenges with colleagues I respect.”

And it’s evident that engineers and allied professionals are working on some pretty cool projects. Among the most intriguing offered by respondents were a multi-million-dollar residence in a snowy and seismically active location, an automation project for a rock quarry, an infrared instrumentation project for large telescopes, a mass transit system’s maintenance facility, a reverse osmosis water treatment facility, an ultra-small radio head, and a 770-megawatt solar farm. And engineers are staying busy; the survey found most on average are working on at least four projects concurrently.

It’s also clear that energy usage and energy efficiency loom large for product design engineers. When asked which sustainability goals are influencing work product and design, energy efficiency was cited by 60 percent of respondents. Reducing energy and resource consumption was selected by 52 percent of respondents, followed by reducing the use of toxic or hazardous parts or materials. When asked, however, to name the single most important factor, energy efficiency and reduced resource consumption were selected by 45 percent of respondents. The next most-cited goal - reducing emissions - was cited by 9 percent of respondents.

One respondent wrote that introducing substitute raw materials and redesigning products to use fewer materials overall are issues due to “market reluctance” to accept change. “The public is very particular about their expectations,” the engineer wrote.

A Regional Perspective

This year’s Pulse of Engineering research project for the first time offers regional breakdowns that provide deep insight into issues challenging engineering professionals in the U.S. and the European Union, as well as comparisons between OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which includes the United States and many European Union members) countries and non-OECD nations. In total, responses from more than 2,250 workers in 94 countries were analyzed. About 47 percent of the responses came from engineers and allied professionals based in the United States.

Respondents overall are an experienced group, with 40 percent saying that they have more than 30 years of professional experience. Not surprisingly, length of service corresponds to an average age among all respondents of 51 years. Overall, women reported fewer total years of professional service and had an average age of 44. Among C-level executives—almost all of these executives were men—the average age was 56. Women accounted for 1 percent of C-level titles and for 7 percent of the engineering community in total (and 3 percent in the EU). Most female engineers fall into the younger population, at 14 percent versus 4 percent who are aged 55-64.

Among survey respondents, 30 percent said they are team leaders with non-manager titles, 25 percent are managers, 24 percent are individual contributors and 20 percent have C-level titles. There are significant age and gender differences within those groups. Non-manager team leaders represent 42 percent of age 18-34 respondents and 23 percent of those age 65+. Among those 65 and older, 33 percent have C-level titles. Among individual contributors, females account for 46 percent of the group, compared to just 22 percent of male respondents.

Differences in responses are notable between engineers in OCED and non-OCED countries as well. For example, meeting project launch dates and ensuring customer satisfaction were listed as more important by U.S respondents than by those in non-OCED or EU countries. Providing product quality and customer service were considered a greater measure of performance for C-level respondents, while individual contributors’ performance was more dependent on meeting launch date targets.

Female and C-level respondents most often said “working fast and working hard is important,” citing more projects, shorter design cycles and increased focus on reducing time to market. Those respondents said they are “happiest managing people and projects.”

Knowledge Retention

Team leaders, younger workers (ages 18-34) and females put greater emphasis on knowledge and/or information loss suffered as a result of colleagues leaving their companies. And females had the lowest average satisfaction rate when asked about their company’s talent and knowledge management process, with an average rate of 5.0 (on a scale where 1 = not satisfied at all and 10 = completely satisfied). By comparison, older workers and C-level title respondents had an average satisfaction rate of 6.3.

Significantly more females and individual contributors also answered “no” when asked whether their company has formal practices in place to identify senior-level and specialized experts to train, transfer, mentor, manage or retain their knowledge among others in the organization.

The survey revealed that older and C-level workers said they are “very” or “completely” likely to be with the same company or in the same role five years from now, while 35 percent of those ages 18 to 34 said they think it’s likely they will be in the same place in five years. Some 16 percent of U.S. respondents expect layoffs at their company, twice the rate as in the EU. And those in non-OCED countries have a higher expectation of being promoted, at 29 percent to 16 percent in OCED nations.

Team Players

This year’s survey found that 37 percent of respondents work in engineering firms that employ between 1-10 people. About one-quarter said they work in a company employing 250 or more engineers. Regardless of the firm’s size, most respondents work in small teams, with 57 percent saying they work in a design team of five people or fewer. About 10 percent of respondents said they work in a team of 25 or more people. Those with C-level titles tend to work in the smallest-sized teams; 76 percent of those respondents said their group is comprised of five or fewer people.

The survey also found differences in job functions depending on gender. One in five women said their primary industry focus is aerospace and defense. By contrast, fewer than 1 in 10 men (8 percent) identified aerospace and defense as their main career focus. The survey showed that 29 percent of women and 20 percent of men work in engineering/tech design services.

Being “required to do more with less” was most often cited (59 percent of respondents) as accurately portraying the situation at the worker’s company. “The pace of engineering is constantly increasing” and “pressure to cut costs is putting product quality/rework at risk” also were widely cited, by 51 percent and 49 percent of respondents respectively. About one-fifth of respondents chose “I am overwhelmed with information” and “pressure to demonstrate credibility and competence due to perceived race/gender/age/culture/language skill differences” as accurately portraying situations at their company.

A report containing detailed “Pulse of Engineering” results will be available shortly. To request a copy, please email

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