What They Don't Know, They May Love; Teens and Engineering

Mom: Would you like to go to the mall with me?

Teen: Uhh, no!

Mom: Oh well. I was going to buy you those jeans you wanted.

Teen: What time do you want to go?

It's funny how teens don't always know what's good for them. Or to be more accurate, they don't always know just how good something can be for them. But, as a parent, you eventually get used to the role of helping your kids become aware of benefits they just can't see on their own. Nationally, that's one of the challenges we have in building a healthy 21st century workforce with a sufficient volume of engineering talent to keep us competitive on the world stage. While engineering holds incredible opportunities for our young people and will play a critical role in the American economy in the years to come, there's work to be done to help teens get a broader and deeper understanding of both the possibilities and the benefits engineering can offer them.

In collaboration with Change the Equation, a non-profit coalition committed to high-quality STEM learning in the U.S., we recently completed a study of more than 1,000 American teens from 13 to 18 years of age. On the surface, it's a little disappointing to see that nearly two-thirds (63%) of these teens have never even considered a career in engineering.

The study also reveals some of the why behind the lack of consideration. Nearly a third of teens are not aware of job opportunities for engineers and 1 in 5 have no idea of the impact that engineers have on the world around them.

The good news is there's a silver lining. More than half of the teens surveyed say more exposure to any facts about engineering, including what engineers actually do and how much money they earn, would make them more likely to consider engineering as a career; if they're simply given the chance to learn about the incredible opportunities engineering offers. A full 60% of teens are surprised to learn that unemployment in engineering is more than 4 percentage points lower than the national unemployment rate; that engineering is the most common major among CEOs; and that half of the top 20 best paying college degrees are in the engineering field.

As a country, what we need to focus on is helping our teens understand that majoring in engineering offers an interesting and satisfying career path that is also financially beneficial. The study shows us that when teens are familiar with this information, the likelihood they will consider it as a career goes up. In terms of gratification and cool factor, teens are more likely to consider engineering when they learn details like "the music in every movie you watch, CD you listen to, and videogame you play is made possible by sound engineers" and "engineers were to thank for saving the Chilean miners who were trapped inside their mine for 69 days."

On the financial front, roughly 60% of the teens surveyed will reconsider a career in engineering when they learn that engineering majors make an average yearly income of $75,000; higher than the yearly income of individuals graduating in any other field.

One of the reasons we conducted this study is to try to get ahead of the game. Other research indicates there are university level issues with engineering and science majors and a fairly high rate of these students either switching majors or not completing their degree at all. So a critical first step to graduate more engineers is actually nurturing an interest in the subject in high school, or earlier, so there is a healthy pool of engineering students poised to graduate.

So how can we help our teens today? Help them understand all the possibilities that engineering holds. They may not know it but it may just interest them and help keep the US as the most innovative country in the world.

Mom: Have you ever thought about being an engineer?

Teen: Um... No!

Mom: Well they do pretty cool things. Like dream up that Angry Birds game you're always playing.

Teen: Really?

Mom: Yup. And they make an awful lot of money, too.

Author Bio:

Diane M. Bryant is vice president and Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Intel Corporation where she is responsible for Intel's Information Technology organization. As a child, Diane planned to be a hairdresser but, inspired by a challenge, she embraced math and science and became an engineer. Now she is the CIO of one of the largest technology companies in the world. Diane is also an advocate for the Intel Education Initiative, with a particular interest in helping to motivate young people, particularly girls, to pursue math- and science-related careers.