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Engineering is a relatively new profession compared with the professions of law, medicine, and the ministry. Like other professions, engineering struggles with such problems as redesigning the curricula of its professional schools and raising standards for entry to the field. In addition, engineering has some distinctive occupational problems. Can it increase the commitment of its members to the profession in the face of mounting pressures not to pursue it as a lifelong career? Can it assume the responsibility for the social effects of technological change? As the progenitors of new technologies that are transforming modern society, engineers are among the most important agents of social change. This article will consider some of the problems and potentialities of the profession, that is, some of the factors favoring or inhibiting the further professionalization of engineering as an occupation.

Professionalism and professionalization . In identifying various attributes of a profession, sociologists have often taken as their model the older professions of law, medicine, and the ministry. Although there is no consensus as to the definition of a profession, there is a growing awareness that professionalism is a multidimensional phenomenon and that occupations differ in their degree of professionalism.

An index of professionalism may be based on ratings of such attributes as (a) the possession of a body of technical and systematic knowledge that guides professional practice; (b) an orientation of service to society rather than self-interest; (c) autonomy in rendering professional service; and (d) societal sanction of professional authority. To develop and transmit the body of technical and systematic knowledge, professional schools and training programs are established. To contribute to the fund of professional knowledge, to promote a service orientation, and to increase autonomy in professional practice, professional associations are formed and codes of ethics are developed. To protect professional authority and enhance occupational prestige, societal sanction is sought in various forms, such as the licensing of graduates and the exercising of control over the curricula of professional schools.

The process of professionalization involves the transformation of an occupation in accordance with the ideal-typical components of professionalism. Although the dynamics of professionalization may differ for different occupations, and possibly for the same occupation in different countries, one study suggests that it entails the following sequence of stages: (1) full-time performance of the occupational function; (2) establishment of a school that is not connected with a university; (3) establishment of a university school; (4) formation of a local professional association; (5) formation of a national professional association; (6) enactment of a licensing law; and (7) development of a formal code of ethics (Wilensky 1964). Even if this sequence of stages is neither invariant nor exhaustive, it may provide a useful description and prediction of the process of professionalization.

Whatever stages of professionalization are postulated or demonstrated, it does not follow that a particular profession has reached the same level of professionalization in all countries. Nor does it follow that professionalization of a given occupation is irreversible. It is frequently assumed, however, that newer professions will follow the pattern of development established by the older professions and that this pattern is irreversible. The question of the conditions under which an occupation may be deprofessionalized has hardly been raised.

Before examining some current problems of the professionalization of engineering, we shall briefly review the factors that led to the emergence of this profession.

Emergence of the engineering profession . Engineering as art long antedates engineering as a profession. The invention of the stone ax in the Paleolithic age was among man’s first engineering achievements. In the civilizations of antiquity considerable technological progress was made, as evidenced by such accomplishments as pyramids, aqueducts, canals, bridges, and lighthouses. Directing these engineering feats were highly gifted individuals, some of whom we would today consider engineers. But despite the outstanding work of individual engineers, no professional group came into being for many centuries. Several factors delayed the formation of a profession of engineering. The economies of ancient civilizations did not require the organized development and application of technology, for which an engineering profession was necessary. The prevailing technology was a product of trial and error, intuition, artistry, and the gross synthesis of experience, unsupported by science. In fact, there was pronounced contempt for technology in ancient times. Finally, the tradition of “craft mystery” interfered with the codification and public transmission of technical knowledge. This pattern persisted through the Middle Ages.

During the Renaissance the demand for engineering skills increased. The urgent and recurrent demands of war stimulated the development of many engines of battle, whence came the term “engineer.” With the advent of modern science, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there was a gradual transition from “craft mystery” to science as a basis for technology. The founding of learned societies such as the Royal Society of London, in 1662, the Académic des Sciences, in 1666, and several decades later, the Berlin Academy of Sciences and the Academy of St. Petersburg, reflected and promoted the growing influence of science on technology. During the eighteenth century the services of engineers were enlisted to perform a variety of functions in civilian, as well as in military, life. In France the Corps des Ingénieurs des Fonts et Chaussées, established by the government in 1716, was considered as necessary as the Corps des Ingénieurs de Génie Militaire. In Great Britain engineers were commissioned to drain mines, build roads and canals, and perfect navigational techniques. Thus, the initial stage of the development of engineering as a profession—the need for trained, full-time engineers—comes into view.

Engineering schools were gradually established in place of traditional methods of apprenticeship and pupilage. Among the earliest engineering schools to be founded were the Ecole de Fonts et Chaussees in 1747 and the ficole Polytechnique in 1795. During the American Revolution, George Washington, deploring the shortage of engineers, asked the Continental Congress to provide facilities for the training of a corps of engineers; in 1802 his proposal was implemented with the establishment of the military academy at West Point, modeled after the école Polytechnique. Efforts were made to provide professional training, not only through special technical schools but also at institutions of higher learning. In England a first chair in civil engineering was established in 1841.

Local professional associations had been established in various parts of England and Scotland during the latter part of the eighteenth century. One was the Society of Civil Engineers, founded in 1771 by John Smeaton, a member of the Royal Society, who is alleged to have been the first Englishman to describe himself as a “civil engineer.” In 1818 the first national professional association for engineers was established in England. Similar organizations came into existence in the United States in 1852 and in Canada in 1887.

Thus, the sequence of early developments leading to the emergence of the engineering profession conforms approximately to the first five stages of professionalization mentioned earlier. As engineering became a full-time occupation, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, schools not connected with a university were established, local professional societies were formed, followed by national associations, and engineering was gradually introduced into the curriculum of universities.

Social structure and engineering . The emergence of the engineering profession in western Europe and in North America points up the impact of industrialization on this occupation. Economic development requires and generates technological development, for which engineers and other professionals are essential. Since societies differ markedly in their level of economic development, we would also expect them to differ in their technological capabilities and in the nature and role of their engineering professions. In effect, we are hypothesizing that the relationship between the economic development and technological development of a society is partly mediated by its engineering profession. Some data bearing on the economic and technological development of various countries and the size of their engineering professions are presented in Table 1.

For present purposes, economic development is indexed by per capita share of gross national product (GNP), and technological development is indexed by the number of patents issued in a year and the percentage of GNP expended for research and development (R&D) in any given year. In Table 1, countries for which data are available are ranked according to the GNP per capita variable. The higher the ranking of a country on GNP per capita, the more likely it is that it ranks higher on the size of its engineering profession and the number of patents issued, and on the percentage of GNP expended for research and development. These data suggest one possible systemic pattern of relationships between these variables. A highly industrialized society has the resources to educate a sizable number of engineers, some of whom, together with scientists, engage in research and development, for which a substantial proportion of such a society’s resources is expended; this organized approach to scientific discovery and invention results in increasing numbers of patents; and in turn, the process of invention—in which engineers play a prominent role (Gilfillan 1935, pp. 52, 82-91)—-stimulates economic development, which then confronts the engineering profession with new technical problems.

Another feature of the social structure (apart from the economy and technology) that influences the engineering profession is the political system. In highly centralized and relatively unindustrialized societies, such as some under communist regimes, the engineering profession may be disproportionately large because of the government’s concern with accelerating the process of industrialization. Under such conditions, the autonomy of the profession may be circumscribed and it may be called upon to perform functions other than those of a technological nature.

The level of industrialization of a society has another effect on the engineering profession, which is not reflected in the statistics in Table 1. As industrialization increases, there is a concomitant increase in the number of specialties in the occupation. From the relatively undifferentiated field of engineering existing in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, civil engineering emerged and itself gave rise to mechanical engineering, mining and metallurgical engineering, and electrical and

Table 1 – Gross national product (GNP) per capita, number of engineers, number of patents issued, and percentage of GNP expended for research and development (R & D) in selected countries
a. Calculated by subtracting the number of patents on hand in January 1964 from the number on hand in January 1965 and adjusting the difference to put it on an annual bassic.
b. Combined total of engineers with university training and those w ith formal training just below the university level.
c. University-trained engineers.
d. Includes chemists.
e. Count of university-trained engineers in 1965, other count in 1959; number per 10,000 population is based on 1965 population data and probably is an underestimate.
f. Engineering and technical personnel.
Sources: GNP from Russett et al. 1964, pp. 155-157. Number of engineers from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 1963, pp. 225-229, tables 13 and 14; Korol 1965, p. 244, table A-l; Emerson 1965, p. 138, table 7; Horowitz 1965, p. 7, table 1.4; Baldwin 1965, p. 155, table 5.2; Demographic Yearbook 1963. Patents from U.S. Patent Office, Official Gazette . . . 1964, p. 777, and 1965, p. 2. Per cent of GNP f or R & D from Dedijer 1962.
 U.S. dollarsNumberPer 10,000 populationYear of informationNumberPercentageYear of information
United States2,577783000b4.4195947,3782.81960/1961
United Kingdom1,189156000b2.9196331,0602.51958/1959
West Germany927226200b,d4.5195620,1501.41959
Soviet Union6001325000b6.019626,8502.31960
Yugoslovia26527429c1.41965 0.71960
Communist China73175000f0.31957   

chemical engineering, which were followed by automotive and aeronautical engineering. In the decades since World War II various economic, scientific, and political developments have stimulated the rise of new specialties, such as nuclear engineering, computer technology, astronautical engineering, and systems engineering.

As the engineering profession becomes increasingly differentiated and heterogeneous, a recurrent question arises regarding the identity of engineers. Periodically, engineering educators, officials of professional societies, and census officials discuss the question, Who is an engineer? In the United States the census definition relies, in effect, on the respondent’s decision as to whether he is an engineer. Professional engineering societies emphasize formal training in an engineering school and/or a minimum number of years of engineering experience. This concern with clarifying the definition of an engineer reflects a changing social and technical environment of the occupation, which is due to the accelerating rate of growth of scientific knowledge and increasing levels of industrialization. The changing environment confronts the occupation with dilemmas as to the meaning of professionalism and the direction of further professionalization. These dilemmas arise in connection with the process of recruitment to the profession, the education of engineers, the career decisions of engineers, the functions of professional societies, the problem of responsibility for the social impact of technological change, and the prestige of the profession.

The recruitment process . In highly industrialized societies engineering is one of the fastest-growing occupations. The average annual rate of growth of the profession in some countries tends to exceed the rates of growth of the economy and of the population. In Communist China the engineering profession had an average annual growth rate of 67.1 per cent during the years 1955 through 1962 (computed on the basis of data in Chêng 1964, pp. 111-113); and in the Soviet Union the comparable rate for these years was 32.2 per cent (based on data in Korol 1965, pp. 242-244, table A-l). In comparison, the annual rate of growth for the engineering profession in Great Britain during the years 1959 through 1963 was 5.5 per cent; in France it was 3.2 per cent for the same period; and in Sweden it was only 2 per cent for the period 1955 through 1960 (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 1963, pp. 136-175). Maintaining a balance between the demand for and the supply of engineers has been a problem in the post-World War u period and will probably continue to be a problem in the future (e.g., U.S. Department of Commerce 1963).

The engineering profession, probably more than the older, established professions, tends to recruit its members—at least in highly industrialized societies—from heterogeneous social origins. According to one study, a substantial proportion of graduate engineers in Great Britain have middle-class or working-class backgrounds: 36 per cent of their father’s occupations are white-collar and 22 per cent are blue-collar (Gerstl 1963, p. 19; see also Jahoda 1963, p. 54). Several studies of engineering students in the United States also indicate a substantial degree of recruitment from middle-class and working-class backgrounds: 44 per cent of the fathers of engineering students at Northwestern University pursue manual or white-collar occupations (Krulee 1963, p. 20); and 50 per cent of engineering students at the University of California at Berkeley come from working-class or middle-class backgrounds (Trow 1959, p. 68). In the Netherlands, on the other hand, opportunities for entry into the engineering profession appear to be more limited than in the United States and Great Britain: approximately 28 per cent are recruited from working-class and middle-class backgrounds (Kuiper 1956, p. 233, table 2).

The more heterogeneous the social origins of engineers, the more diverse, in all likelihood, are the motivations and values involved in their choice of occupation. In a study of students at 11 American universities who chose engineering as a career, 38 per cent stressed the “chance to earn a great deal of money”; 52 per cent, the opportunity to be creative and original; and 28 per cent, the opportunity to be helpful to others (Goldsen et al. 1960, pp. 43-44). A study of American students from 135 colleges and universities who chose engineering as a career in the freshman year found that 25 per cent mentioned money as a factor, 26 per cent mentioned opportunity to be original, and 7 per cent gave “people” as a reason (Davis 1965, p. 188). In Great Britain a study of sixth-form boys found that, of those interested in engineering, 32 per cent gave “money” or “good prospects” as their reason; 19 per cent mentioned that it affords an opportunity to be creative; and 13 per cent said that they were interested because it combines theory and practice (Oxford University 1963, pp. 37-38). At two London polytechnics a survey of evening students which inquired into their motivations for attendance found that 36 per cent hoped for a better-paid job, 10 per cent for more job security, 16 per cent for a more interesting job, and 9 per cent for a job with a higher social standing (Cot-grove 1958, pp. 102-103). In short, the values of money, prestige, security, creativity, integration of theory and practice, and helping people are but a few of the values affecting the choice of engineering as a career. The old hypothesis of a relationship between social-class heterogeneity and occupational attrition has recently found some support in a study of the occupational structure of the United States: “The more heterogeneous in social origins the young men entering an occupation are, … the greater is their tendency to leave it later for a variety of other occupations. This finding suggests that homogeneity in background fosters social solidarity, which lessens the inclination of its members to leave an occupational group” (Blau 1965, p. 490). Thus, we may infer that social-class heterogeneity among engineers very likely contributes to occupational attrition, because of reduced social solidarity.

The diversity of motives prompting students to enter the field of engineering also creates various difficulties for the profession. First, the very existence of a diversity of values regarding engineering acts to lower the feeling of solidarity among engineers as an occupational group. Second, the prevalent “extrinsic” values, such as money, prestige, and security, contrast with such “intrinsic” work values as the opportunity to be creative or to link theory with practice. Intrinsic values are probably more associated with commitment to a profession than are extrinsic values. Finally, the socially heterogeneous recruits to engineering impose an even greater demand for professional socialization during and after the period of formal education than would socially homogeneous recruits.

Educational patterns . The educational resources of a society, which vary with the level of industrialization, greatly affect not only the number of engineers recruited but also their quality and, in turn, their capability to contribute to technological development. The feedback effects of an adequate supply of well-trained engineers and scientists on economic growth has stimulated widespread interest in developing educational institutions and enlarging enrollments, as an investment in “human capital.” That facilities for educating engineers vary in large measure with the level of industrialization of a society can be shown by examining the relationship between the number of enrolled engineering students in various countries and the GNP per capita for these same countries. The higher the degree of industrialization, as measured by GNP per capita, the greater is the number of engineers enrolled (unpublished research by the author, based on data in Russett et al. 1964, pp. 155-157; UNESCO, Statistical Yearbook 1963, pp. 226-249, table 16; DeWitt 1961, p. 318). It is noteworthy that, in their effort to accelerate economic growth, communist countries have greatly expanded their facilities for the education of engineers. In China engineering enrollment increased from 30,300 in 1949, when the new regime was established, to 177,600 in 1957 (Orleans 1961, pp. 68-69); in the same year, 40 per cent of all students enrolled in Chinese institutions of higher learning were majoring in engineering (ibid.). In the Soviet Union the comparable percentage was 39 per cent in 1958 (DeWitt 1961, p. 318), and in the United States it was 5 per cent in 1962 (computed from statistics in U.S. Office of Education 1965, p. 81, table 58, and in U.S. Bureau of the Census 1963, p. 136, table 177).

Critical as is the quantity of engineers educated for the economic and technological development of a society, the principal problems of professionalism and professionalization revolve around the quality of their education. Engineering curricula are periodically reviewed by engineering educators and professional societies. This, to be sure, is necessary because the rapid rate of growth of science and technology requires that engineering schools continually revise their curricula to insure that they are transmitting the new state of the art. The task of reducing the time lag between the development of new knowledge and its incorporation into the curriculum is often fraught with difficulty. A case in point is the time lag involved in introducing courses on computers in engineering schools.

Designing and redesigning engineering curricula in response to technological change is beset by many problems other than recruiting a competent and adaptable faculty. One of the problems is that the practice of engineering is generally based on an undergraduate level of education. The fact that relatively high proportions of engineers in some countries have not received even this minimal level of training highlights the unsolved problems of professionalizing this occupation. For example, in China only 35 per cent of engineers had undergraduate engineering degrees in 1955 (Chêng 1964, p. 35), and in the United States only 56 per cent had such degrees in 1960 (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 1966). The length of full-time training in engineering schools ranges from three to five and one-half years, with many European countries and the Soviet Union at the high end of this scale (Conference of Representatives 1960, vol. 2, p. 42).

Associated with the time limitation of an undergraduate level of engineering education is the problem of determining how much of the curriculum should be devoted to fundamental sciences, to engineering sciences, to engineering applications, to specialization in the various fields of engineering, and to nonengineering subjects (American Society for Engineering Education 1955, pp. 11-23; Wood 1961). This problem is closely related to another, which is bound to receive more attention in the future, namely, whether engineers should be trained in a specific branch of engineering or in the fundamentals of engineering. The fact that the main branches of engineering—civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical, and aeronautical—are becoming increasingly interrelated in new technologies makes this problem increasingly significant.

As might be expected, countries differ in the degree to which engineering education is oriented to the acquisition of knowledge in a particular specialty. In the United Kingdom, where about one-half the engineers are trained in part-time, “sandwich,” or cooperative programs in technical colleges, and in the United States, where the variation in quality in the more than 250 engineering schools is considerable, there is probably a greater degree of specialization than in some countries in continental Europe. In the Soviet Union and Communist China the degree of specialization appears to be greater still (Korol 1957, pp. 252-253; Chêng 1964, p. 98). In underdeveloped countries, which tend to emulate the educational systems of developed countries, an argument has been advanced for training general engineers, rather than specialists, in order to help initiate the process of industrialization (Hunt 1960).

The role of nonengineering subjects in the curriculum—what types and how many courses should be offered in the humanities, in problems of management, or in social sciences—is also an open question. There is notable variation between countries in this respect, as shown by a recent study of some systems of engineering education (Conference of Representatives 1960, vol. 2, p. 44). In part the variation is due to differences in die quality of secondary school education; in part it reflects variation in the assessment of the kinds of knowledge and skills required of a practicing engineer.

Rarely considered in the recurrent reappraisals of engineering education is the question of the inculcation of basic values of professionalism in the training of engineers (see National Society of Professional Engineers 1963). Among the basic professional values to which engineering students might be socialized are: (a) the importance of contributing to technological innovation, rather than accepting the technological status quo; (b) the awareness of and concern for the social impact of technological innovations; and (c) the conception of professional education as a lifelong activity that is not confined to the years of formal training in engineering schools. Whether and how to inculcate these and other professional values are still frontier problems in professionalizing engineering. For example, the novel and presumably controversial practice, at a French institution of higher learning at Sacley, of awarding a degree in reactor engineering for a limited period—subject to revalidation after five years by means of attendance at refresher courses and success at future examinations—is based on a conception of engineering education as a lifelong process (King 1965).

Problems of redesigning engineering curricula in a quickly changing technological and social environment defy easy and durable solutions. They are even more resistant to solution without full cognizance of the types of careers pursued by engineers following graduation from an engineering school.

Career patterns . The process of professional socialization obviously does not end upon graduation from an engineering school. The organizational context in which an engineer works and the type of function he performs affect not only the course of his career in engineering but also his career orientation and his degree of commitment to the profession.

Unlike the members of some of the older professions, engineers are predominantly salaried employees, with the exception in some countries of a small subgroup of engineers who are self-employed and engage in consulting work (see, for example, Engineers Joint Council 1965, p. 17). Typically, engineers are employed in manufacturing organizations and in various construction operations of a governmental nature. Within the past several decades, as the number of research-and-develop-ment laboratories has rapidly increased, new work contexts have opened up for engineers. In the less industrialized countries most engineers still perform various production functions, whereas in the more industrially developed countries a rising proportion are engaged in research-and-development activities. This variation in function is suggested by the data in Table 2. In the United States and the Soviet Union, two of the more highly industrialized countries, approximately one-third and one-fifth, respectively, of the engineers work in research and development.

As several studies of occupations other than engineering have shown, the first job after graduation usually has more effect on career opportunities than do subsequent jobs. Engineering is no exception to this. Among the factors affecting the engineer’s first career decision is the quality of the engineering school he attended. A graduate of an elite school often has the opportunity to begin his career in an organization which is in the main stream of technological development. He also has the opportunity—as is true, for example, of the graduate of the école Polytechnique—to orient his career toward top management (Granick 1962, pp. 26-30).

If the engineer begins his career in a production setting, he is unlikely to subsequently enter a research-and-development organization or engage in teaching and research in an academic environment. The only two probable career lines open to him are management of a technical or a nontechnical function and the pursuit of an occupation other than engineering. The career path of an engineer in a research-and-development organization or in a university is probably quite different from that of an engineer employed in a production organization. In either case, the probability is

Table 2 – Distribution of engineers by type of work, for selected countries: per cent
 YearProductionManagement and administrationResearch and developmentTeachingOther
a. Includes scientists.
b. Includes engineers engaged in teaching.
Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 1963, pp. 134 ff. Data for the Soviet Union are estimates computed for the author by Alexander G. Korol.
Soviet Union1,9643310.022728.0
United States1,959408.030 21b

higher that he will not leave engineering for another occupation; on the other hand, the likelihood is that, after some years in research-and-develop-ment work, the engineer may transfer to a production or a management function, especially management of a technical operation. The relatively small percentage of engineers who enter teaching and research in an academic environment, as shown in Table 2, in all likelihood continue in this function; if they leave the academic environment, their career paths are likely to be in research rather than in production (LeBold et al. 1960; Gerstl & Hutton 1966).

As a salaried employee, the engineer experiences organizational constraints that he finds difficult to reconcile with his expectations as a professional (Kornhauser 1962). The type of function he performs as an engineer affects his role conception, as well as the length of his career in engineering. In a production function his role relationships involve interaction with production workers and engineering technicians, on the one hand, and with managers, on the other. As a staff engineer, he lacks the authority of the manager, and he tends to be treated, in some organizational contexts, in the same manner that an engineering technician or a production worker is treated. The norm of obedience is more characteristic of the relationship he has with his superiors and subordinates than the norm of service, which is typical of a professional, or the norm of autonomy, which is typical of a scientist (Evan 1962, p. 352).

In a research-and-development organization the engineer’s role tends to subject him to the typical dilemmas of a marginal man (Shepard 1957). The scientist regards him as a “nuts-and-bolts” engineer; the manager, as someone who is insufficiently sensitive to cost factors in engineering. In a research-and-development setting, however, there is less likelihood for his role to be confused with the role of an engineering technician or a production worker. (For an analysis of the occupational marginality of engineering technicians, see Evan 1964.) Probably only the small proportion of engineers engaged in basic or applied research escape some of the problems of marginality: their work is governed, not by a norm of service, but rather by a norm of autonomy.

As a consequence of the rapid rate of technological change, there is a growing tendency for the careers of engineers to be abbreviated. The knowledge and skills of engineers obsolesce so quickly that engineers, especially in highly industrialized countries, find it necessary to shift into management work or nonengineering occupations in the middle of their careers (see, for example, Evan 1963). No longer can the new graduate engineer assume, as some of his predecessors did years ago, that he will spend his entire working career in engineering.

To cope with the growing problem of technical obsolescence, programs of continuing education are being established in the United States, France, Germany, and some other countries. The theory and methodology required for the retraining of engineers in the middle of their careers remain to be developed. As yet there is scant evidence as to the effectiveness of continuing-education programs in helping engineers to cope with their technical-updating problems. Another career problem is the flattening of the salary curve with age, which may be related to the declining market value of older engineers undergoing technical obsolescence (see, for example, Kornhauser 1962, pp. 128-130). These and other career problems of engineers are solved in some countries, not by changing employers, labor markets, or occupations, but by means of emigration. The limited statistics on the migration of engineers makes it difficult to ascertain the countries of origin and destination of engineers who emigrate. However, we do know that this mode of adaptation to career problems has created concern in the countries of emigration. In the face of a shortage of technically trained manpower in most countries of the world, emigration of engineers is looked upon as a “brain drain.” This is particularly true in the case of a relatively underdeveloped country, such as Argentina, where engineers have emigrated in substantial numbers to the United States (Oteiza 1965).

In short, the organizational contexts in which engineers are employed, the types of functions they perform, and the types of role relationships in which they are involved have not been conducive to an effective process of professional socialization. After his graduation from engineering school, his work experiences often do not tend to imbue the engineer with a dedication to the occupation (Wilensky 1964, pp. 150-155) or an increasing awareness of the social consequences of technological change. Professional associations have a significant function to perform in making up for the deficiencies of the work context as an agent of professional socialization.

Professional associations . Only some of the career problems encountered by engineers have thus far received attention by professional associations of engineers. Economic problems have largely been ignored, although licensing regulations may have had an indirect beneficial effect on the earnings of some engineers. Sporadic efforts in some countries to organize trade unions of engineers to promote their economic interests have not been successful (see, for example, Goldstein 1954; Walton 1961). Unlike the medical profession, engineering has not acted in unison to enhance the economic position of its members. One factor that has hindered the professional societies in performing an economic function has been the lack of organizational unity within the profession. Instead of there being a single professional association of all engineers in a country, there has been a tendency toward the “Balkanization” of the occupation. As new specialties in engineering arise, new professional associations come into being, and the proliferation of such societies makes for ever greater difficulties in unifying the profession. This tendency has occurred both in the United States and in the United Kingdom, as well as in western Europe. In the more industrialized societies, where the profession is further developed, there are a greater number of professional associations and correspondingly more difficulty in unifying them.

The principal function that professional societies appear to perform is that of a learned society. In other words, they see themselves principally as an instrument for advancing and disseminating engineering knowledge, thus supplementing the functions performed by universities and research institutes. It follows, therefore, that they can contribute significantly to the engineer’s need for continuing education. In the future, even more than in the present, they are likely to help engineers continue their professional development by means of seminars, abstracting services, and special conferences. Thus, participation by engineers in the activities of professional associations may increasingly reflect the degree of their professional commitment. In the more industrialized countries, where the educational services of professional societies are apt to be in greater demand, memberships of engineering societies are likely to be larger than in the less industrialized societies.

Another noteworthy feature about professional associations of engineers is the relatively modest progress they have made to date in organizing international professional associations. Since World War ii several regional associations of engineering societies have come into being, notably the Conference of Engineering Societies of Western Europe and the United States of America, the European Federation of National Associations of Engineers, and the Pan-American Federation of Engineering Societies. Another significant development was the founding of the Union of International Engineering Organizations, under the aegis of UNESCO, in 1950. These are in the nature of nongovernmental organizations, whose unit of membership is the national society of engineers, not the individual engineer. The strength of such international bodies depends very much upon the strength of the constituent societies. In their relatively brief history these organizations have not yet contributed noticeably to new modes of international cooperation between engineers, to new media for dissemination of technological knowledge, or to an awareness of membership in a world-wide profession.

In addition to performing economic, educational, and knowledge-advancing functions, professional associations seek to regulate their members’ conduct by establishing codes of ethics. To the extent that professional engineering associations have concerned themselves with ethical issues, they have attended mostly to the relations of the engineer with his fellow engineer and his employer. Ethical codes have set forth very general guidelines regulating conduct in these spheres. Only in most general terms do canons of ethics touch upon the relations of the engineer to the public or to society as a whole (National Society of Professional Engineers 1962). Thus far, ethical codes have scarcely concerned themselves with the complex and diffuse ethical question of the responsibility of the engineering profession for the social consequences of technological change.

Dilemmas of social responsibility . One reason for the widespread neglect on the part of engineers of the problem of social responsibility for technological change is the difficulty of accepting responsibility for events over which they exercise virtually no control. As salaried employees, performing in the main a staff function, engineers are rarely in a position to make policy decisions concerning the wisdom of developing or not developing a new engineering product or concerning what, if any, action might be taken to counteract its potential or actual negative social effects. This is particularly true for the overwhelming proportion of engineers engaged in production or in development research, where the norms governing their conduct emphasize obedience to directives from management (Evan 1962). Since management makes the decision to produce or not to produce a particular engineering product or service, the salaried engineer probably feels that he scarcely has an occasion for any ethical decision concerning the possible adverse effects of a technological innovation.

In the past the staff function of the engineer has in fact absolved him from actively concerning himself with the question of responsibility for adverse social consequences of technological innovations (Merton [1949] 1957, p. 568). However, it is unlikely that this absolution of responsibility will be acceptable to engineers in the future, as technological advances generate problems of unemployment, environmental pollution, invasion of privacy, and an increasing threat of accidental or deliberate nuclear war. Pressures from within and without the profession will probably stimulate engineers to come to grips with the social ramifications of the technological changes they help develop.

Some of these ethical dilemmas may be solved by new innovative technology; others may require innovative social changes. Although it is unlikely that the individual engineer will succeed in coping with the many complex ethical dilemmas that arise in the process of technological innovation, collective action by professional associations might prove effective. In other words, if the engineering profession assumes a social responsibility for the problems of negative effects of technological change, it may contribute significantly to their solution.

Prestige of the profession . The prestige of the engineering profession may be affected by, among other things, the attitudes of the public toward the engineer’s role in generating positive or negative social consequences of technological innovations. The increasing prominence of the role of technology in society has probably elevated the prestige of engineering in recent years. On the other hand, the fact that engineering does not require a formal education as prolonged as some other professions and the fact that the members are recruited from heterogeneous social origins may contribute to a lowering of its prestige, relative to other professions, in some countries.

The prestige of engineering has received some attention from sociologists in several countries. As a result of the interest among sociologists in studying systems of social stratification in different societies, several parallel studies of the prestige of various occupations, including engineering, have been undertaken. The methodological differences between these studies make a comparison of the findings hazardous. Nevertheless, on the basis of these studies, it is clear that engineering does not have the same prestige in all countries. For example, in the Soviet Union engineers ranked second in prestige as compared with other occupations (Inkeles & Rossi 1956, pp. 336-337); in the Philippines engineers ranked fourth (Tiryakian 1958, p. 394); in Great Britain they were in eighth place (Hutton & Gerstl 1964, p. 13); in West Germany they were in tenth place (Inkeles & Rossi 1956, pp. 336-337); and in the United States their prestige rank was 21.5 (Hodge et al. 1964, p. 290). Moreover, the data suggest that the prestige of the engineering profession varies inversely with the degree of industrialization as indicated by GNP per capita. Presumably, as the division of labor becomes more specialized in more industrialized societies and as the proportion of professionals in the labor force increases, engineering faces more competition from other occupations for rewards, monetary and other. In addition, as a society becomes more industrialized, the engineering profession tends to increase in size, which may also become a factor in lowering its prestige. Changes in the internal structure of the engineering profession and in its social role are likely to affect its prestige in the future.

Potential social roles . What types of roles engineers will play in the future depends in part on the course of professionalization of the occupation and in part on the course of political and economic development. If the occupation becomes increasingly professionalized, we may observe a threefold division.

The appreciable segment of the occupation that has received limited or low-quality training in engineering schools and whose knowledge is based largely on practical experience will tend to coalesce with engineering technicians (Evan 1964, p. 108). This tendency will be encouraged by the progressive application of automation to some of the production and design functions performed by engineers, thus, in effect, de-professionalizing some members of the occupation. At the opposite end of the expertise continuum within the profession, there is a relatively small but probably increasing proportion of engineers working at the frontiers of engineering knowledge, who will tend to merge with applied scientists. The intermediate and by far the largest segment of the occupation will continue to perform a high caliber of technical engineering work. This group may be impelled in one of two directions in the future: toward the acquisition of power at organizational levels or at the national level or toward a new conception of professional service.

In his manifesto to engineers in the 1920s, Veb-len ([1919] 1921, pp. 138-169) urged them to replace “absentee owners” and to run industry rationally, in accordance with the “instinct of workmanship” rather than the principles of the “price system.” Unlike Marx and Engels in their manifesto to the proletariat, Veblen expressed no hope that his technocratic vision would be realized. In the decades since Veblen’s essay was published, the rise of highly centralized political systems has increased the need for engineers to assist in the planning and decision-making process. In communist countries the political and economic exigencies in domestic and foreign affairs may require, in the decades ahead, an even greater reliance on engineers to perform a technocratic role. In France, as we have seen, the recruitment of engineering graduates from the ficole Polytech-nique and several other grandes ecoles to commanding positions in industry and in the civil service is another example of a trend for engineers to perform a technocratic role (Granick 1962, pp. 60-72). The engineer imbued with the technocratic vision believes, on the one hand, in the capacity of technology to solve all social problems without recourse to value considerations and, on the other hand, in the importance of integrating engineers into the political power structure of society.

An alternative role for engineers is that of a professionally self-conscious agent of the technological and economic development of a society. Although performing principally a staff function, engineers would explicitly concern themselves with developing technology for human welfare and, more specifically, with the predictable social ramifications of any new engineering design, product, or service (see, for example, Boguslaw 1965, pp. 23— 29, 181-204). To distinguish this type of social role from both the technocratic role and the prevailing amoral professional role, we might designate it a “professional-technologist” role. In accordance with this role model, an engineer would be guided by an explicit orientation of professional service in his relations with the technological system of a society.

If the new role of professional technologist is to become institutionalized, at least two developments would have to occur. First, if the tempo of development in science and technology stimulates a large proportion of practicing engineers to acquire a postgraduate degree, say at the master’s level, such a trend would increase the exposure of engineers to professional socialization in the context of engineering schools. Second, if a “technological community” transcending national boundaries (and parallel to the prevailing “scientific community”) comes into being, it would provide the normative foundations for the professional-technologist role. Such a community would be guided by a set of norms and values concerning technical as well as social facets of engineering, not unlike some of the norms current in the scientific community (Merton [1949] 1957, pp. 550-561). The implementation of past proposals for an international institute of science and technology (Killian 1962) and the emergence of transnational professional societies of engineers—whose unit of membership is the individual engineer—in addition to the present international societies, would probably contribute to the emergence of a technological community.

Which of these two new potential social roles— that of the technocrat or that of the professional technologist—will predominate in the years ahead or whether both roles will become institutionalized, albeit in different societies, is obviously difficult to predict. A conditional prediction, however, may be ventured: the professional-technologist role is likely to become institutionalized in societies where a democratic and antielitist ethos predominates; conversely, in societies with a nondemocratic and elitist ethos, the technocratic role of the engineer is likely to become institutionalized. A political-ecological factor that may affect this prediction is the relationship between international conflict and the course of technological development. If international conflict in the next decades comes under effective international regulation—thus reducing the chances of nuclear war—technology, and in turn the engineering profession, will be able to continue its development largely independent of international political and military conflicts. Such an international political environment would be conducive to the institutionalization of the role of the professional technologist, particularly in industrialized societies, and to the growth of a technological community, both of which would usher in a new level of professionalization of engineering.

William M. Evan



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Demographic Yearbook 1965. 1965 New York: United Nations. → Data in Table 1, copyright United Nations 1965. Reproduced by permission.

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Evan, William M. 1963 The Problem of Obsolescence of Knowledge. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Engineering Management Group, IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management EM 10: 29-31.

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Engineering is a body of complex knowledge and a sophisticated art. Because it incorporates mathematical and physical sciences in its applications and designs, it is often mentioned together with science. Engineers, however, deal with the operation of things and apply scientific methods to understand and solve problems, whereas scientists focus on the discovery of knowledge. The traditional role of engineering is to apply natural laws in order to meet the practical needs of society. The scope of engineering is broad, ranging from designing a paper clip, to building space shuttles for space missions, to inspecting the Eiffel Tower.

Engineering is of great importance to modern societies. Participation in engineering, however, is closely linked to gender and race. Historically, engineering, like other intellectual endeavors, was considered a white male domain. Women and racial minorities were virtually absent from the development of engineering as a profession, but not because there were no females or minorities with technical knowledge and expertise. Many female and black inventors remained unrecognized because of economic, legal, and political barriers. Cultural assumptions about the proper roles of women and minorities and discriminatory practices, both individual and institutional, discouraged and restricted creative activities among women and minorities. This traditional negating of the intellectual achievements and abilities of women and minorities had a long-term adverse impact on female and minority participation in and contribution to engineering.

Engineering education and employment has become more inclusive, due to a variety of progressive reforms, such as the Civil Rights Act (1964), Title IX of the Education Amendments (1972), and affirmative action programs. Furthermore, industrialization and development in defense and information technology industries have created a rising demand for technical workers. As a result, employers turn to nontraditional workers women, minorities, and immigrantsas an additional source of skilled labor.

The notion that there is a male culture of engineering has been invoked to account for existing gender disparities in the engineering profession. Due to gender role socialization, women tend to lack tinkering experience in childhood. This deficit in technical skills presents challenges for female college students in predominantly male fields such as engineering. It has been suggested that the masculine nature of technological work and male dominance in the workplace have made it difficult for female engineers to fit in. The dearth of women in engineering fields in turn helps perpetuate the male culture of engineering.

Prior to 1880, engineering practice in the United States was primarily a private, independent endeavor, but since then it has become institutionalized and professionalized. By contrast, in Britain engineering is still considered a craft-based occupation rather than an elite profession. A traditional emphasis on apprenticeship as the means to obtain practical skills and experience sets British engineers apart from their American counterparts, who undergo formal training in engineering science. In Britain, neither the government nor the private sector has a significant role in the development and expansion of engineering education. It has been argued that the focus on training through apprenticeship limits the development of science-based high-tech industry, and that the craft model is responsible for Britains economic decline. The British engineering population can be categorized into three groups: chartered engineers, technical engineers, and technicians. Unlike autonomous managers, British engineers who perform non-manual technical work enjoy a marginal status in the organizational structure. They organize themselves by unions instead of opting for professional structuring. As a result, engineers in Britain occupy a relatively low social status compared to their European and American counterparts.

Unlike the British, the French rely on elite engineering schools to produce their technical experts. French engineers put a premium on theoretical knowledge. They tend to identify themselves more with high-status management than with low-status technical staff and, as with their American counterparts, they are expected to join the ranks of management. Having formal training in mathematics and science prepares them for their managerial careers. The French engineering workforce is highly stratified, based on divisions among academic institutions and among employers. The same can be said about the German engineering community. However, instead of concentrating on abstract knowledge and basic research, the training of engineers in Germany has incorporated practical training into engineering science. German engineers have played a key role in the nations industrialization. The vast majority of them are employed by the state and industry.

Engineering in the United States is not a homegrown product. The American engineering profession began to take shape after European engineering practices were introduced into the United States. The government, industry, and academic institutions have collectively shaped the professionalization and internationalization of engineering. Professional engineering in the United States evolved as a synthesis of the British craft system, with its focus on the practical and empirical; the French school system, with its emphasis on formal and theoretical training; and, later, the German estate model, with its orientation toward research. During the nineteenth century, most American engineers were trained on-the-job or through apprenticeship in a machine shop. The British craft method became the training system for many American civil and mechanical engineers. Others received formal training at military academies, such as the United States Military Academy at West Point. Gradually, civilian engineering schools replaced military academies as the principal training ground for engineers. After the passage of the Morrill Act by Congress in 1862, civilian engineering schools became the principal producers of engineers. Under this act, the federal government offered land grants to states for the establishment of schools or college programs in engineering. Many academic institutions took advantage of these land grants and began to offer courses in engineering. As the professionalization of engineering took shape, new engineering fields began emerging in the late nineteenth century. Meanwhile, the influence of business and industry on formal engineering training became increasingly stronger. Besides land, a lot of resources are required to set up an engineering school, including expensive laboratory equipment. Through their financial backing of engineering schools and to a lesser extent the training of engineers at their own company schools, business and industry have exerted direct, strong, and enduring influence over engineering curricula as well as the supply of engineers. As a result, the private sector has become a major sponsor and beneficiary of university engineering schools. Although universities have assumed the role of educating engineers, the private sector has maintained its control over engineering education by offering critical financial backing to engineering programs across the country, new and old.

Economic integration and expanding free trade have made engineering a complex global endeavor transcending national boundaries. With the advent of information technology and advanced telecommunications, transnational projects involving engineers from different cultures are not uncommon. Collaborations in research and development between engineers and scientists from diverse backgrounds are also routine. Engineers can be found in both public and private sectors, and enjoy enormous influence in business and industry.

Engineering is manifested in many facets of our lives. At the end of the twentieth century, the integration of engineering with disciplines such as mathematics, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence resulted in the creation of computer science and information science programs at universities. Many medical applications such as robotics, artificial organs, radiology, and ultrasoundare the culmination of research pairing engineering and other disciplines.

Because technical competence is so critical for business and industry, engineers have become very much part of the modern system of technocracy, or rule by experts. Engineer-inventors believe that they can offer technical, logical, and practical solutions to social problems and, eventually, facilitate social progress. Indeed, no one can deny that technological developments have transformed the structure of society and changed our work and lifestyles. Very few people have any real knowledge of the planning, design, and evaluation associated with the creation and maintenance of utilities, buildings and other structures, machines and equipment, and a host of commercial products. But for many people, a world without automobiles, computers, and mobile phones would be unthinkable. Like managers, engineers are trusted by employers to perform sophisticated tasks with little or no supervision. For these reasons, engineers, who enjoy relatively high prestige in many countries, have been called the production arm, trusted workers, and symbolic analysts.

Technological inventions and innovations have served diverse economic, cultural, and political purposes. On the one hand, in democratic societies technology can be a constructive tool used to foster positive social change. On the other hand, it can also be a destructive force, used by a ruling class to preserve domination and control over the masses. Thus, despite the universal applications of engineering designs, engineering is never truly value-neutral.

SEE ALSO Division of Labor; Machinery; Smith, Adam; Technocracy; Technocrat; Technological Progress, Economic Growth; Technological Progress, Skill Bias; Veblen, Thorstein


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Layton, Edwin T., Jr. 1986. The Revolt of the Engineers: Social Responsibility and the American Engineering Profession. 2nd ed. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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Joyce Tang

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Engineering is the art of applying science, mathematics, and creativity to solve technological problems. The accomplishments of engineering can be seen in nearly every aspect of our daily lives, from transportation to communications to entertainment to health care. Engineering follows a three-step process: analyzing a problem, designing a solution for that problem, and transforming that design solution into physical reality.

Analyzing a problem

Defining the problem is the first and most critical step of the problem analysis. To best find a solution, the problem must be well understood and the guidelines or design considerations for the project must be clear. For example, in the creation of a new automobile, the engineers must know if they should design for fuel economy or for brute power. Many questions like this arise in every engineering project, and they must all be answered at the very beginning of the project.

When these issues are resolved, the problem must be thoroughly researched. This involves searching technical journals and closely examining solutions of similar engineering problems. The purpose of this step is twofold. First, it allows the engineer to make use of a tremendous body of work done by other engineers. Second, it ensures the engineer that the problem has not already been solved.

Designing a solution

Once the problem is well understood, the process of designing a solution begins. It typically starts with brainstorming, a technique by which members of the engineering team suggest a number of possible general approaches for the problem. Normally, one of the approaches is then selected as the primary candidate for further development. Occasionally, however, the team may elect to pursue multiple solutions to the problem. The members then compare the refined designs of these solutions, choosing the best one to pursue to completion.

Once a general design or technology is selected, the work is subdivided and various team members assume specific responsibilities. In the case of the automobile, for example, mechanical engineers in the group would tackle such problems as the design of the transmission and suspension systems. Electrical engineers, on the other hand, would focus on the ignition system and the various displays and electronic gauges. In any case, each of these engineers must design one aspect that operates in harmony with every other aspect of the general design.

Bringing it to life

Once the design is complete, a prototype or preliminary working model is generally built. The primary function of the prototype is to demonstrate and test the operation of the device.

In the prototype stage, the device undergoes extensive testing to reveal any bugs or problems with the design. Especially with complex systems, it is often difficult to predict (on paper) where problems with the design may occur. If one aspect of the system happens to fail too quickly or does not function at all, it is closely analyzed and that subsystem is redesigned and retested (both on its own and within the complete system.) This process is repeated until the entire system satisfies the design requirements.

Once the prototype is in complete working order and the engineers are satisfied with its operation, the device goes into the production stage. Here, details such as appearance, ease of use, availability of materials, and safety are studied and generally result in additional final design changes.

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en·gi·neer·ing / ˌenjəˈni(ə)ring/ • n. the branch of science and technology concerned with the design, building, and use of engines, machines, and structures. ∎  the work done by, or the occupation of, an engineer. ∎  the action of working artfully to bring something about: if not for Keegan's shrewd engineering, the election would have been lost.

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engineering Application of scientific principles for practical purposes, such as construction and developing power sources. There are many different fields in engineering including mechanical, civil, chemical, electrical, and nuclear. Academic training starts with a grounding in the fundamentals of science and general engineering. See also electronics

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engineering •handspring • hamstring • herring •headspring • wellspring •airing, ballbearing, bearing, Behring, Bering, caring, daring, fairing, hardwearing, pairing, paring, raring, sparing, Waring, wearing •talebearing • childbearing •wayfaring • seafaring • cheeseparing •time-sharing • mainspring • keyring •gee-string • watch spring • offspring •boring, flooring, Goring, riproaring, roaring, scoring, shoring •drawstring • goalscoring •outpouring • bowstring • shoestring •bullring •auctioneering, clearing, earring, electioneering, engineering, gearing, orienteering, privateering, shearing •God-fearing • puppeteering •firing, retiring, uninspiring, untiring, wiring •during, mooring, reassuring, Turing •posturing • restructuring •meandering • rendering •pondering, wandering •ordering • maundering •plundering, thundering, wondering •offering • suffering • fingering •scaremongering • hankering •flickering, Pickering •tinkering • hammering • glimmering •unmurmuring • tampering •whimpering • whispering •smattering, unflattering •earthshattering • schoolmastering •Kettering • self-catering • wittering •quartering, watering •faltering • roistering • muttering •gathering • woolgathering •blithering •flavouring (US flavoring), unwavering •quivering •manoeuvring (US maneuvering) •covering • wallcovering •Goering, stirring, unerring

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