As head of an engineering company , in the last 30 years I have come across thousands of so called engineers who have migrated into other functions. In a few cases, the migration was gradual, but in most cases the migration was the result of mostly a post graduate management degree/ diploma like a MBA completed soon after the basic engineering degree . While going into the job market, claiming to be “Engineers + MBA” or the like, these guys & girls have actually humbled the engineering profession . With a really limited knowledge and exposure to core engineering and after quitting the engineering profession early in their careers , I really do not know whether they have any right to claim that they are engineers. At times I wonder whether the Government & Universities should step in and take action and even revoke their degrees.
Willingly many of these “engineers” have chosen to work in soft professions like banking, finance, IT, HR, consumer product marketing, advertising, sales of non engineering products, management consulting etc. In their CVs they claim “techno commercial experience”, but very honestly I feel they do not even have the basic knowledge of any engineering in place. We also now have Engg MBA Presidents & CEOs who do not have any inkling .of what engineering is, and try and run manufacturing companies under the garb of being management professionals. We now have a growing breed of young managers who claim to be engineers on their CVs but have no fundamental knowledge & experience of engineering of any type. A sad story indeed, reflecting the poor situation of the engineering field in India where we spend thousands of millions of rupees in creating engineers and then watch them migrate into softer arenas. On basis of purely better communication skills ( read English skills ) and some presentation & discussion skills – MBAs in India- in the last 25 years or so have had an edge on purely engineers. They were paid roughly 20 to 30% higher at entry level jobs than Engineering graduates, which made a lot of good Engineers make a shift into management.
The above will sound as if I am casting aspersions on these engineers who have “run away” from a tough profession of engineering ( which it really is ), but the concern should not be that…but it should be why the engineering industry has let this happen- specially in the past 2 to 3 decades. A few fundamental reasons need to be addressed here, and a few strong rules & regulations be imposed. Also, the changing circumstances must be now highlighted to young Engineers , which will make them re-think about the shift into so called management.
Firstly, no one is matured enough to call himself an engineer unless he or she has hard core engineering experience of 5-10 years after his qualification. Without practical knowledge or experience it is impossible to be an engineer, just like how it is for a medical doctor . Government should step in to set up standards / monitoring conditions which make practical experience mandatory to use the engineering degree as a license or as a qualification. A practical endorsement must be made for all real/ working engineers improving their market value with further experience getting more value or points. It is time we specify grades of engineers- e.g. who is a Chartered Engineer/ Professional Engineer( like a PE in USA ) ,or similar .
Secondly, the Indian engineering industry should step in to set up management training in house to train engineers in management- who will work as engineers and continue to work as engineers . The government must give financial & tax incentives for such in house training institutes of the companies. The engineers trained here stay in the core engineering field and over a period of time mature as highly experienced well rounded off managers. This will stop young engineers leaving engineering jobs to take up an MBA and then ending up selling insurance, chocolates , garments, white goods or in banks, pretending to be using some engineering knowledge. Let us make it clear to them that a core engineering job is far more respectable than selling some consumer product, and let the industry pay well for such a job. This again is a leadership requirement from the industry.
Thirdly, industry should step in to educate the young engineers as to how complex engineering can be and how over a period of time, a core engineer matures into being a real manager handling really complex projects/ products/ companies which can never be done by a non technical person. His or her quitting engineering at an early stage can dampen his career prospects later. So, the incentive to remain in engineering is brought by the industry itself.
Fourthly, part time training in management subjects or training while in an engineering job is another area which engineering colleges or engineering companies can bring in to teach subjects of management. One need not quit engineering to learn other subjects. This initiative comes in from the industry and the education institutes both. The bond between engineering colleges and the industry has to improve and practical inputs from industry through well drafted programmes is a must for every engineering college. Engineering Management should become the by word in the industry, and new training standards set in this area to retain engineering talent within the industry.
Fifth, India should publicly appreciate the German , Japanese and Korean style of working for engineers where engineers really start with hard core practical experience and end up as highly experienced techno managers. The industry trains its engineers to be management professionals. This is evident when a German or Italian technician comes to India, his knowledge level far super seeds than that of an Indian engineers with a lot of engineering & MBA degrees from prime institutes !
Lets also start giving titles officially like “Er.” to engineers who are real engineers , the way say Egypt does, and who now dominate the entire middle east market.
If we do not start doing all this, our engineers will keep taking pride selling and marketing silly stuff and yet claiming to be engineers, wasting their own education , money & government resources and also living in a fools paradise of being called managers. In reality an Engineering job is far more challenging, complex and requires far more of grey matter than a typical job an MBA does after his studies. Our Engineers have to know this, and this can be made known to them by experienced professionals. The true merit of management comes with years of experience on specific functional roles. Engineering Management is a great profession to be in , but only after you have honed your engineering skills. You can be a fantastic techno –commercial, business administrator even after just a BE / BTech degree, but provided you have matured in engineering over a couple of decades. Now, who will explain all this to a 22 to 24 year old something that is a just fumbling to find his ropes in the bad business world?
MBA Education itself is a big business now, and marketing savvy MBA colleges will make all marketing efforts to get all Engineers to do their full time or part time MBA or other courses to get business revenue. In fact some MBA colleges even have an official Business Development Department !!! But keep in mind, to get an MBA, you can do MBA even by correspondence !!
A good thing that is finally seen lately is that with the plethora of MBAs that are passing out in India ( the way engineers did for many years ) , the value of the Indian Engineer is also now at par with MBAs and Engineer MBAs. If this continues to happen, Indian engineers may then soon lose their MBA craze and work purely as engineers. However, at this time the industry has to come in to support the engineers stolidly with the ideas discussed earlier in the article before we lose most of our qualified engineers to selling laundry detergents and soft drinks or air conditioners . Do not ever forget- Science , Medicine and Engineering are fundamental subjects needing training, learning & education BUT Management is a man made subject- ,structured, evolved & marketed into a course/ degree , crafted out of just some basic common sense . Does it REALLY add value to your knowledge after your engineering as a 2 year full time course ??
Make your choice wisely, keeping long term career goals in mind. With the kind of high tech development that is slated to happen in India for the next 50 years, we do need good engineers in their correct places who are bound to be paid well than other professions – provided they know their stuff well. Maybe it is time to do an ME or MTech now and pursue a MBA part time much later or even by correspondence. DO NOT DILUTE YOUR TECHNICAL SKILLS, YOU WILL REGRET IT IF DONE.