Engineering Image Problem Could Fuel Shortage

Christel Henke

ASQ Survey: Career Not on Radar for Kids or Parents

Milwaukee, Wis., Jan. 22, 2009 — When it comes to kids’ dream jobs,engineering has its own problem to solve.  An overwhelming 85% of kids[1] say that they are not interested in a future engineering career for a variety of reasons, according to recent surveys of youth and adults conducted by Harris Interactive® on behalf of ASQ (American Society for Quality).

Survey results indicate the top reasons why kids may not be interested in pursuing engineering:

  • Kids don’t know much about engineering (44%).
  • Kids prefer a more exciting career than engineering (30%).
  • They don’t feel confident enough in their math or science skills (21%) to be good at it— despite the fact that the largest number of kids ranked math (22%) and science (17%) as their favorite subjects.  

Findings from the adult survey on this topic show:

  • Only 20% of parents[2] have encouraged/will encourage their child/children to consider an engineering career. 
  • The vast majority of parents2 (97%) said they believe that knowledge of math and science will help their children have a successful career.

The ASQ survey among youth ages 8-17 as well as among parents aimed to provide a better understanding about the perceptions of selecting an engineering career in light of a troubling shortage of U.S. engineers, which will reach 70,000 by 2010 based on an estimate by the National Science Foundation.

Actress vs. Engineer?

Other survey findings:
The survey also found the following gender differences in career interests and intent:

  • More girls say their parents are likely to encourage them to become an actress (21%) than an engineer (10%).  Other careers that parents encouraged girls to think about include doctor (33%), lawyer (25%), teacher (31%), veterinarian (23%), nurse (20%) and businessperson (17%).
  • Boys (24%) are significantly more likely than girls (5%) to say they are interested in an engineering career.
  • 31% of boys vs. 10% of girls say their parents have encouraged them to think about an engineering career.

“It’s clear that there is a low level of interest and knowledge about engineering careers for both parents and children,” said Maurice Ghysels, chair of ASQ’s K-12 Education Advisory Committee.  “Educators and engineers need to work more closely together to get students excited about the profession and spotlight interesting role models.”

ASQ Awareness Effort

ASQ has more than 14,000 engineer members who are concerned about ensuring a work force of skilled, highly educated engineers for the future. In an effort to raise awareness of engineering as a career choice, ASQ is developing a webinar for young people, parents and educators. The webinar will be available on the ASQ Web site during National Engineers Week, February 15-21. Titled “Real World of Engineering,” it will feature ASQ members and engineers Cheryl Birdsong-Dyer with Sprint/Nextel discussing cell phones and Chuck Kanapicki with American Bridge/Fluor Enterprise, Inc., a joint venture, discussing bridge building. The webinar is designed to provide middle/high school students and parents a clear view of what engineers do and what skills are necessary to become an engineer, as well as provide them inside perspective from two successful engineers working on interesting projects. More information on the webinar will be available soon at  

About the Survey

Harris Interactive fielded the online youth survey on behalf of the American Society for Quality between Nov. 20 and Dec. 1, 2008, among 1,277 U.S. youth ages 8-17. Harris fielded a separate online survey between Dec. 15 and Dec. 17, 2008, among 2,196 U.S. adults ages 18 years of age or older, of whom, 584 are parents of children ages 17 and under. These online surveys are not based on probability samples and therefore no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated; a full methodology statement for both studies is available.

About ASQ

ASQ sponsors the annual National Quality Education Conference, the nation’s leading conference where teachers, administrators and support personnel learn from schools and districts about improving student achievement and operational performance through the use of quality tools and concepts. Since 1991, ASQ has offered training and other quality tools to help educators implement continuous improvement initiatives in their districts.

The American Society for Quality,, has been the world’s leading authority on quality for more than 60 years. With more than 90,000 individual and organizational members, the professional association advances learning, quality improvement and knowledge exchange to improve business results and to create better workplaces and communities worldwide. As champion of the quality movement, ASQ offers technologies, concepts, tools and training to quality professionals, quality practitioners and everyday consumers, encouraging all to Make Good Great®.  ASQ has been the sole administrator of the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award since 1991. Headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis., ASQ is a founding partner of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), a prominent quarterly economic indicator, and also produces the Quarterly Quality Report.

[1] For the purposes of this survey, “youth” were defined as U.S. kids ages 8-17.

[2] For the purposes of this survey, “parents” were defined as U.S. adults ages 18+ who have a child/children under the age of 18.

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