A Culture of Engineering

  • April 28, 2009
  • Feature
April 28, 2009 by Rick ZabelAfter traveling to Germany last week for Hannover Messe (Fair), the world's largest industrial trade show, I was struck again by the difference in how engineers are perceived in Germany versus the U.S.Each year at Hannover Messe, the HERMES AWARD (becoming known as the Oscar for Engineers), along with a €100,000 check, is presented to the company with the most innovative new product highlighted at the show. This year, the HERMES AWARD went to Voith Turbo Wind. An independent jury selected the company on the basis of its newly developed mechatronic drive system allowing for the highly dynamic speed control of wind turbine rotors. German Engineering is often revered as a high quality engineering standard. I’m convinced that this reverence has everything to do with the deep-rooted culture surrounding engineering in Germany. German engineers are highly respected and carry the same clout as a physician does here in the U.S. After doing a little research, I determined that engineers in Germany are paid comparable salaries to physicians in Germany. I’m sure that has a lot to do with the fact that Germany has one of the oldest universal healthcare systems. In comparison, physicians in the U.S. are paid 3-4 times more per year than the average engineer.Not only are Industry and Technology encouraged throughout the entire education system in Germany, but they have the full support of the German government. This is primarily because the government realizes the impact of industry and technological innovations on the economy. For example, both the German Federal President and Korea’s Prime Minister spoke at the opening ceremony for Hannover Messe. This fair is a BIG deal to the German economy! Unfortunately, Industry does not have that same support in the U.S. and it often takes a back seat to other initiatives. With the exorbitant costs of a college education in the U.S., our younger generations are looking for the occupational fields that offer the largest and quickest paybacks. Unfortunately, those fields do not typically include engineering. Many students have been drawn into the financial sectors because that’s where the money is (or was). In comparison, the cost of a college education in Germany is significantly less. Annual tuition in Germany is in the range of just a few thousand dollars, because higher education is subsidized by the government. As a result, it’s much more attractive for students to get engineering degrees in Germany because those degrees offer just as much, if not more, opportunity for a prestigious career with growth opportunities. The U.S. does have some very high quality engineers, but we lack a culture that adequately supports and attracts them. I have always thought that engineers in the U.S. are grossly underpaid compared to some of the other occupations. In Germany, the compensation gap between occupations is not as severe. We definitely could learn a few cultural tips from our German counterparts. My hope is that our new administration will have positive effects on our education systems and industrial sectors. Initial signs are good, but we have a long way to go.

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