The growth rate in demand for engineers in Alberta is incredible, and yet far too few Albertan students are pursuing engineering degrees, requiring the province to recruit engineers from elsewhere in Canada or internationally.

Increasing public awareness of the full extent of the engineering field is key. Ask most kids in elementary school what an engineer does and you’ll get one of two answers: build bridges or drive trains. Alberta needs more engineers, and not the train-driving kind. That means we need more children growing up with the dream of becoming an engineer.

Improving engineering’s PR

If you ask those same kids what a doctor does, they’ll tell you they save lives.  If only engineering had medicine’s PR. Engineers play a huge role in saving lives, explains Erica Lee Garcia, P.Eng. of Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB). “They save lives by ensuring safe potable water, by inventing and designing sanitation systems, and even by enabling the medical technology innovations that doctors need.”

"24 of the top 100 CEOs in the world have an engineering background."

Engineers design the systems that allow Canadian airports to handle thousands of flights per day, day-in and day-out. They design the systems that keep the mail coming, the internet flowing, and the grocery store shelves stocked. They code the software that runs on your laptop, on your phone, and on the ATM at the corner.

This is the message we must deliver to Albertan students if this unprecedented rate of technical advance is to be sustained. They must learn the why of becoming an engineer, and then they must learn the how.

The modern renaissance education

Becoming an engineer requires obtaining a Bachelor of Engineering (or Bachelor of Applied Science), which is a professional degree offered at many Canadian universities, followed by four years of work training culminating in licensing from The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA).

The admission requirements to the university programs are often quite competitive, and students must choose between one of several specialties such as mechanical, computer, electrical, and industrial.

Regardless of specialty, however, the breadth of knowledge an engineering education encompasses is staggering. Mathieu Boutin-Delisle is the President of the Canadian Federation of Engineering Students.

“To complete an engineering degree,” explains Boutin-Delisle, “students must also develop skills in economics, communication, ethics, environment, and design. After four or five years of education, we have developed many soft skills on top of the hard skills, and that’s what provides engineering graduates so many opportunities.”

“An engineering education is today simply the broadest education with the widest range of career opportunities,” says Kim Allen, FEC, P.Eng., CEO of Engineers Canada, “including many beyond engineering.” Engineering grads aren’t just presented with an endless buffet of career opportunities within engineering itself, but also have an almost unrivalled potential for career advancement outside their fields. According to a recent report from the Harvard Business Review, 24 of the top 100 CEOs in the world have an engineering background. In today’s world, a STEM education just opens up so many doors.

So we should teach our children that engineers save lives, send rovers to Mars, and run the largest companies in the world. Or better yet, as Erica Lee Garcia puts it, “engineers use their imagination to turn ideas into reality. How cool is that?”

With any luck, a new generation of Albertan engineers, representing the full spectrum of Albertan experience, from the Aboriginal to the immigrant Calgarian to the Taberite, will grow up with the love and passion for innovation that has brought Alberta to where it is today.