Difficulty and Inequality: The Problems with Engineering Millennials

I. Background

In recent year, with technology advanced by leaps and bounds, engineering majors have become one of the most popular disciplines among millennials. In the annual report “Engineering by the Number” published on the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) official website, Dr. Brian L. Yoder (2015), the member of the American Evaluation Association and the Federal Evaluators, pointed out that for the United States in 2015, with 7.5 percent increasing rate, 106658 engineering students graduated with bachelor’s degrees, keeping a growing trend since 2007. Based on his data and analysis, similar trend can also be found in master’s degrees and doctoral degrees. With rapidly increasing rates, engineering millennials have attracted much attention from the public. The question of unemployment of millennials has been widely debated in social science and engineering majors. In the commentary “Millennials Have Major Problem” published on the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Inc. (WPRI) official website, Emily Jashinsky (2014), the commentary writer of the Washington Examiner, argues that “According to the National Science Foundation, in 2010 only 12% of recent psychology and economics graduates (those who had graduated within the past three years) were employed in a related occupation. … In contrast, for engineering majors that number is 62%”. At the same time, 2016-2017 PayScale college salary report indicates that 11 out of 15 top highest paying bachelor’s degrees are engineering majors. (“Highest Paying Bachelor Degrees by Salary Potential,” 2016). As a result, people would regard engineering millennials as graduates with high employment rate and salary inevitably. However, the public may neglect the problems faced by millennials in engineering majors.


II. Argument

Although there is a relatively low unemployment rate and relatively high salary for millennials in engineering majors compared with social-science-oriented millennials, engineering millennials suffer from heavy course loads in college as well as work-related difficulty and gender inequality in career. It is significantly important to the target audience, engineering millennials, because they can only act to avoid problems after recognizing potential problems they may face in both college and career.


III. Analysis

The most obvious problem engineering millennials face in college is heavy course loads. It’s scarily difficult and exhausted to be engineering majors. In the article “Study Reveals Engineering Majors Spend Significantly More Time Studying” published on USA Today College, Zach Helfand (2011), the staff writer of Los Angeles Times, reports that engineering majors spend 19 hours per week studying on average, which is five hours more than student in social science or business major, and 42 percent of them spent over 20 hours per week studying. Zach (2011) also uses specific example to demonstrate the hardship of engineering majors: Dan Kiefer, a 21-year-old senior majoring in aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan, spent 25-30 hours per week on homework or projects and usually went to sleep at 1:00-3:00 a.m. Although college workloads are extremely heavy that they take painstaking effort to complete them, some engineering students believe that burning the midnight oil is worthwhile because the skills they learned during homework assignments and practical projects provide invaluable skills and advantages for the future, which is the job market, specifically. On the other hand, some other engineering students cannot suffer from the pain and end up with changing their majors to other disciplines because of heavy course loads and high pressure they bring about accordingly. What’s worse, although they spare no effort to pursue their degrees with more times and endeavors, engineering students have relatively low graduation rate compared with other college students, concluded by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA (“Bachelor’s Degree Completion Rates among Initial STEM Majors,” 2010). In the study, UCLA researchers reveals that “White and Asian American students who started as STEM majors have four-year STEM degree completion rates of 24.5% and 32.4% respectively. In comparison, Latino, Black, and Native American students who initially began college as a STEM major had four-year STEM degree completion rates of 15.9%, 13.2%, and 14.0%, respectively”. As a result, engineering students will spend extra one or even more years to complete their degree, which leads to higher cost for college than other students. It is worthy to point out that heavy course loads would also cause engineering students to suffer from depression. To deal with this problem, engineering students should take advantage of school counseling services as well as the help from their peers. Throughout their assistance, they may feel relieved and get a more positive attitude towards their study. As stated above, it is self-evident that engineering millennials not only suffer from heavy course loads in college but also face relatively low graduation rate and potential high tuition compared with students in other majors.

After suffering from several years’ high-intensity study, engineering students finally head out into the job market. Unfortunately, the pain also leave colleges and might be with them in their lifetime. In other words, although they might find desire jobs that are related to their majors, they still cannot get rid of the high pressure that comes along. Engineering courses are difficult, so does engineering work. In the research paper “Work difficulties and stress in young professional engineers” published in Journal of Occupational Psychology, after conducting an experiment about work-related difficulties on young professional engineers after three years (n=380) and four years (n=350) in work respectively, A. Keenan, researcher in Department of Business Organization, Heriot-Watt University, and T. J. Newton, researcher in Department of Business Studies, University of Edinburgh (1987), stated that “Four areas of difficulty were identified as a result of factor analysis—people difficulties; information difficulties; technical difficulties; and report-writing difficulties” (p. 133). At the beginning of the experiment, respondents were asked to reply to the question, “What is the most difficult aspect of your job to cope with?” (Keenan, A., & Newton, T. J., 1987, p. 135). Consequently, Keenan and Newton analyzed to identify several common categories of difficulty. If the respondents reported authentically, the result clearly implied that “the most frequent problems at the four-year stage were those “associated with senior managers and immediate superiors” (Keenan, A., & Newton, T. J., 1987, p. 136-137). Meanwhile, “problems related to dealing with people in other departments were also relatively common and the mean frequencies of self-reported technical difficulties were relatively low compared with the other sources of difficulty” (Keenan, A., & Newton, T. J., 1987, p. 137). Because of all these difficulties, young engineers are under extremely high pressure inevitably. However, there are many solutions to deal with this problem. Firstly, they can exercise more to relieve their stress. It is universally believed that physical activity can produce a positive feeling within the body, which serves as a remedy for pressure. Moreover, they can take advantage of technology. For example, using Facebook to chat with friends and checking recent posts from others on Instagram are good choices. It is self-evident that after graduating from college and getting into career, engineering millennials still suffer from difficulties such as people difficulties, information difficulties, technical difficulties, and report-writing difficulties their work brings about.

It is also worth pointing out that gender inequality is another predominant problem engineering millennials, to be more specific, engineering female, must have to face in their career. Women are underrepresented in engineering and encounter persistent inequality. As Wilson Peden (2015), former writer and editor of the Association of American Colleges & Universities, mentions in the article “The Myth of the Unemployment Humanities Major”, engineering graduates experience less gender equitable employment results than humanities graduates. Peden (2015) pointed out that “Women with graduate degrees in the humanities do experience slightly higher unemployment than their male colleagues—3.5 percent versus 3.4 percent. But those women still fare better than women with graduate degrees in engineering, who experience 3.6 percent unemployment, compared with 2.5 percent for men”. Moreover, Erin A. Cech (2013), former professor of Rice University also deepens our understanding of gender inequality in engineering in the research paper “Ideological Wage Inequalities? The Technical/Social Dualism and the Gender Wage Gap in Engineering” published on Social Forces. In Cech’s point of view, technical/social dualism, “an ideological distinction between technical and social engineering subfields and work activities” (p. 1147), is the main factor that undermines gender equality, which leads to sex segregation and gender wage inequality in engineering fields. She found among a nationally representative sample of engineers from National Science Foundation’s 2003 National Survey of College Graduates, “men and women are segregated into technical and social subdisciplines and work activities” and “women’s contributions to technical work activities (e.g., research and design) will be underpaid relative to men’s” (p. 1148). She also points out that “women make up only about 12 percent of the engineering workforce and as little as 7 percent in certain subfields such as mechanical engineering” (p. 1151). Moreover, she writes that “women face exclusion and marginalization from their male engineering peers” (p. 1151). If the data is precise, it clearly implies that women are underrepresented in engineering and encounter persistent inequality. All of which is to say, engineering women suffer from gender inequality in their career. To encourage engineering women to dedicate themselves to their jobs, governments should come up with more equal policies to change the current situation.


IV. Conclusion

Although there is a relatively low unemployment rate and relatively high salary for millennials in engineering majors compared with social-science-oriented millennials, engineering millennials suffer from heavy course loads in college as well as work-related difficulty and gender inequality in career. For college students, they should consider seriously if they are interested in engineering fields as well as if they can bear the heavy course loads. Besides, if engineering students feel depression, they should take advantage of others help. Moreover, when they face different kinds of difficulties in career, they can exercise and use social media to relieve their stress. Finally, government should pay attention to gender inequality problem and come up with more equal policies to promote equality in engineering fields. It is significant important to engineering millennials, because they would succeed with their own efforts as well as external help.




Yoder, B.L. (2015). Engineering by the Numbers. American Society for Engineering Association. Retrieved from


Jashinsky, E. (2014). Millennials Have Major Problem. Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Inc. Retrieved from


Highest Paying Bachelor Degrees by Salary Potential. (2016). PayScale. Retrieved from


Helfand, Z. (2011). Study Reveals Engineering Majors Spend Significantly More Time Studying. USA Today College. Retrieved from


Bachelor’s Degree Completion Rates among Initial STEM Majors. (2010). Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. Retrieved from


Keenan, A., & Newton, T. J. (1987). Stressful Events, Stressors and Psychological Strains in Young Professional Engineers. Journal of Occupational Behaviour, 60, 133-145.

Peden, W. (2015). The Myth of the Unemployment Humanities Major. Association of American Colleges & Universities. Retrieved from


Cech, E. A. (2013). Ideological Wage Inequalities? The Technical/Social Dualism and the Gender Wage Gap in Engineering. Social Forces, 91(4), 1147-1182.


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