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How to manage the underemployment problem

underemployment problem


Work Environment And Underemployment 

One of the biggest problems that career counselors see in today’s job environment is the issue of underemployment. What this means is that people who have taken the time, spent the money and put in the effort to earn a college degree are often finding themselves working in a job that doesn’t reflect their accomplishment and credentials. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending four years in school, graduating and finding that the only jobs available are in retail and pay $8 an hour. There are some fields that are more prone to this. For example, philosophy majors have very specific training within a very narrow field and unless the student progresses to a doctorate (qualifying them for a teaching position), their career prospects can be limited.


Other professions tend to be rewarding up front for graduates. Among bachelor level programs, no other field offers a higher employment rate and more attractive starting salaries than engineering. A student graduating from an accredited US or university engineering program can expect to land a challenging job quickly and to start out at a very attractive salary: $50,000 or more. Underemployment in the traditional sense is hardly a concern for anyone holding a Beng.


Despite that rosy employment outlook, experienced engineers are increasingly showing up in career counseling offices. Why would this be? The demand for engineers is strong, wages are high and many engineers have the pick of which company they’d like to work for. The problem is a variation of underemployment. Fortunately, there is a solution and it’s available online for maximum flexibility.


This isn’t underemployment in the traditional sense. There aren’t many people with a BEng who have no choice but to take a job paying minimum wage. The issue isn’t with recent graduates —the stats all show that they’re doing well. This type of underemployment most frequently affects professionals in mid-career, the ones who have paid their dues, worked for a company for a number of years, done well on their performance evaluations and been recognized as valuable employees. Yet they feel as though their career has stalled because they’ve hit a level that they seem unable to progress beyond. Engineering isn’t immune from this challenge. Experienced engineers who want to assume increased responsibility and take on a leadership role may find themselves repeatedly passed over for management positions. In many cases, someone from outside the company with an MBA is chosen over them, which seems highly unfair given their experience. They feel underemployed in the sense that their career has stalled.


This is an increasing trend across many industries. The root of the issue is that businesses and organizations have been moving away from promoting from within based solely on experience. Companies are under more pressure than ever to deliver results and that means employees at senior levels need to have formal business training. Experience in working for the company —as an engineer, for example— is valuable, but without an understanding of business fundamentals, senior roles are getting tougher to land. That’s why someone with an MBA can swoop in and land a leadership position, despite the fact that they have no background in the company or even the industry —it’s the business management training.


Fortunately, there is a solution to this feeling of underemployment. Leading colleges and universities have recognized this trend and, in response, designed postgraduate degree programs that address the needs of employers and the desire for career advancement of employees. The Master of Science in Engineering Management degree is a perfect example of this. The postgraduate degree delivers the advanced business courses that prepare an engineer to compete against MBAs. Marketing, accounting, financial management and other key areas are thoroughly covered. In addition, engineers take courses that boost their existing skills, such as project management and reliability engineering. The result is an engineer with experience earned through the early stages of their career, armed with an advanced MS-EM degree and a strong grasp of business fundamentals.

Because it’s possible to take a Masters in Engineering Management online, the educational upgrade is open to any engineer. It doesn’t matter where they live or what their work schedule is, web-based courses through an accredited university offer the flexibility to earn the postgraduate degree employers want without the disruption of attending classes on campus. The online MS-EM is the solution to engineering “underemployment,” opening previously closed career doors.

Blossom Fields is a career counselor and educational advocate who advises clients to take charge of their prospects for advancement by earning specialized certification or an advanced degree. “Even engineers need to upgrade that BEng,” she pointed out in a recent seminar. “Masters in engineering management courses can be taken online, so there’s no worry about the logistics of attending classes.” A masters degree that includes business training builds on existing skills while providing the management knowledge needed for leadership roles.