Throughout this project a central focus was on the factors that impacted retention within the profession. Of the 36 individuals trained as engineers interviewed, 23 continued to work (or look for work) in engineering and 13 identified that they no longer worked in engineering. When beginning this research I had assumed that I would recruit two groups of people: those who continued to use their engineering training and worked as engineers, and those who were no longer working in an engineering related position. Quickly I came to realize that individuals’ links to engineering were not that clear-cut. Simple ideas of retention (e.g., maintaining a practicing professional status or being employed to do “engineering” work) did not capture how participants understood their careers.
Thus, rather than identify people on the basis of their employment status I conceptualized ‘being an engineer’ in terms of one’s identification in terms of, and commitment to, being an engineer. A focus on commitment allowed for a move beyond where the person was employed at the time of the interview to their professional identity and personal alignment with the profession.
In exploring whether the person embraced an engineering identity or distanced themselves from it, two dominant frames emerged, one of highly committed individuals, the other of individuals who expressed disillusionment. In making this distinction it is important to emphasize that these two positions are not determinate or impermeable. Rather they exist on a continuum, with individuals potentially fitting different positions at different times in their life course and in different situations. My use of the term commitment in this project should be seen as something that stemmed from the analysis, rather than as based in the broader literature on career, organizational or professional commitment (Morrow 1983).
The category of committed engineers was made up of 14 interview participants: 10 men and four women. In comparison, I categorized 22 of the participants (eight men and 14 women) as non-committed engineers. (These numbers are not meant to represent the population of engineers, as I purposely oversampled individuals who had left the profession who were more likely to be non-committed.)
In examining these two broad groups of participants I explored a range of factors that I believed might be related to the participant’s levels of commitment. Overall the basic demographics were very similar, with the only significant difference between committed and non-committed engineers being a gender imbalance – men were significantly more likely to be committed than women (X2=4.208, p<.05). There was not a statistically significant difference in the ages of the committed and non-committed engineers, although this appears to be due to the fact that the youngest and oldest men in the study were both committed. In contrast, the committed women were on average considerably older (42 years) than the non-committed women (33 years). Additionally, similar proportions of both the committed and non-committed groups were married and had children. In both groups, individuals from a range of sub-disciplines were represented, indicating that commitment is not an issue stemming from a particular sub-field of the discipline. Similarly degree of “success” in the profession, in terms of managerial experience and title, did not appear related to commitment. While those who owned or were partners in engineering firms were all committed, among those in engineering management and project management there were slightly more non-committed engineers.
The gendered component of commitment to engineering also reflects broader trends that can be seen in the profession in Alberta. Based on an analysis of APEGGA membership data, among individuals who graduated from engineering in Alberta in 1980, 68.9% of men versus 47.3% of women continued to practice in 2008 (X2 = 28.81, p=0.000, n=1887). While the difference was not as large for graduates in 2000, where 65.9% of men versus 56.7% of women continued to be practicing professional engineers, it was again strongly significant (X2 = 8.37, p=0.004, n=1275), indicating that even recent female graduates are disproportionately likely to leave.
Further exploration of the relationship between gender and commitment to engineering is explored in the Men's Experiences and Being a Woman in Engineering sections.
Morrow, P.C. 1983. “Concept Redundancy on Organizational Research: the Case of Work Commitment.” Academy of Management Review 8(3):486-500.