This is quite simple. An equation for you. Engineering degree = Professional Engineer. While there are people out there like Edwin Land, they are few and far between. Low caliber companies will give anyone the title Engineer. That is for one reason alone. Pay less salary, and payoff in title. Usually these people make junk products, leaving the others (Professional Engineers) to clean up the mess. Junk engineers reduce the respect due to the few competent ones, out there. That is EXACTLY why this column came to be written. Dunderheads only make a mess. Their lower salary they are paid, is FAR OFFSET by the immense loss they can create for the company. Well, you get what you pay for, folks. Quality professional enginnering, costs money.
A "profession" is simply a paid occupation, which may or may not involve formal qualification. Licenses and certifications on the other hand are largely artificial barriers designed to restrict competition in a given field.
"But part of the original question is why engineers are not revered by society the same way doctors and lawyers are."
I don't think lawyers are revered by society. In fact, of the professions, the lawyer is the butt of the most jokes. Sure, there are a few engineer jokes, and very few doctor jokes (I know of only one), but I think society's respect for a profession can be gauged by the proliferation of jokes about that profession. In this regard, the engineering profession is far more professional than the legal.
@RichQ wrote "So, since people do not routinely see individual engineers as the apparent source of praisworthy benefit to themselves or society, then they will not see the group as being praisworthy despite its collective accomplishments, and so will not automatically value an individual who is a member of that group."
We as a society tend to honor the individual rather than the group. We rarely give awards to groups but we routinely give awards to individuals. Sometimes, we honor the "leader" or "manager" of a group for the group's accomplishments whe n it is fact the team members who did the work.
Well, we have to understand that with the development of new technology these days, the traditional job titles that some of us grew up with have changed over the years. Many jobs nowadays have a main category, with sub-titles within each category. Of course you are professional. Now in terms of being away from the job, Martin Rowe, if you go on vacation and win the lottery, trust me... we will understand. But for right now, we hope you will continue to apply the right combination of your engineering education, engineering experience, and technical writing experience to keep us informed about events within the engineering world. Keep up the fantastic work!
Bert, certainly the job requirements for the title of engineer may vary from company to company, and a company may require that the candidate have a degree before awarding that job title, but that is not the same thing as certification and licensing, which are instruments of society at large to require that workers meet national or even international standards and requirements. Individual company requirements will not affect the general public's perception of engineering as a profession.
RichQ, you make a lot of valid points. In some cases, though, what you say may depend on the company in which you're employed. Where I work, you can't get an engineer rank if you don't have a degree. It's that simple. I know several who have worked their way "up through the ranks," and every single one of them, at some point, had to get their degree.
And if you make a habit of messing up, well, we know where that goes. Plus, you have a tought time finding another job in engineering.
Yes, maybe if every graduating EE were made to get a PE license, like lawyers and doctors have to do, that would help.
I have a niece who is a medical resident now. She didn't have a good idea about what engineering was either. So I explained it to her. I guess she had never heard it explained that way. So recently, in one of her lectures, an attending said to the group, if you guys want to really understand how these machines work, better go to the IEEE and read their articles.
She said that cracked her up, remembering back how I described what we do.
Well, you know Kfield, I too have run into some good engineers with little formal education, and vice versa, but then again, the same could be said in any field. Even medicine. But in decades at this, it's also clear to me that the ability to move beyond your comfort zone is helped tremendously by education. In part, because formal education is a filtering process. There's no denying that.
I have known many competent people at this, with little formal education, who also had glaring misperceptions. And anyone who has been through engineering school no doubt has noticed this in themselves. Schooling tends to set straight some ideas you thought you had all figured out. So I would never underestimate the value of education.
I think Luka made an interesting point, though. In some countries, including Germany and Italy, engineers are given that as a title. Just like you say Doctor so and so, you say Engineer so and so, or Archtect so and so. You don't use Mr. or Ms. So maybe that little window dressing is enough to change the perception in the general public.
Frankly, though, I couldn't care less if the average joe appreciates what engineering is all about. I'm comfortable in the knowledge that I do this because I love it.