I became an engineer by accident!: Engineering, vocation and professional values

Abstract : Many research programs on engineering education of the last decades have been dealing with the question: why are young people reluctant to study engineering in many Western nations. Various reports on the decline in engineering degree enrollment have been published on that topic (Prieto & al., 2009; Johnson & al., 2006 ; Butz, W.et al 2003, UNESCO 2010). Many reports have tried to propose solutions: one of the solutions often quoted is to find means to attract more women to engineering education another is to make it easier for companies to hire foreigners (IEEE Spectrum news 2011,VDI,). Although the questions "Is the shortage of engineer a reality or a myth?" and "what does it mean to say that engineers are missing?" are worth asking (CEFI 2012), we will not answer them in this paper. Actually it seems that in France engineering education remains quite attractive (even this is not the case of science and technology in general). The problem is that while student are attracted to engineering education they do not seem to be motivated by the engineering profession. One of the reasons is to be found in the way engineering education is institutionalized in France. In France, engineering education is considered as the "high way" for a very good career in a company for the best of them and anyway the best way to guarantee a job. Therefore, it remains a rather attractive perspective for high school students. Paradoxically, this does not mean that the profession of engineering (i.e. working as an engineer) is more attractive in France than in other western countries. In 2009, the Cedefi showed in a study about French engineering students' motivation to enroll in their studies that while 4% european engineering students did not want to become engineer, this was the case of 19% French engineering students. Actually, many French engineering student do not really chose to study engineering, although they could have chosen another orientation. Good at school when they were children, good or at least rather good at math (even if attracted and even gifted sometimes for other subjects) later, they are encouraged to "chose" science when they are 15-16 years old for their two last years at lycée, until the final nation-wide exam called "baccalaureat". If they have studied in a good lycée, or if they belong to the good school boys of their lycée, their chance to end up in a two years "preparatory class" (or in a 5 years- engineering school) rather than at university (or in a short technical school) is very high. This is even higher if they come for an upper class family. The "preparatory class" is a two-year undergraduate programme which includes high level courses in mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer and engineering sciences, as well as foreign languages and philosophy. It leads to a nation-wide competitive examination into a three years engineering programme offered in one of the many French "Grande Ecole". As a consequence, quite a lot of students end up in engineering with little motivation for technology. In this broad context, our final goal is to understand the consequences of this passive choice on the construction of the French engineers' professional identity. In this specific paper, we will focus on a first goal which is to understand better the decision process of the students who enroll in engineering. We will present the first results of a still ongoing longitudinal and qualitative study with students in five French 'Engineering Schools' in different dominant fields and different reputations. It tends to prove that the majority of these students, at the beginning of their studies, do not really know what kind of profession they would like to carry on. And nearly a third part of the others choose this course of study because they believe that it is a quite good training, which will allow them to take up the career they are longing for... this latter not being an engineer career!
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Communication dans un congrès
Forum on Philosophy, Engineering and Technology, Nov 2012, Beijing, China
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Christelle Didier, Patrick Simonnin. I became an engineer by accident!: Engineering, vocation and professional values. Forum on Philosophy, Engineering and Technology, Nov 2012, Beijing, China. 〈halshs-00783186〉

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