Environmental issues fuel a greater demand for this challenging, rewarding career

By John Bologna, P.E.

Engineering professionals in all disciplines are in high demand these days – and demand is predicted to grow in the coming years as governments and industries work to meet the challenges of a growing population and dwindling resources. On Cape Cod, this trend is mirrored with the need to provide solutions for affordable housing while protecting the environment (via wastewater treatment, stormwater management, shorefront protection, etc.)

Engineers and technology specialists available to work on these issues are, however, in short supply. American education has been addressing this gap with an initiative called STEM, which has the goal of equipping students from kindergarten through Grade 12 with a better working knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math.  Due to this labor market situation, an engineering degree is a great choice for high school graduates seeking a stimulating career with a huge opportunity to grow.

What do engineers really do? How do they spend their days?  Engineers do it all: design, invent, fix, improve, research, travel, present, inspect, draw, write, calculate — but most of all, they work with really interesting people on great projects that are changing the world for the better. Engineering is about turning ideas into reality, making a difference in the community and positively impacting everyday lives.

Those who choose engineering careers are typically creative, practical and persistent. Potential engineering students have a strong math and science background yet are well-rounded with a wide range of knowledge and experience. Typically, they have also taken courses in history, geography, information technology, social sciences and are involved in extracurricular activities. Engineering is a versatile degree that offers flexibility in finding the dream job; it can be a launching pad for jobs in design, business, medicine, law, government and more. To employers, an engineering degree reflects a well-educated individual who has been taught critical thinking skills necessary to analyze and solve problems in a variety of fields.

There are several college options that support the engineering career path:

  • Two-Year Associate’s Degree

Many good jobs – including land survey technicians and CAD technicians – require just two years of college. An associate’s degree can be a gateway for entering the job market or it could be a stepping stone to a four-year program, if the person is interested in advancing.

  • 3-2 Programs

A 3-2 program allows students to earn two degrees in just five years – a wonderful option for those who want to blend liberal arts and technical degrees.

  • Traditional Four-Year Degree Program

Four-year programs offer greater depth and flexibility in terms of specialization. Courses in the first two years typically allow students to explore engineering as a general course of study and discover one’s interest. In the last two years, students investigate the engineering specialty of their choice. Other programs offer a more general engineering curriculum for all four years; after that a student can choose a specific field to pursue in grad school or through a job.

Another technical career path is wastewater treatment plant operators (WWTPO), who are especially in demand on Cape Cod due to requirements of local and state environmental regulations. WWTPOs get trained by New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission. There are several courses available, depending on the grade desired to achieve (Grade 4 is a typical entry-level job requirement). To be certified as a WWTPO, the student must successfully pass a certification exam. The process is similar with Title 5 System Inspector certification, which is now often required in addition to WWTPO license in order to operate wastewater treatment plants.

Regardless of which program students choose, once in college, it’s very important to be diligent about grades in core subjects. A strong transcript is key to landing an entry-level engineering job. It is helpful if the graduate has practical work experience, so internships are highly recommended.

Becoming licensed as a Professional Engineer (PE) is a natural progression on this career path. Licensure candidates follow these steps:

1: Graduate from an accredited four-year school;

2: Successfully pass the Fundamentals in Engineering exam and become an “engineer-in-training” (EIT);

3: Gain four years of qualifying engineering experience under the supervision of a Professional Engineer;

4: Successfully pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.

PE licensure is the engineering profession’s highest standard of competence, a symbol of achievement, and assurance of quality. Only Professional Engineers have the authority to sign and seal engineering plans. By combining their specialized skills with high standards for ethics, PEs shoulder the responsibility not just for their work, but also for public safety.

Engineering is a challenging career that takes a blend of creative mind, technical intelligence and problem-solving skills – attributes which are critical to design complex solutions for multiple society needs. It is also a rewarding career and a source of pride, where job satisfaction comes from seeing the projects come to a fruitful completion.

Professional Engineer John Bologna is President/CEO of Coastal Engineering Co. Inc. He can be reached at 508-255-6511 or jbologna@coastalengineeringcompany.com.