Having carried out a qualitative survey on ex-engineers/engineers, we discuss some of the reasons why members of the industry may find pitfalls in their working livesâand why these make them feel âpushedâ to find new opportunities.
The âPush and the Pullâ Factors in Career Decisions
In such cases of career switches, engineering professionals (or STEM graduates) remain, at the least, a part of the industry but move to a different discipline; and at the most, they enter new industries altogether (e.g. they go into the legal field, as weâll touch on later).
What, then, are some of the reasons behind these varying degrees of career shifts?
To tackle this question, itâs worth noting that (in any profession really) the factors in career switchingâbe they related to the workplace culture, salary, career fulfilment, and so onâfall under the umbrella of âpush-pullâ factors in employment.
Put simply, a personâs level (or lack) of interest in staying in their existing job often hinges on one or both of these factors:
They are pushed away from their job due to negative experiences, e.g. they feel pressured to quit due to poor staff treatment
They are pulled away from (i.e. they feel enticed to leave) their job due to positive opportunities, e.g. they are persuaded to quit due to the attraction of a salary increase.
A graphic depicting the decision to leave a position for a new career.
Accordingly, this article covers just some of the âpushâ factors in engineering career switches (and, upon publication, you can read about the âpullâ factors in this articleâs successor, âWhy Engineers Switch Specialties: The âPullâ Factorsâ). Each point is based on what engineers and engineering graduates said when asked why they went on to pastures new.
Due to the qualitative survey-based approach to this research, note that all of the reasons given hinge on the nature of the surveyed ex-engineers/engineers (collectively referred to as ârespondentsâ) and their roles, so plenty of exceptions may apply.
What Pushes Engineers Away from Their Roles?
Perhaps the most core push factors in all job switches fall under the umbrella of disillusionment: that is, âdisappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to beâ. In this case, they are issues that an engineer could only experience after signing upâand putting the hours inâto their job.
In addition, some surveyed engineers became disillusioned, not so much because their job itself wasnât ârightâ; rather, it wasnât right for them. A mechanical engineer-turned programmer, for instance, explained why theyâre now interested in becoming a nurse. Before finally citing that the money in nursing can be equal to (and sometimes even better than) engineering, the respondent said this:
âI wanted â¦ work [that] was actually fulfilling and [about] making a direct difference in peopleâs lives. â¦ I donât have the typical âengineering personalityâ, which makes it extremely difficult to relate to coworkers, especially the older ones. Iâm a naturally empathetic person, [and] that trait doesnât seem to do well in engineering.â
Promisingly, no other surveyed engineer suggested that working in engineering had given them quite that level of a âsquare peg in a round holeâ feeling. Nevertheless, the aspiring nurseâs opinion reflects a predominant part of job disillusionment: personality clashesâwhether theyâre with the job itself or the people there.
Personality clashes in the workplace. Pictured: in a meeting, one worker points a finger at his colleague, who appears defensive. Image Credit: Bigstock.
Exemplifying the latter example of a personality clash, one respondentâs reason for leaving boiled down to a common smoking gun: a bad boss.
The surveyed engineer, who was a software-turned-aerospace engineer (before they ultimately took up civil engineering), was already interested in leaving software in favour of a more hands-on, more outgoing position. However, âthe final strawâ, they said, was not the role itself, but being assigned to a project led by a disagreeable manager.
On top of this, there are also those engineers who donât agree with how their firm is managed on a more general level. Fortunately, however, the engineering field itself may remain attractive to them: âDonât leave the tradeâ, said one surveyed engineer at a computer firmââleave the companyâ.
Fittingly, another respondent, namely a graduate in Electrical Engineering (EE), stayed a part of the EE field but changed their employer and occupation. Specifically, they went from a semiconductor test engineering role to one that involves facilities engineering in an electrical division (before recently being internally hired for a logistics engineering position, where their EE knowledge remains crucial).
Engineering can be a stressful industry, particularly in mission-critical fields. Pictured: an engineer diligently works on military technology. Image Credit: the U.S. Army Acquisition Workforce.
That respondentâs reasons for leaving their original job reflected a chief push factor in engineering job switches: the industryâs demanding, and sometimes thankless, nature:
âI was working 80 to 90 hours a week without any overtime payments, [while still] being told that I wasnât working hard enough to meet impossible deadlines. I also had moved to a very high cost of living area for the job.â
And then, of course, there are those engineers who just generally find that their job no longer excites them on what is chiefly a personal level. This is sadly a common experience in many workplaces, and another example of that core factor in career switching: disillusionment. Take one surveyed software engineer interested in a change, who frankly explained: â[My] reasons? Work is boring. [Youâre] sold in school you can make rockets and exciting stuff. I make boring create, read, update, and delete websites, [and] that sucks the life out of meâ.
Taking Stock of the âPushâ Factors in Engineering Career Switching
Evidently, not every engineerâs occupation works out for them at first, and the perceived âpushâ to change oneâs career may stem from all manner of personal reasons.
Clearly, though, disillusionment from that âsquare pegâ feeling, bad bosses, being overworked, and just generally wanting to find more fulfilment, are key push factors in engineering career switches.
Nevertheless, engineersâ âreasons for leavingâ only tells half the story if there is only a focus on what puts them off staying in their original role. Conventional wisdom means that many people are pressured to leave their job only when they have a new role secured, after all, so we are left with the âpull factorsâ in career switching. That is, in other words, the qualities of the new opportunity that attracts the given engineer to their new position.
This leads us to this articleâs successor, âWhy Engineers Switch Specialties: The âPullâ Factorsâ, where itâs made clear that a lot of those attractive qualities are on the other side of the same coin to the âpushâ of disillusionment: they are the âpullâ that comes from self-actualisation.