Engineering Is The New Liberal Arts

A degree in Liberal Arts has long been considered the most adaptable, with humanitarian and societal studies that prepare graduates to enter a wide variety of careers. This comes with good reason: Without progressing and promoting the Liberal Arts we may not have the music, films, creative writing and art that have the power to spark creativity in our daily lives.

During the recession we witnessed a job market that experienced an unprecedented shift. As unemployment surged, more students opted to forego Liberal Arts studies and instead explore an area that showed increasing demand: engineering. A study from Edgeworth Economics shows that both men and women began moving away from Liberal Arts studies as soon as unemployment increased by .6 percent. What resulted was more men entering into engineering degree programs, and an increase in women entering an array of technical course studies, including nursing, computer-science and technical health.

While unemployment has stabilized, the trend is clear: Engineering has and continues to provide an educational backbone and valuable skillset that is highly applicable in today’s digital-first society. As the CEO of connected technologies company HARMAN, which employs approximately 10,000 engineers, and as an engineer myself, I believe it is important to nurture an understanding of the many doors opened by an engineering background. With National Engineers Week upon us, it’s a prime moment to examine not only what engineers have done, but what engineers can do for the future.

##The Truth About Engineering

Engineering has proven to be one of the most fruitful tracks of study in the job market, as the skills and training developed by an engineering program are far more versatile than many believed.

Engineers have shown to embody a tremendous amount of leadership skills through the collaborative educational environment. According to Harvard Business Review’s Best Performing CEOs in the World, 24 percent of those included on the list have studied engineering. Nitin Nohria, the dean of Harvard Business School, notes that this is likely due to the fact that an education in engineering “is about what works, and it breeds an ethos of building things that work – whether it’s a machine structure, or an organization.” Being a CEO requires a specific skill set, and a background in engineering equips individuals with the ability to plan logically and make decisions that fit properly within the context of the business.

This implies that people with engineering backgrounds may develop an acute business instinct that comes less intuitively to others. Skills like time management, creative problem solving, a strong detail orientation, effective communication and a high level of technological understanding are all absolutely vital for a modern business leader. The highly adaptable and logical thought process instilled in engineering students promotes a high level of problem solving that is naturally applicable to management. Although technology is certainly a focus in any engineering program, engineering is a discipline deeply rooted in discovery and lays the groundwork for innovation and entrepreneurship. While having the skills to put plans into action is imperative, the ability to devise creative solutions to complex problems is at the heart of the discipline. This trait is indispensable to good leaders.

Further evidence of the versatile nature of engineering comes from Discovere, which notes that more than half of all people with engineering degrees work in non-technical industries, such as medicine, law, investment banking and consulting. A degree in engineering trains individuals and teams to approach situations and problems from every conceivable angle to best solve an equation. Engineering is a highly collaborative and creative field, offering students and professionals the opportunity to work in tandem to solve complex problems across a massive pool of industries.

##Creating an Opportunity

There is still great value in a Liberal Arts education to pave the way for a fruitful career. But as technology continues to dominate culture, a deeper expertise in math and science is becoming essential in many applications. While many of us are at least familiar with what an engineer typically does, many may be surprised by what an engineer actually can do.

The skillsets of engineering graduates are clearly applicable to several other key areas that allow society to function. For instance, Albert Einstein spent two years simply evaluating patents before going on to develop many of his own, including patents related to refrigeration, electromagnetic pumps, sound reproduction apparatus and light intensity self-adjusting cameras. In a world dominated by technological innovation, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) requires its patent agents to have a sharp eye for detail and a comprehensive understanding of the technological landscape. While the USPTO doesn’t necessarily require that all agents have a degree in engineering, it is certain that engineers are top candidates for such work, and can end up being an integral part of the evolution of technology, albeit in a different fashion.

Engineering also breeds creativity, as illustrated by chemical engineer-turned-fashion designer, Evon Tan. In a 2012 interview Tan specifically noted that her history as an engineer was a noticeable advantage, stating, “I tend to experiment more than usual with the actual fabrications and push the boundaries. You learn the importance of troubleshooting through engineering…”

While a Liberal Arts degree offers a broad and valued launching point for many endeavors, an engineering background offers a compelling counterbalance to that, preparing individuals to discover, understand and build. During the reveal of the iPad 2, Steve Jobs said, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that makes our heart sing.” And so it’s no surprise that engineering programs have started to explode – but it is also important to note that applying the principles of Liberal Arts to the skills of engineering is where true innovation unfolds.

Now more than ever, we must continue to educate the public about the influence of engineers and, practically speaking, increase the number of those acquiring these degrees. As we mark National Engineers Week, we should call attention to the need to drive home the point that being an engineer doesn’t put one in a box, it provides vast opportunities for one to open – or build – many, many boxes.

Dinesh Paliwal is Chairman, President and CEO of connected technologies company HARMAN (NYSE:HAR). Paliwal holds a Bachelor’s degree in Math, Physics and Science from Agra University in India and a master’s degree in engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Roorkee,). He also earned a master’s degree in applied science and engineering, and a master’s degree in business administration, both from Miami University of Ohio.