The BeLongEng Project, a collaborative effort involving academics across Australia and New Zealand, will map the careers of thousands of engineers over time.
Supported by Engineers Australia, the longitudinal study aims to track the development of engineering practice across a 20-year period and provide empirical evidence for how and why engineering is changing.
A project team consisting of academics and professional engineers from Australia and New Zealand will track thousands of engineers across the two countries over an extended period of time.
Engineers Australia member and Chartered engineer Associate Professor Enda Crossin MIEAust CPEng, the principal investigator on the project, told create the team has started recruiting participants.
After joining the project, participants complete a short questionnaire, which Crossin equated to a census-like survey. A similar survey will be issued in the years to come.
“Participants will be asked questions relating to their background and education,” Crossin said. “We ask questions about how they feel about their work and their [sense of] belonging in the profession — hence ‘BeLongEng’. Finally, we ask what type of activities they’re doing in their work.
“In the long run, what we will be able to do is track how the nature of engineering work has changed over time. That can help inform all sorts of things, from policies on workplace inclusivity, all the way through to what we actually teach engineering students.”
A longitudinal focus
Crossin said it is the project’s length that sets it apart from previous studies.
“There have been a few attempts at longitudinal studies on engineers internationally,” he said. “Most of the studies consider the transition from study to work.”
The scope of BeLongEng, however, covers a much longer timeframe.
“This will be the biggest project of its type ever internationally,” he said.
Crossin said the study is intentionally designed to accommodate participants at all stages of their career.
“We’re looking for engineers from all backgrounds, from recent graduates all the way through to very experienced engineers,” he said.
“We’re also looking for people who may have completed an engineering qualification [and] might have actually stepped outside of engineering. That’s a bit of an unknown at the moment — where do these qualified engineers go, and what skills are they applying in their work? That’s something we don’t really understand.”
Engineers Australia member, Chartered engineer and Engineering Executive Associate Professor Anne Gardner MIEAust CPEng EngExec, President of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education and a fellow researcher on the project, said there are benefits for engineering education as well as engineering practice.
“We find that a lot of recent school leavers, when they come into engineering, have a very unsophisticated understanding of what engineering practice is,” she told create. “If we’re better able to explain what engineers do … to prospective students, I think that will be useful for them and us.”
Gardner agreed there is much to learn about the current state and future of the profession.
“Census data tells us that there’s probably a lower percentage of engineering graduates working in engineering jobs than what we expect,” she said. “The results of this project may provide further insights into where engineering graduates are actually working.”
Call for participants
The research team’s message to potential participants is to be involved and collectively improve knowledge about the profession.
“If you think this project is a really good idea, then join, because we need everyone’s story to get a really rich picture of what engineering is, not only in Australia but also New Zealand,” Crossin said.
“We need those individual stories to get a rich understanding about where engineering is at the moment and how it will change.”
The project offers a unique opportunity to highlight the voices and experiences of more diverse groups of people in the profession, and boost the confidence of such groups in choosing engineering as a career, Gardner added.
“It’s a chance for minority groups to show how their career trajectories play out,” she said. “I’m particularly thinking of female engineers.
“That’s why it’s important for a lot of different types of engineers to be involved, so that we get that full picture of the diverse activities and types of engineers.”
Engineers interested in joining the BeLongEng Project can sign up here.