More engineering graduates are leaving their ‘safe’ and ‘secure’ profession

changing careers
Before Rowan Atkinson became a TV icon, he was an engineering student. Source: Joel Saget/AFP

Rowan Atkinson, the actor behind the lovably hilarious Mr Bean, knows a thing or two about changing careers.

Before he became a comedic legend in the known sitcom, he attended Newcastle University for an electrical engineering degree. 

Atkinson then pursued his master’s at The Queen’s College Oxford in 1975. Here he was part of theatrical clubs such as the Oxford University Dramatic Society and began developing the character of Mr Bean. 

Other famous people who are familiar with changing careers include

These celebrities prove that changing careers with a degree in engineering is more than possible, whether it is because of transferable skills or sheer willpower. 

changing careers

Many don’t know that supermodel Cindy Crawford is familiar with changing careers. Before modelling, she earned a degree in chemical engineering. Source: Timothy A. Clary/AFP

Are people still changing careers from engineering?

According to the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), 40% to 50% of engineering students change their majors or drop out of college completely

Despite being one of the hardest degrees in the world that lead to the top most stressful jobs, we still flock to engineering programmes.

The National Center for Educational Statistics notes that 48% of engineering students dropped out before graduation between 2003 and 2009.

For most Asian societies, engineering is part of the trinity of careers traditionally preferred by family and social circles (the other two are medicine and law, and the more “open-minded” circles include architecture). 

Therefore culturally, we are more inclined to pick this area of study to make our family proud. 

Some have an affinity for problem-solving and numbers, making a career in engineering a natural choice. 

Engineering programmes have plenty of transferable skills, making it easy to move to an area that you might find more interesting.

From specialist knowledge, creativity and adeptness with problem-solving to effective communication and the ability to turn an idea into reality, engineering degrees equip students with a wide skillset. 

changing careers

Bollywood actress Kriti Sanon has a BTech degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering. She is one of many who ended up changing careers. Source: Ryan Lim / AFP

Here are just some of the fields engineers may turn to with their degree: 

  • Logistics and supply chain  
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Sales and marketing
  • Business and management
  • Banking and finance
  • Travel and tourism 
  • Animation 
  • Fashion studies

The possible job titles are also quite varied. Engineering graduates can become business or data analysts, management consultants, project managers, patent examiners, supply chain graduates or technology graduates. 

changing careers

While students decide to undertake an engineering degree, many decide on changing careers after graduation. Source: Getty Images via AFP

The pivot: Why are graduates switching industries?

There is a saying that has been growing in popularity recently: “Engineers do everything except engineering”. 

While some enter their degrees with every intention of staying in the field, they find their interests lie elsewhere and end up changing careers over time.  

The job market has also become unpredictable. We are used to thinking that an engineering degree guarantees a job, but that is not always true. 

The pandemic definitely made things more difficult and, for some, made it clear that changing careers was the right way forward

For instance, mechanical engineering graduate Lutful Kaiser decided to pivot from his degree to writing and translating books. 

“It took me longer to graduate from my university,” he says. “By the time I did that, there was Covid. It was difficult for me to look for other jobs, so I pursued my career in writing, something I always found an interest in. Eventually, it became my main source of income.”

This shift of engineering graduates turning to other careers is happening globally.

Indian Express also reports that six out of 10 top scorers in the final civil service 2020 examination had backgrounds in engineering. Government jobs lend more security. 

changing careers

Yong Lim juggles being an engineer and the owner of a healthy F&B business. Instead of changing careers, he managed to turn his passion into a side business. Source: Wrappe

Fulfilling passions without making a complete switch

For Yong Lim, a career in engineering was chosen for him. While he had thought about changing careers, he found a pivot instead. 

As the older son of an engineer, he was always expected to take over the family business. He had been around construction sites from the age of seven. 

“At the age of 13, my father decided to teach me the value of a dollar,” says Lim. “He made me go to a construction site to work as a general worker for about a month.”

Lim tried his hand at many jobs around the construction site, from bricklayer and concreter to chain man and supervisor. It gave him a better picture of the entire process from a young age. 

Being a good son, he went on to get a Diploma in Civil Engineering from INTI International 

“At college, I didn’t do well in my studies because I was really resisting the idea of being an engineer,” he says. “I hated it. I was a borderline passing student.”

His interests were in business and food, adding that he might have been good in finance instead. 

Lim then attended the University of Leeds for a degree in Civil Engineering. Here, he realised how hard his family worked to send him to this school. He also got tired of being behind in class. 

“I decided to give it a try and work a little harder. But I had to start from scratch because my foundation was not good,” he says.

It took Lim three months to catch up, and he quickly went from borderline to one of the top students. 

“I realised at university I’m actually really good at what I do,” he adds.

“It was really a blessing that I had that realisation because I had friends who had the same attitude and got worse grades. And they were struggling to get interviews and jobs.”

Keen to explore what was out there before joining his family company, he worked in Singapore for some time and even went to get his MSc in Construction Economics and Management from UCL. 

Lim explains that he improved his chances of getting a job by taking an unconventional route. Instead of relying on regular job sites, he began with a search for the top engineering firms in Singapore. 

Googling emails of these companies’ heads of department or human resources department, he sent out numerous emails, regardless of whether they had vacancies. 

He managed to secure interviews and, finally, a job. 

A year later, he began working for his family company, Pembinaan Purcon Sdn Bhd. Today, he is the General Manager.

“I think enjoying what I’m doing now, which is a combination of business, communication, engineering, and finance as well. Especially when you’re a business owner, you have to be a Jack of all trades.”


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In 2015, he thought back to his passion for food and began Wrappe, a restaurant that specialises in gourmet wraps perfect for busy people on the go. 

“I wanted to have my own thing and dip my hand into the F&B world because I enjoy serving people and love food,” he says.

“It is as simple as that. Even at home, when I don’t go to my outlets, I make wraps.”

Lim has learnt many lessons along the way. “I think being analytical is very important,” he says.

“Analysing the data and making sense of the numbers is very important. That is sort of how I deal with sales and marketing, even with no background in that area.”

Lim’s skills as an engineer helped him tighten many of the processes in Wrappe, from the menu to the assembly. 

“How will you assemble a wrap, for example, how would you cook everything and how to follow the recipe? 

“You know, could you maybe learn how to outsource it to people where they actually make a plan of it to protect your recipe. At the same time, you kind of simplify it for people that you’re working with.”

Despite the pandemic, Wrappe has grown to two thriving outlets in Kuala Lumpur, with delivery available through Grab and Food Panda.

This year, there are plans for Wrappe to become a franchise.

Lim’s success proves that you can explore your passions regardless of your degree. It also goes to show that your interests can change and evolve over time. 

changing careers

There is still a demand for engineering graduates worldwide. Source: Getty Images via AFP

Is there a demand for engineers in the future?

Fret not; engineering is not going to become a defunct degree. There is still a demand. 

For instance, Engineers Australia, an organisation for the engineering profession in Australia, explains that there is a current skills shortage of experienced engineers in the country.

It adds that 8.2 % of graduates in Australia graduate with an engineering qualification (Germany has 24.2 % and Japan 18.5 %)

While some of the most in-demand engineering degrees remain, newer evolved variations are popping up, such as prompt engineers.