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Characterizing Engineering Work in a Changing World: Synthesis of a Typology for Engineering Graduates' Occupational Outcomes


  • James N. Magarian Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Warren P. Seering



Diversity in engineering, Engineering careers, Engineering education, Engineering pipeline


The 21st century has brought an expansion in the variety of occupational roles associated with product, service, and technological development. As a result, it has become more challenging to assess the occupational choices of engineering graduates over time. This paper introduces an engineering graduates’ occupational outcomes typology designed to facilitate consistency among researchers who employ occupational outcome as a dependent variable in original research, such as in studies of underrepresented groups’ persistence in engineering. The typology is synthesized from the results of a systematic literature review aimed at establishing which work attribute(s) have most consistently united those practicing engineering. The review identifies “design responsibility” – responsibility for the outcomes of design implementation, inclusive of safety, ethicality, and general effectiveness of designs – as an enduring commonality among engineers. Subsequent stages of the review then uncover how this design responsibility has often manifested in engineering practice. Based on the literature review, we present a series of propositions that underpin general definitions of three types of occupational outcomes – engineering work, engineering-related work, and other work – showing how the types can be distinguished based on the nature of design responsibility associated with each. These definitions thus serve as the foundation for a stratified typology of occupations’ engineering-relatedness. We conclude by discussing how utilization of this stratified approach for measuring engineering graduates’ occupational outcomes can enhance transparency and consistency among studies that examine such outcomes. By building the typology upon a distilled notion of fundamental job responsibility, rather than upon job titles, it is our hope that the typology can serve in a meaningful, enduring occupational benchmarking capacity as new job titles, role formulations, or entire technology areas, come and go.


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2018-12-06 — Updated on 2018-12-06