An Engineering Degree Alone is Not Enough

In this fast-paced and complex world, engineering students need to learn a new way of thinking.

Dassault Systèmes has submitted this article.

As difficult as it is to earn, an engineering degree alone is unlikely to prepare students for the world. Engineering careers are so specific, no university could prepare students for everything. But educators can help them discover how to keep learning as the world changes.

There are more than two dozen areas of study within the engineering discipline: civil, mechanical, biomedical, chemical, electrical, geological, architectural, industrial, aerospace, software, nuclear. The list goes on, including sub-disciplines within each umbrella category. 

University programs are expensive and selective. Only students who performed well in advanced AP-level math, physics and chemistry in high school can expect to do well in college engineering programs, if they’re admitted at all.

Some studies have found that 50 percent of engineering majors drop out or change majors before graduating, the biggest reason being ill-preparedness for higher level college courses. A University of West Virginia student survey found four main reasons students left:

  • lack of academic success
  • no longer believing they could be successful in engineering
  • not worth the massive amount of work
  • engineering courses offered that do not match a student’s interests

Schools have responded by offering more programs teaching “foundational skills” for fast-emerging subfields such as simulation, industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, fluids engineering, electrical engineering, electronics engineering, software engineering, project management, robotics engineering, and NC machining.

But the rapid pace of change and complexity means that many skills today’s graduates possess could quickly become obsolete. Systems engineering, however, broadens skill sets.

Systems Engineering

“Systems Engineering is about coping with complexity,” according to the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). “Systems Engineering helps avoid omissions and invalid assumptions, helps to manage real world changing issues, and produce the most efficient, economic and robust solution.”

Demand for systems engineers has spiked in biomedical, automotive, energy, information, transportation, aerospace, defense and consumer electronics, with job growth expected to increase by 21 percent over the next decade, according to career placement firm Zippia.

“This is faster than average for all occupations,” Zippia said. “One reason for this is that, as technology increases in complexity, some companies are finding their once single-discipline products have morphed into the sort of multi-disciplinary systems that only system engineers are trained to manage.”

Systems engineers, through interdisciplinary collaboration, use “pivotal skills” to design interoperable products within systems of systems. This approach is used in formulation management, materials science, eco-design, data engineering, data analysis, mechatronics, AR/VR engineering, data science, lean management, digital logistics, collaborative innovation, digital supply chain, virtual twin operation, virtual twin creation, additive manufacturing, composites engineering and manufacturing, and sustainable engineering.

NASA looks to systems engineers to lead “concept of operations” (ConOps) and resulting system architecture, defining boundaries, defining and allocating requirements, evaluating design tradeoffs, balancing technical risk between systems, and defining and assessing interfaces.

Boston University says its graduates in systems engineering go on to careers developing computer simulation packages for software providers; building and evaluating models for communication, computer and sensor networks; developing air traffic management systems; analyzing the feasibility of autonomous vehicles for military and civilian applications; developing and maintaining quantitative stock selection models used to pick high-performing stocks; developing and supporting software for global supply chain operations and multi-year production plans based on various supply, demand and capacity scenarios; inventing new scheduling and production control algorithms for manufacturing enterprises; and developing pairing optimizer and crew controller solutions for more than 30 airline companies around the world.

Systems Thinking

In a 2020 report, the World Economic Forum listed “Systems Thinking” as one of the top skills needed to “face challenges of our complex world … a mindset to think, communicate and learn about systems to make the full patterns clearer, improve and share the understanding of problems and see how to face them effectively.”

In this approach, mechanical systems engineers, electrical systems engineers, electronic systems engineers or software systems engineers collaborate to design interoperated products that also include analysis of technical issues, policy issues, human behavior and environmental impact.

Aerospace and defense have been at it for some time, but systems engineering has been growing in many other industries to solve complexity by thinking holistically and working with transdisciplinary teams. These engineers imagine, design and manage complex engineering systems over their lifecycles.

Take the field of mechatronics, the combination of robotics, electronics, computer, and control systems. It has created amazing products from smart phones to self-driving cars. To imagine these novel systems, engineers need to do digital planning, visual ideation, modeling, feasibility assessment, prototyping, and project management in initial stages. Then, they need to design and build the mechanical, electrical, and software elements in later stages.

It would be great for engineering educators to have a software tool capable of facilitating such versatility and scale. One of the most popular software options for mechatronics engineers and one used by 70 percent of engineering schools and universities is Solidworks 3D CAD, a solid modeling computer-aided design and computer-aided engineering program on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform from Dassault Systèmes. In addition to being a top resource for the classroom, Solidworks is also “overwhelmingly the primary choice for large and small organizations as well,” according to engineering software reseller Goengineer.

Classroom software tools that let mechanical, electrical, and electronics engineers form connected designs enable all engineers across multiple disciplines to communicate and respond to design needs or changes quickly and efficiently.

Solidworks is popular in the classroom because it features an electronic CAD/ECAD translator that enables engineers to create accurate 3D models of circuit boards. There’s an add-on to all versions of Solidworks CAD that let users prepare designs for manufacturability earlier in the development cycle. An electrical 3D feature enables you to place electrical components and use the software’s routing technology to automatically interconnect electrical design elements within a 3D model. 2D schematics and 3D models are synchronized bi-directionally in real time so any changes are automatically updated.

Simulation uses Finite Element Analysis (FEA) to predict a product’s real-world physical behavior by virtually testing CAD models. Visualization leverages 3D CAD data to easily create photo-quality content so students move from images to animations, interactive web content, and immersive Virtual Reality.


Helping engineering students develop systems thinking mindsets requires the ability to collaborate with other students in real time. For example, educators can connect existing Solidworks desktop data and design models to the 3DEXPERIENCE cloud-based platform from Dassault Systèmes to provide broad sets of design, engineering, simulation, collaboration, management and marketing tools for entire design-to-manufacturing ecosystems.

In this approach, students learn how to solve problems and test novel ideas within a community of aspiring engineers throughout their careers to gain technical competency and leadership as well as full system life cycle experience. This emerging trend toward collaborative and experiential learning positions students more securely for industry’s future needs.