I was reminded recently about the amount of time working engineers spend on communication. As Jon Leydens explained in his 2008 PCS Transactions article,
“engineers spend between 20% and 40% of their workday writing, a ﬁgure that increases as they move up the career ladder. Another study indicates that in their ﬁrst few years on the job, engineers spend roughly 30% of their workday writing, while engineers in middle management write for 50% to 70% of their day; those in senior management reportedly spend over 70% and as much as 95% of their day writing.”
Back in the 1990s, when I would explain this fact to engineering students, I could see that I’d destroyed their hopes. They hoped that the course I teach, technical communication, was a brief distraction in their technical education, that they would get back to the stuff of real engineering once they completed the requirement. Now when I see those same alumni at events, they reflect on how much time they spend on communication. Current students seem more savvy about the role of communication in their future success. This may be a result of the emphasis that prospective employers put on communication in job postings, in internship requirements, and in other professional communication with future employees. Whatever the source, the current generation knows that to engineer is to write.
You can read more of Jon’s article, “Novice and insider perspectives on academic and workplace writing: Toward a continuum of rhetorical awareness,” in IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication (vol. 51, no. 3, pp. 242-263, 2008).