How to Find a Job in Humanitarian Engineering

By Kevin Howell

If you’re a college student or young professional, you probably have a recurring thought in your mind: “What do I want to do with my life?”

It’s not that you feel you chose the wrong major or career field. You love technology and engineering. You enjoy creating solutions to problems and making stuff work better.

But simply climbing the corporate ladder your entire career doesn’t sit well with you. You want to put your engineering skills to work for a greater cause.

You’re not alone.

According to the Millennial Impact Report, 77% of Millennials are more likely to volunteer when they can use their specific expertise to benefit a cause. Millennials also view their philanthropic, personal, and professional lives as integrated.

So you want to combine your professional skills and philanthropic desires, but how do you do it? Well, you could try to find time to volunteer. Or, you could make humanitarian service your career.

Humanitarian engineering is a growing field. If you’re interested in dedicating your career to this noble cause, here are some tips.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

It’s great to have a heart and skills to serve but to be effective and truly committed to working in the humanitarian field, you need a thorough knowledge of it.

Learn about the history, strategies, success and failures of humanitarian projects by reading books, articles, blogs, and talking to people who have worked in the field. This will give you a better understanding of what you’re getting into and also prepare you for it.

Also, research places you may want to work, including the history, politics, and culture of the country and region.

GET VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE

Before you can make a living doing humanitarian work, you need to get your foot in the door by volunteering, if you haven’t already.

One of the best ways to get hands-on experience is working on an engineer-based community service project. For example, IEEE students from the Universidad Surcolombiana in Colombia launched a project where they taught low-income high school students basic electronics and photovoltaic systems concepts. Through an EPICS in IEEE grant, the group helped the students create a prototype solar charger to power cell phones.

BE PATIENT; IT’S HARD

The hard truth is there aren’t as many job opportunities in the field as you’d imagine. And many positions go to people with long careers in engineering. But that doesn’t mean you can’t break in.

Talk to people in the industry and network as much as possible. Many opportunities come through word of mouth. Also, contact non-profit organizations and agencies that do humanitarian work and get on their rosters for potential openings.

LEARN ANOTHER LANGUAGE

Since opportunities may be hard to come by, you can create your own opportunities.

Start your own business or organization dedicated to meeting the needs of communities and underprivileged groups. There are needs in your area that your engineering skills can address. Just do your research, strategize, make connections, and do what you do best—create solutions.

Putting your engineering skills to use for the greater good is admirable. Make sure you find out as much as you can about the humanitarian engineering field before deciding whether it’s the right career path for you.

Looking to get started with work? EPICS in IEEE provides grants for engineer-related community service projects. Find out more here.