Dear Colleagues,

Is your local engineering graduate engineer, technician or technologist ready for the workforce?

According to a recent report* focussing on American graduates – apparently not always. Nothing new, for most of us in the work place, though.

The areas where newbies in the workplace are reportedly weak is in lacking in communication skills, unskilled in working in multidisciplinary teams and practical problem solving in dealing with real work issues are weak. Apparently, current engineering students are undertaking highly specialised academic study with less time for other extracurricular activities (probably along the lines of: ‘all work and no play, makes Johnny and Jill a dull boy and girl’); and this is making the situation worse. Other issues are that students and graduates actually don’t really have a notion of what engineers and technicians really do in their careers.

Some modest solutions proposed are to increase students hands-on experience early on in their education. And in increasing the level of their design expertise.

I can testify from personal experience that my engineering education didn’t prepare me for an engineering career. And I don’t see much evidence to show that it has changed much today in engineering schools and colleges. For example, I chuckle when I see the huge amount of highly theoretical mathematics in the engineering curriculum. Supposedly to train you to think logically and systematically. As you won’t use much of this advanced maths at work (But oh yeah, oddly enough – I did enjoy maths incredibly). And I see with the advanced calculators carried around by schoolkids today; most of the arcane work now (from differentiation, integration and graphing) is done quickly and effectively with these widespread tools.

My simple solution (yes !) is that I would inject a huge dose of practical multidisciplinary engineering design, problem solving and communication (reading and writing skills) into the engineering curriculum from the very first day the student walks in and keep pumping it for the entire 3 or 4 year course. And pour in working designers, technicians and engineers into the campus to mentor and share their know-how.

So what can you do about this ?

• Well; if you have any recent engineering graduates in your firm; give them some help in problem solving/working with engineers and people from other disciplines and help them communicate better
• Consider mentoring an engineering student or graduate
• Push to teach at your local college to give some practical know-how
• Push your local college and university to look at these issues
• Spread the word to your friends and neighbours on what engineering is all about – what engineering professionals really get up to in their typical work day – you would be horrified to find how few of the public really know what we all do.

Thanks to the ‘Enabling Engineering Success’ report from the CAEE and the IEEE for an interesting article.

Above all, with our new engineering professionals, we should encourage their imagination; as Albert Einstein reportedly said: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’.

Yours in engineering learning