Dear Colleagues,

Is your new engineering graduate engineer, technician or technologist ready for the job? Do they find it easy to learn the key elements of their job? Did they get a great education or training experience focussed on practical outcomes? Are they sure of what they must do at work? Are they confused with the different priorities and demands in their jobs? The answer to these questions is often depressingly no.

So we have to seize the moment and mentor ‘em.

What are young engineering professionals weak in?
The areas where newbies in the workplace are often weak is in communication skills - working in multidisciplinary teams and practical problem solving. The highly specialised theoretical academic study doesn’t help with producing industry-ready graduates.

Other issues are that students and graduates actually don’t have a notion of what engineers and technicians really do in their careers. I (and perhaps you) can testify from personal experience that our engineering education didn’t prepare us for a practical engineering career. 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; but I have my doubts. Where is all the practical focussed engineering education on real equipment and experiences?

After overcoming my initial disillusionment after starting with my first engineering job after leaving college; I was really helped along by a mentor who went out of his way to give me real responsible engineering project work to undertake. He became my first mentor. And probably today even though we are in different countries, I still refer to him for advice.

So how do you mentor someone?

  • Give them help in problem solving/working with engineers and people from other disciplines and help them communicate better
  • Encourage a hands-on approach
  • Give them a vision of where they are going.
  • Get them to practise communication skills – reading/writing and presenting
  • Help them improve their troubleshooting skills
  • Critique their work in a positive constructive way
  • Try and tie their theoretical understanding to the practical side of the job
  • Give them responsible projects that test them
  • Give them ongoing opportunities to test their skills
  • Don’t worry if they break something – encourage risk taking (as long as they are SAFE)
  • Teach them how to start lifelong learning (and never to stop)
  • Push to teach at your local college to give some practical know-how

Abigail Adams is quite right about: We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.

Yours in engineering learning,

Steve