2017 Design World Motion Handbook is for you
Talk to a recent engineering graduate, and of top concern isn’t landing a job but rather a nagging inability to design something worth something — especially given the openended parameters of real-world projects. Now, early-career jitters and performance anxiety are as old as time and even helpful for minimizing the inevitable mistakes of inexperience. But today’s hype surrounding STEM education and innovation has brought real skill limitations and gaps into sharper focus. U.S. Department of Education estimates now put a four-year engineering degrees at about $160,000, so more are asking: What employable skills do students gain from the increasingly expensive college venture?
Clearly, engineering degrees don’t bestow upon recipients the skills to conceptualize and build machines from nothing. Practical learning is core to an engineer’s development — whether in school laboratories and on open-ended design projects; arising from self-guided explorations in mom and dad’s garage or on a discarded computer or appliance; during internships or shadowing programs; or on the job after graduation.
One might assume that Millennials at least are immune to such practical concerns. This generation may be partially buffered by attitudes confirmed (with caveats) by studies from Jean Twenge and others measuring higher self-ratings of drive, leadership, and other abilities. That confidence is helpful in many cases; numerous studies suggests that career success often depends more on selfassurance than talent.
But success in manufacturing and engineering fields may be less dependent on mindset and “soft skills” and more on abilities related to analytical thinking and intellectual effort. There’s a certain satisfaction to be derived from this point, and it’s one of the things that draw many to this field.
After all, measures of ultimate success in engineering are uncompromising — dependent on hard and verifiable results related to design efficiency, output capacity, and serviceability, to give a few examples. No wonder so many superstars in the engineering world were or are notoriously difficult or quirky personalities.
Strides have been made to restore the clout of manufacturing in the U.S., and that’s prompted more discourse on what constitutes practical education in technical fields. New modes of production facilitated by digital technologies continually provide new opportunities for pragmatic and rewarding career tracks. What’s more, a proliferation of manufacturer-based programs to facilitate the entry of young folks into the field have become instrumental in ensuring the future of U.S. manufacturing and prosperity.
The only caveat for the latter is that company-based training programs — invaluable and heterogeneous offerings — might benefit from more national coordination and centralization of regional partnerships between corporations, community colleges, and universities. Right now, only about 5% of young Americans entering the workforce begin with any internship experience.
In contrast, apprenticeship programs of other leading industrialized countries are integrated into all modes of higher education … and formalized on a national scale. That means that far higher percentages of those just beginning careers start with practical experience. It also tends to harmonize the integration of different career paths in engineering and manufacturing. So those entering the workforce as plant operators, engineering technologists, engineers, and researchers in technological sciences also begin with a more integrated perspective on the field — and a better-honed ability to solve open-ended problems.
Filed Under: DIGITAL ISSUES