Current engineering students are very, very fortunate. They are beneficiaries of the growing momentum of change in engineering education. This growing momentum focuses not only on engineering curricula but also on preparing engineers for the context in which they will practice engineering. This preparation includes emphasis on the complementary skill sets they will need to develop in order to communicate and implement engineering solutions.
National programs and professional organizations are focusing on acclimating and introducing grade school students to engineering as a career. Demystifying what engineering education is all about, and breaking down perceptual barriers surrounding engineers, may lead to increased interest and enrollment in math and engineering programs at the university level. What a great horizon to set sail for!
What about the engineers currently in the workforce? Or, quite frankly, engineers displaced from the workforce in 2009? How can the changing perspective in engineering education be incorporated to assist the current engineering workforce in becoming globally competitive or find another position? These engineers are the folks that have to hold the course as momentum builds and advances for the next generation of engineers. And, like the two lead sled dogs from the team I had the pleasure of driving several weeks ago, younger dogs with lead potential are harnessed with older, more experienced lead dogs to – literally – learn the ropes.
We all approach the care and feeding of our undergraduate and graduate education differently, regardless of the academic discipline we pursued. Some of us take the core courses and focus on becoming masters of tactical solutions. Some of us cross-train because we want to incorporate other disciplines into our perspective. Some of us are researchers, others are teachers and yet others are practitioners of our discipline. This diversity in each student’s approach, regardless of the year in which they received their technical degree, is what leads to innovation and collaboration. In other words, diverse course offerings have always been available to all generations of engineers. However, as the current global economic paradigm takes form, the choices of courses you take, especially those for technical fields such as engineering, become more important. Even if you are an old dog.
It’s interesting how many business development and sales books have been written and are purchased and embraced by individuals in these disciplines. Regardless of whether they have a technical degree or not. Business development professionals (and yes, those pesky sales folks) may be more open to finding new tools of the trade than individuals in technical positions. Or perhaps the manner in which business development and sales professionals learn, assimilate and retrofit their habits lends itself to continuous change. Or at least searching for the next “latest and greatest sales technique.”
On the other side of the spectrum are folks who are predominantly technically oriented. And for the engineer who has been in the trenches practicing for years and years, the discipline and rigor of how problems are approached may present a hurdle to retooling, recalibrating and retrofitting their engineering toolkit. They truly are the masters of their discipline and have trained their brain over the years to solve problems in a specific manner.
With the emphasis in engineering education on not only what engineering students learn but also how they learn, today’s engineers may benefit from continuing education courses. There is probably less of a generational span involved at the student – professor interface in retooling today’s engineers, while educational efforts focus on recalibrating curricula for students graduating between 2010 and 2020. And today’s engineers have one thing that today’s engineering students don’t have: experience in the field. And lots of it.
Instead of thinking of yourself as a displaced engineer or a business owner behind the 8-ball of business development, what about regarding yourself as a resource to future engineering students? Ask yourself:
1.)How can I contribute my years of experience to the academic experience of grade-schoolers, high schoolers and college undergrads?
2.)What types of non-credit continuing education courses are available at my local university’s engineering school, where I can be on the receiving end of current advancements in engineering education and my contributions to class discussion provide a real-world context for my classmates?
3.)What stewardship programs are offered by the local chapter of my professional organization, such as technology competitions, field trips to manufacturers, etc.? How can I become involved with these initiatives?
4.)Is there an opportunity for me to mentor grade school science programs, or even teach at the grade school or high school level?
5.)How can I best work with vocational training programs to impact the quality of technical graduates?
Just some food for thought. The engineering discipline seeks discrete answers for tactical solutions. Instead of differentiating engineers based on age, academic, or professional discipline, I encourage you to think about the similarities across the entire engineering continuum. Retrofitting, retooling and recalibration usually involves taking parts from lots of different machines and incorporating a cross-functional perspective into implementing the desired solution.
Who else can determine the best pathway for retrofitting, retooling and recalibrating career development – for themselves and for others – than an engineer?
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. She was named one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers 2013. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools.