My colleague Andrew Livesey MA CEng MIMechE is an engineering lecturer and author. This is part 1 of 3 articles by him on his personal views about Engineering Education and Training – he takes three themes – engineering jobs, engineering education courses and engineering institutions.
In the past 25 years engineering has gone through a complete radical, but invisible change. This is a change which is bigger than that of the industrial revolution, what’s more, the change is continuing at a ballistic rate.
You can see the changes if you look; but you are probably travelling so fast now that you don’t see them at all; you just take them for granted. Changes like the move from hard-wired networks to wi-fi. It’s probably not occurred to you; but you won’t stay in a hotel without wi-fi – it didn’t exist 25 years ago. In the same way that 25 years ago, we didn’t have wind turbines, or solar panels.
My father used to drive 40 miles a day in his lorry delivering cotton in the North of England. I do an eighty-mile commute – twice the distance he drove, before doing any work. Then I do another eight miles home.
Six things that we take for granted that didn’t exist 25 years ago:
Mobile phones, Wind turbines, Wi-fi, Netflix, iPads, Self-service gas stations
Education has changed; but it is currently struggling to keep pace with these changes and the new explosion of extreme diversity of jobs in engineering. The engineering institutions are not keeping pace, with the changes and may quickly becoming an anachronism. In these articles I’ll develop three themes, engineering jobs, engineering education and engineering institutions, and indicate a few possible ways forwards from my perspective.
Let’s take jobs. Up to about 25 years ago it was normal to serve an apprenticeship to become a skilled engineer, jobs such as a fitter, a turner, a miller, or the top job of tool maker. After an apprenticeship on the shop floor there was the option gain a Higher National Certificate and move into the drawing office. This would be a significant step for a young professional engineer to be accompanied by gaining AMIMechE – a set of post-nominals to be proud of. Since its foundation 170 years ago the IMechE has been the premier learned body for engineers. At the same time the newly skilled young engineer may have chosen to remain on the factory floor, lured by the high levels of bonuses available, and taken a job with a title such as turner-setter, becoming responsible for a group of unskilled workers; setting up their machines, giving guidance on special points and answering questions as needed. This engineer would also be likely to seek further qualification, and seeing the intake of graduate engineers seeking membership of an institution to ensure a set of post-nominals to give status with a view to possible promotion.
Fast forward to the present day. The unskilled workers have been replaced with automated machine tools, widgets which took maybe 2 minutes each to make manually are now made at the rate of 50 each minute. The turner-setter has been replaced by a technician who responds to messages on a computer screen – a production technician.
The production technician is very unlikely to head to the drawing office for the next job level, unlike his or her predecessor. The design office, as it is now called is staffed by a variety of people – several of whom have never been on the factory floor and don’t even know what the product is used for. Not like the old days when the designer and draftsman would visit the factory floor to check production methods and solve technical issues. We now have a designer, who maybe in an office on another continent, and a CAD operator who puts the designs into a drawing format which can be read by the machine tools. These machines had to be designed and built, and the factories fitted out – so we have a new set of very varied, but specific jobs. We use job terms such as mechatronic specialist, systems engineer, industrial electrician, machine fitter and industrial engineer. So, we have a new set of job roles. The job titles from the last two centuries are disappearing quickly – part of the new industrial revolution.
The new graduate engineer is unlikely to have done any practical work at all – most colleges and universities have got rid of their workshops and machine tools. The graduate will however, probably be good at mathematics and may be able to write an essay. That’s why they are offered much higher paid jobs in the financial services sector – it’s a skills fit.
There is no clear career structure in engineering any more. Just lots of varied jobs, unconnected jobs. There is no clear pathway from apprenticeship to Chartered Engineer. Therefore, the institutions are not of any importance for career progression, there is no career progression – just some jobs pay more than others depending on market demands. The senior posts in most engineering companies are held by career managers – MBAs – not career engineers. So if you want to manage an engineering company do an MBA, forget your PhD and engineering research – join the Institute of Directors not one of the engineering institutions.
In the next article we’ll look at education courses – any comments or questions will be answered as soon as I can.