A scientist can discover a new star but he cannot make one. He can have an engineer create something similar for him, though. These are the thoughts of Scottish mechanical engineer Gordon Lindsay Glegg as he emphasizes the importance of the role of an engineer in the world today.
Engineering education today is challenged to prepare technically competent graduates. To be effective, today’s engineering graduates must not only be grounded in scientific and mathematical fundamentals, and engineering principles and design, they must also have a global outlook and a broader skill set to land a good job. If engineering firms want to see an influx of young people showing a true passion for engineering in general, they need to address the significant factor of improving practical skills post-education.
87 percent of new graduates feel well prepared to start working after earning their degree, while only half of hiring managers agree with them. This is a new revelation in a report by PayScale in partnership with Future Workplace. Recruiters today find them lacking some of the necessary skills like critical thinking, problem solving, attention to detail, and necessary communication skills required for working successfully in global organizations. This holds true with engineering graduates as well. They are not industry ready.
With globalization and emerging new technologies, the manufacturing industry requires an educated workforce. Some of the engineering graduates may be equipped with engineering knowledge when they graduate, but they may lack the communication skills required to work as part of global teams. On the other hand, some students may have the theoretical knowledge but lack the practical knowledge of handling industry equipment.
One of the major reasons for students not being industry ready is the present education system. The emphasis is more on theoretical knowledge and passing exams rather than preparing students to work in the industry. Companies are not providing students with enough opportunities to get practical exposure during their time at college. Lastly, the lure of IT companies is robbing great potential talent from the manufacturing industry. Employers have to be proactive or they can lose great talent to the IT industry even before they begin recruiting.
Hence, dual effort is required from both engineering institutes and manufacturing companies to make students industry ready.
Here are some ways to prepare engineering students:
Getting the basics right
Interest in engineering from early years could grow into an exciting and rewarding STEM career. Companies can also collaborate with local schools, community colleges, and non-profit organizations to create programs for young minds to build interest in STEM skills. As per the National Math+Science Initiative, "Of the 30 fastest growing occupations through 2016, 16 will require substantial mathematics or science preparation." Manufacturing jobs require strong knowledge of fundamentals, and it will be good if teachers make students aware of the importance of STEM subjects later in their career.
Subject matter expert interactions
Educational institutes can leverage the knowledge of accomplished industry professionals by hosting interactive sessions and seminars between experts and students. These long-tenured employees can share their experiences on how it is to work in a manufacturing environment, what kind of problems they faced, and how they got over those challenges.
Visits to various industries are very important for engineering students as it helps them figure out their career path and make an informed decision. These visits provide them with an insight into the real world of manufacturing. Further, they are useful to help students understand the nuances and realities of the shop floor, which in itself is a rare exposure. During such visits, mentors should be assigned to engage students with their knowledge and experience of working in the industry.
Generally, the internships offered as part of school are for a short period of time and offer no certifications. However, co-ops and internships are a chance to put what engineering students have learned in the classroom to use and practice. This is also an opportunity for students to discover their best skills and which ones need improvement. Manufacturing companies can make the most of the limited time available by involving students on projects for which their managers do not get enough time to work on, making it helpful for both the student and the organization.
On-the-job training is very important for making students ready for manufacturing jobs. Not only will they get to learn from experts, they will also discover the difference between theory and practicality. Manufacturing companies could do well by offering apprenticeships for different levels of aptitude including entry, intermediate, and advanced levels.
Easily accessible learning solutions can help those students who want to learn on the go and help strengthen their basics. THORS online manufacturing knowledge courses are handy for engineering students to enhance their core manufacturing knowledge. In fact Todd Wells, a seasoned professional from the manufacturing industry remarked that THORS course material provides relevant knowledge that would have been nice to have had when he was starting out in manufacturing. "There are things in the course offering that I needed to know earlier in my career and I wasn't getting that information from work," said Wells.
If engineering firms want to see an influx of younger people showing a true passion for engineering, they need to address the significant factor of improving practical skills throughout their education.
To sum up famous musician Bruce Dickinson said:
Engineering stimulates the mind. Kids get bored easily. They have got to get out and get their hands dirty: make things, dismantle things, fix things. When the schools can offer that, you'll have an engineer for life.