In our Careers Issue last July, we reported on some survival tips that will help engineers be successful in their careers in the new millennium. Learning how to think in terms of systems was one tip. Learning how to work as part of a team was another. There were several more. Here is one that's so obvious that it often escapes mention: Learn the basics.
Sounds elementary, right? The problem is, many engineering schools never teach the basics, it seems. In their laudatory attempt to give engineering students broad exposure to theory and the scientific basis for engineering, they've sacrificed hands-on problem solving. The result: When graduates get their first job, their employers have to teach them how to be an engineer, because they didn't learn it in school. Just ask Parker Hannifin's Don Caputo.
Education is too theoretical, he says. Consequently, the time and money his company spends on training new engineers in the practical side of the profession is incredible.
Caputo recalls one graduate who went through his electronics course at Parker Hannifin. "We give everyone a kit that includes a digital meter and ask them to do some basic wiring," he says. "One student's meter broke so I gave him an analog meter. He couldn't read it because he had never used one before."
There's more: One engineering dean says that a generation ago, engineering freshmen had spent their youths taking apart cars and other vehicles or devices, and so they had a "feel" for engineering. The current crop hasn't done that; they've been playing with computers. The result: great computer skills, no feel for how things are designed and manufactured.
From Ohio comes a ray of hope, however, at least in the fluid power area. Greg Gordon, who runs the Ohio State hydraulics-degree curriculum is emphasizing the practical side of engineering. More engineering professors need to do that. If they don't, the early years of the new millennium could see a whole lot of engineers coming into the work force with a great background in computers and science, and no ability to exercise engineering reasoning or problem solving.