Apprentice ship and mentorship are the keys -- but that is the job of industry, not the university, in my opinion.
Universities are fantastic at producing grant-proposal writing academic geniuses, but not practical engineers. That is well and good, we need strong academics who know how to work that system and get that grant money. More power to them.
But it is engineers in the field that know what it takes to be an engineer -- how in the world would an academic know that? Professors in Universities have pHD's in their field, they write thesis papers, manage research projects, teach classes, attend conferences, and manage grad students kluging projects together in under-funded labs. Professors don't design product after product. They don't have 20 years of engineering experience to pull from when they decide what that student really needs to know to be an engineer.
It is time for industry to step up. If we have a lack of qualified engineering candidates it is because industry has not come to understand what all of we working engineers know -- engineers have to be learning every day or you fall behind. Some of us are lucky enough to work at companies that know and support this, who bring in interns for on the job training, who send their employees to technical seminars and classes, who avoid laying off their valuable, trained work force. At my company we don't have a problem finding qualified candidates, because we don't lay off good learners and we have a pool of ex-interns to hire from.
The reality of the 21st century economy is that some level of post-secondary education (whether a bachellor's degree, an associate's degree, or a professional certificate of some kind) is necessary if you want to make more than minimum wage. In spite of the high unemployment rate, many skilled manufacturing positions are going unfilled because of a lack of qualified candidates. There is an article in this month's Modern Casting about this.
The problem is not so much "everyone going to college;" making more education available to more people is a good thing, not a bad thing. In fact, we need to educate more people, if we want to keep up with countries like China and India. But also we need to have a national discussion about the goals of education. Widely-held views about the four-year college experience need to be re-evaluated.
In our country's past, college was essentially a rite of passage for the children of the rich, and its main purpose was not to educate, but to form and maintain an elite. That's why, for example, prior to World War II, many prestigious East Coast institutions had quotas to limit the number of Jewish students -- they were not primarily interested in training the brightest minds, but in maintaining the old New England aristocracy.
Many aspects of the four-year college experience today are leftovers from that time. The drinking and partying made sense for students whose futures were already assured thanks to their parents' wealth and connections. They don't make sense if the primary goal is to educate.
I think many students are better served by two-year institutions than four-year institutions. As the Modern Casting article points out, many students with two-year technical degrees can make $60,000 a year straight out of school, while some students with four-year degrees can't even get jobs.
NadineJ, a trick que4stion depends on one's point of view. In my environment, 'customers' come in and ask questions that are confusing and lacking in information. It is important to know how someone reacts and responds to such questions. Asking how someone would handle the situation is different than seeing how they handle it. As in my previous post, it is not the answer that I am concered with, it is the interviewee response.
I agree with the posters who say it's not a valid question. The "ideal" voltage source is an abstraction used to teach first-year (or perhaps second-year) undergrad students the basic concepts of circuit analysis; they will never encounter such an animal in real life. A student with an amazing memory will remember that factoid (the internal impedance of an ideal voltage source is zero), a smart student who doesn't remember will think about the problem analytically and derive the answer, a brilliant student will ask "impedance of what?" because the question isn't clear and it's always important to gather all available information about a problem before attempting to analyze it.
I once worked with a PhD (specializing in radio-frequency eletromagnetics) who didn't understand the basic principle of a radiating aperture - the question came up because she didn't understand how a dichroic plate worked. She was probably far smarter than I, but didn't understand one of the most basic concepts of microwave radiation, her chosen field. Based on this, I wouldn't have hired her, but someone did.
I've also worked with recent EE grads who couldn't do basic circuit analysis. Doesn't mean they weren't smart, or they couldn't do the job they were hired to do.
I've learned you have to be wary of relying too heavily on answers to questions on a screening exam; a lot of people have skills that can't be measured that way.
I don't use (or respond to) trick questions in interviews. Management that needs to rely on tricks in order to interview candidates, also tend to create a poor work environment.
This problem is across all industries today. I talk to university professors who lament the lack of critical thinking amoung their students. Recruiters feel like gold miners digging for the right candidate. So far, I've heard a lot of complaints but no one offers solutions or even help. In the current economy, there's no budget or time to train on the job. Apprenticeships and mentoring could make a big difference.
@Fred McGalliard, why does it matter if the power supply is off? You were taught in school what an ideal voltage source is, and maybe the point of the question is to see if the applicant remembers that it has 0 ohms impedance, and to see if the applicant remembers how to find the Thevenin equivalent resistance of 0 ohms in parallel with 5 ohms.
As for relevance to the real world, many DC supplies are close approximations of an ideal voltage source. Give the applicant a schematic of a basic unregulated AC-DC supply -- a transformer, a bridge rectifier and a filter capacitor. Put a 5 ohm load on it, leave the supply turned off and ask him what value an ohmmeter will read when he measures across the output terminals. If you want to give him a hint, tell him the resistance of the transformer secondary winding is negligible.
What you are seeing is the result of the current move to send everyone to college. So the college waters down the classwork so that they can keep the students happy and the money flowing in.
The colleges don't see their market as the companies these students are going to work for, they see it as these stdents who are dumping large amounts of money to get a piece of paper.
And the expectation that students will leave college with highly usable skills is also unrealistic. The engineering field is so broad that the odds of having a graduate arrive with your skillset is about nill. If someone from potential employers isn't going to the colleges looking for future employees they students will have no idea what areas to specialize in and thus their general training may not spend much time in your field of work.
Oh - And while it might be nice to blow a potentaial applicant out of the water with your little test, does it really have anything to do with the real world? Or does it just make the old guy feel very superior to those wet behind the ears kids?
I have a degree in COmputer Science and Electrical Technology. I have used some of the computer stuff, but a couple years out of college most of the technology had been replaced with newer stuff and I was learning on the job. And the electrical Technology? most of the theory is nice to know, but most of the real work uses very little of that theory. If you want recent graduates to have some skills that you could use in your company, have some contact with them while they are still in college and give them some ideas for projects that would give them some skills that you could put to work. They would learn something useful, and you could get some employes that are partially prepared for what will get thrown at them on the job.
Working in at a university, on research equipment, it is not always possible to know the answers to every question. When I became a 'working' manager of engineering support, I expanded my skill set by taking classes in supervision and management. Terrified at the prospect of being in charge of hiring someone, I applied my skills of troubleshooting and studied the interview process, asked peers a lot of questions, and learned a few do and don't s. The first hire was tragic. But I learned a lot. The second hire was a hit.
The questioned posed by Richard Nass' friend is a very good one, if you are looking at a bigger picture. I agree with other comments that the question is very unusual and not everyone would know the answer - the question is not well defined: 'What is the impedance?' The impedance of what? the voltage source? The circuit?
But I like this question and may use it myself. Why? When an engineer becomes a manager, not all but most, they apply what they know and interpret as important. And that is technical expertise in engineering. But that is not all there is to hiring someone. Keeping it short; Other important factors are compatibility with others, communications, stress response, etc. If the interviewee gave the answer the interviewer was looking for then all one knows is the desired answer was given. But, more can be learned about the interviewee if they do not know the answer; or give the wrong answer, are told the answer that was expected. How? Watch the person; do they become nervous(uncertain) or remain confident; argue the answer or discuss it; is there answer full of BS or a thought out 'I don't know'.
Where I work, the range of diverse information/knowledge that is needed is not likely to be found off the street. So, I look for drive, motivation, open mindedness, communication without argumentation (I want credit for that phrase), a willingness to learn... I would use this question, not as an engineering question, but as a rhetorical question. It is not the answer to the question that I would be interested in, especially if the knew my answer. It is their response to it when they don't know my answer.
Apply your diagnostic and troubleshooting skills to the interview process and explore new applications for those skills. Great engineers don't have to know everything.
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