Can Indian engineering regain its former shine?

India has produced some of the world’s greatest engineers and scientists and graduates hundreds of thousands of engineers annually. Mughal Indian civil engineering led the world 500 years ago. Therefore, today’s relatively slow progress towards a modern, sustainable, industrialized society is puzzling. India’s national productivity, along with many other low-income countries, lags advanced economies like USA, Japan, and Europe by a factor of about 5, a gap that has hardly changed in many decades.

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Engineering graduates will need help very soon

The most critical issue for engineering right now is a collapse in short and medium term employment opportunities for engineering graduates.

It’s not just the Corona Virus. Mobility restrictions and the oil price collapse are stopping engineering projects around the world.

Project cancellations and a loss of investor confidence will force engineering firms and suppliers to curtail hiring and many will close or stand down existing employees.

What can we, as a global community of engineers, do to help the next few cohorts of engineering graduates, many of whom will find it nearly impossible to find paid engineering work? If we don’t find ways to support these people, we risk losing a generation of engineers and stifling an economic recovery with critical engineering skill shortages.

I would like to hear about your suggestions – please respond to this post with ideas.

Here is my suggestion.

We all know that engineering graduates have so much to learn that is not taught in university engineering schools. Much of that has to be learned in the workplace. However, there is also much that graduates can learn while they’re looking for work.

My forthcoming book “Learning Engineering Practice” provides a detailed learning program for engineers looking for work:

  1. Perception skills – listening, reading documents, reading people and seeing;
  2. Researching engineering component and service suppliers;
  3. Researching the business environment, understanding where finance is being directed at engineering projects; and
  4. Building proficiency in applying relevant engineering standards.

The last one, applying engineering standards, is where experienced engineers could make a big contribution. In any given engineering discipline, these days, there are 50 – 100 relevant standards used in everyday practice. It takes time for an engineering graduate to learn which standards are out there, and how to apply them with discretion.

There will be lots of us with excess time on our hands. There are excellent online teaching tools these days. As a community, we could develop online learning resources for graduate engineers who will be either unemployed for many months, or forced into casual employment such as driving delivery vehicles, warehouse packing or fruit picking.

University engineering courses provide only a superficial introduction to one or two standards at best. Recently I have been helping to compile indicators of practice for mechatronic engineers, working with the National Mechatronics Committee in the Mechanical College of Engineers Australia. We identified around 75 relevant standards. While not all mechatronic engineers need to be proficient in applying all of them, there is plenty of scope for learning. After all, standards represent the accumulated experience of engineers who have learned practical lessons, often the hard way.

I believe that a concerted effort by volunteers, with appropriate organisation, could result in helpful learning resources and even one-on-one online coaching capacity. This might help a large number of graduate engineers to build their knowledge of industry standards, giving them credentials to help them and their future employers when the economy starts to recover.

Here’s an opportunity for us to invest in our collective future, as a profession. I am happy to contribute more details if you and others think this is a worthwhile idea to pursue.

If you have extensive experience working with some engineering standards and you have time to help out, let me know. I would be happy to give you some pointers and suggestions.

Use my UWA email address: james.trevelyan@uwa.edu.au

Corona virus will be more lethal for startups than bushfires

The Australian government’s business rescue packages, while welcome, have overlooked the future: thousands of small and successful startups. Startups in many other less fortunate countries may struggle to survive.

Our company, Close Comfort (www.closecomfort.com), a small family-owned business, cannot demonstrate a 30% year on year loss of business to be eligible for assistance because we have invested to grow our sales. Now we face a similar financial catastrophe like tourism and hospitality businesses as our sales and sources of investment capital dry up simultaneously.

It has taken us 13 years to perfect our sustainable, energy-efficient air conditioning technology. Along the way we benefited from government investment in the form of grants and incentives. Until now, our sales were steadily growing as more and more people learn to think differently about air conditioning. We are just beginning to export our technology to vast markets across South and South East Asia, and we have hundreds of satisfied Australian customers too.

Now our small team of highly skilled and creative people face salary cuts, stand-downs or unemployment just because they were courageous enough to join a start-up.

I have spoken with directors of other companies in the same situation: they feel penalised for being successful. As things stand, they are being penalised compared with traditional low-growth industries.

Government assistance could help companies like us survive to enrich and diversify our economy with a more sustainable future.

Otherwise, the case fatality rate among our youngest and most successful, innovative companies could far exceed the human toll.

The stimulus eligibility requirement for small and medium size businesses should include all sources of income and cash flow necessary to keep the company going, including both sales turnover and capital contributions from investors.

Eligibility should depend on the company demonstrating a 30% or greater loss of income from all relevant sources, relative to reasonable expectations.

The stimulus package legislation is being drafted as I write so, if you are in Australia, please email your local politicians and tell them about companies like ours who want to keep our talented staff in whom we have invested so much.

The virus may be more lethal for the elderly, but the economic catastrophe will be far more lethal for young companies which will provide for our future. It is not just us. There are thousands of small enterprises that will struggle to survive, in every country around the world.

Governments need to nurture courageous innovators and the enterprising people who work with them instead of denying them the oxygen they need to survive this economic firestorm.

Sign this petition: https://bit.ly/343OIS4

Engineering the Sustainable Development Goals

Click here for the article: Engineering the Sustainable Development Goals

It actually appears at SDGO, a respository of published knowledge on implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals by Taylor & Francis, publishers of my book The Making of an Expert Engineer. I was very honoured to be invited to help edit this collection… and in that role, contribute this opinion piece. In this piece I argue that engineering is the key to achieving all the goals. Particularly in low-income countries.

Since I started taking an interest in the SDGs, it concerned me that there’s so little on the critical role of engineers. It’s not just the obvious goals… water, sanitation, energy, cities… picked out by the World Federation of Engineering Organizations. In fact, even WFEO have struggled to gain recognition in the UN system. Currently engineering lies pidgeon-holed under the assistant director general of the UNESCO natural sciences division. If you browse the UN SDG web site above, you will find it hard to find any mention of engineering. In 2010 UNESCO commissioned a report on engineering. It shows just how far we have to move. I performed a content analysis of the text and the words “value” and “benefit” are linked overwhelmingly to attending conferences! I guess that fits with the UNESCO culture.

So does it really matter that engineering is not recognised as a real solution for implementing the SDGs?

Read more ON THIS TOPIC

What works in Higher Education…

… and perhaps what doesn’t seem to be working.

Recently, thanks to a tweet from Jenni Case, I came across Michael Schneider’s and Franzis Preckel’s analysis on the influence of 105 variables influencing student learning performance in higher education [1].

Teaching staff are being urged to adopt new and supposedly better teaching methods than traditional lectures. With more than 60 different methods ranging from problem-based learning to flipped classrooms, it can be hard for even an experienced university teacher to know where to begin. And then there are dozens of student factors that also influence learning performance. Knowing which characteristics of students, teachers and instruction methods influence learning outcomes and by how much will be immensely helpful which is why this is an amazingly useful paper.

The results should be compulsory reading for everyone involved in university teaching.

Read on for more details and the results summary

Can Indian engineering regain its former shine?

India has produced some of the world’s greatest engineers and scientists and graduates hundreds of thousands of engineers annually. Mughal Indian civil engineering led the world 500 years ago. Therefore, today’s relatively slow progress towards a modern, sustainable, industrialized society is puzzling. India’s national productivity, along with many other low-income countries, lags advanced economies like USA, Japan, and Europe by a factor of about 5, a gap that has hardly changed in many decades.

Continue reading

How important is STEM education?

Recent reports have highlighted Australia’s declining results in PISA testing of maths, science and reading capabilities of children. Some in particular have drawn attention to Australia’s relatively weak performance compared with China and Singapore. I am unsure what this means. Should we invest more in maths and science education?

The Singaporean government is making it harder for foreigners to work there. International company people I meet in Singapore complain that young Singaporeans cannot perform as well as foreigners and demand too much pay, and the government is trying to force companies to employ more locals.

Read more: I argue that STEM is not the most important priority

Culture, value perceptions shape engineering practice

{This is the plenary address I delivered last Friday at the World Engineering Convention – WEC2019. I entered the stage to loud music … a little unexpected … to help the large audience feel awake and energised at 9 am in the morning.}

Did you know…

In the UN documents detailing the Sustainable Development Goals, engineering is NOT mentioned at all?

We have to change that because engineering is crucial for implementing these goals.

Read more to understand how you can help

Engineering Heroes Podcast

I was honoured to invited to speak at the World Engineering Convention in Melbourne next Friday morning at 9 am. Dom and Mel Gioia interviewed me for their Engineering Heroes Podcast series. I hope it starts some interesting discussions around engineering communities in Australia and elsewhere. I launched into the interview with the ideas I was planning to talk about next Friday. So you can hear a preview here…

Well, you could have done… But I changed my mind.

I am going to take a different approach, more relevant to engineering globally, and with sustainability in mind. So the podcast is a kind of preview. Please join me next Friday in Melbourne to hear a different take on this. How culture and value perceptions influence engineering practice, and how we could transform our world.

Here’s the podcast link.

Transitioning to engineering practice

I was honoured to be asked to write a guest editorial for the European Journal of Engineering Education – it has just appeared on the journal web page here. (If you cannot access this article through your library, you can use this free download link. However this link only works for the first 50 requests so please only use it if you have no other way to access the article.)

If it were not for my status as Emeritus Professor and my inclination to pursue many ideas at the same time, as well as running our little company Close Comfort, I probably would not have tried to squeeze maybe too many ideas into the one article. So I hope you find it interesting and not too scatterbrained.

I still work with students from time to time. Recently one told me how helpful he found one of the things he learned from me, the idea that talking to people face to face was so much more effective at getting things to happen at work. He is still finishing his degree, and told me he was surprised how easily he got a job by following the method I advocate, and have refined for my new book here. It’s a small piece of evidence that reassures me that the ideas in my editorial piece have some value.

I will be talking more about this at the forthcoming World Engineering Convention in Melbourne at the end of November. By all means come along and meet me there if you can spare the time.