Another reason for engineering project failures

This series of posts all has to do with the ways that engineering is critical for our economy, no matter whether you are in an advanced industrial country like Australia, or a developing and low-income country like Bangladesh.  Unfortunately, that link is hardly ever mentioned in engineering schools, let alone understood.

Also in earlier posts I mentioned our appalling and worsening record in completing major engineering projects, and how that is affecting the world’s economy right now, discouraging investors.  Why would anyone want to invest their money with engineers when there’s a good chance of losing all of it, and not much chance of making money?

In this post, I am going to advance another possible reason large projects can fail.  This time the root cause stems from engineering education.

In your first year of engineering, you probably learned about stress and strain. Even if you became an electrical engineer.  Maybe if you’re software engineer you missed out on the fun of playing with elastic beams and springs, noticing how they stretch in proportion to the applied load.

It’s fundamental knowledge for mechanical and civil engineers, and valuable for others.  In most engineering schools, you won’t graduate without having passed an exam on it.

Now, what would be the result if engineers had to pick up that knowledge on the job? Continue reading

It’s The Engineering…..

Its-The-Engineering“It’s the economy, stupid!” was the line that secured Bill Clinton’s election campaign in 1992 against sitting president George W Bush.  Now, with economies struggling to grow it’s time to recognise that it’s engineering that drives the world economy, and we engineers have to recognise how we can play our part and get paid better at the same some.  Our performance can, indeed has to improve. Continue reading

Why graduates have poor business skills – part 3

On repeated occasions, surveys in Australia and elsewhere report business leaders complaining about graduates without appropriate skills.  Most recently, Dr Simon Eassom has proclaimed this in an article ‘What will the Uber university look like?’ in the Australian Campus Review newspaper.  He thinks that traditional universities could be swept aside just like Uber is transforming the taxi industry in many countries using new technology.

Recently I wrote about two factors that could explain this: the implicit privileging of writing about all other forms of communication and implicit relegation of collaboration throughout our education system. Graduates, therefore, tend to have weak skills in listening, seeing and reading, even drawing and visual communication, all of which are critical for engineering and most other professions.  Especially for engineers, it is unlikely that they know how to collaborate effectively since this is rarely if ever taught. Even though students practice teamwork in many group projects, in the absence of explicit teaching and assessment, bad team behaviours will be reinforced just as much as good ones. And teamwork is different from effective collaboration in a technical context such as engineering.

In our research, we observed that young engineers rarely practiced effective collaboration techniques.  Some older engineers developed remarkably effective skills but without being able to explain them.

This helps to explain why the reputation of graduates is so low, particularly in the minds of business employers. And it is not just engineers, apparently, that are said to have terrible communication and collaboration skills.

My research on engineers provides some novel answers that lie deep within the structure of our education systems. There are some other factors that have emerged from this research affecting not just engineers, but all graduates.

In this post I will describe the third of these factors: the implicit devaluation of ideas about money in universities.

Continue reading