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

Why graduates have poor business skills – part 2

On repeated occasions, surveys in Australia and elsewhere report business leaders complaining about graduates without appropriate skills.

Recently I wrote about one factor that could explain this: the implicit privileging of writing about all other forms of communication 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.

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 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 second of these factors: the implicit relegation of collaboration. Continue reading

Why graduates have poor business skills – part 1

On repeated occasions, surveys in Australia and other countries report that business leaders complain about graduates without appropriate skills. It is not just surveys that tell this story.

Not so long ago, a well-known Australian university decided to promote itself by seeking local business leaders to extol the benefits of their experiences at the university. Well, it turned out that most had actually dropped out of their courses and never finished their degrees! So the campaign was quietly abandoned.

Why is the reputation of graduates so low in business circles, particularly in the minds of business employers? It is not just engineers, apparently, that have terrible communication skills.

Continue reading