I came across this report on the economic contributions of engineering prepared by PWC for Engineering New Zealand. In preparing the report, PWC and Engineering New Zealand assembled about 20 senior engineers from a representative sample of industries and asked them to write a brief description of engineering.
Here’s a word cloud summarising the result.
Now, what’s gone missing?
Remember that this was an exercise in assessing the economic significance of engineering in New Zealand…
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.