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 is it so hard to change engineering education?

In the last two decades we have seen waves of advocacy for changing engineering education, while at the same time we have entrenched the existing model ever deeper through international standardization and accreditation models like the Washington Accord.

Our research on engineering practice, what engineers actually do, demonstrates the need for changes – see my recent blog post on Dave Goldberg’s Big Beacon site.

Students know that they will never have to solve partial differential equations as engineers, so why do we continue to teach that, and not teach them the things they will actually be doing in practice? Continue reading

How can engineers regain respect?

How can engineers regain the high respect and status they once enjoyed?

In many countries, engineers have lost the respect with which they were once held. Evidence for this comes from our research interviews with senior company and government representatives who displayed only limited respect for the ability of engineers to deliver valuable outcomes.

Here is a selection of quotes:

“Our engineers delivered nothing: we gave them billions and we still don’t have what they promised.” (ex Prime Minister)

“Our engineers don’t understand the business imperative of this organisation. They simply don’t get it and it frustrates me immensely.” (Company CEO)

“I eliminate as many engineers from my organisation as I can: if I need engineering done I hire outside firms to do it.” (Company CEO)

Continue reading