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

Volkswagen: The Challenger moment for mechatronics

I am old enough to have practised mechatronics long before the term was invented around 1990. I learned much in the context of 1970s military aerospace, and applied those lessons in developing sheep shearing robots in the 70s, 80s and 90s. (Youtube video)

When I heard about the Volkswagen scandal I personally felt let down and depressed. I was shocked. Not just because it occurred in a German company with an impeccable reputation. It was because engineers in a discipline that I helped nurture and develop through my career have let the rest of us down, displaying a dark side of their humanity.

I immediately thought about the implications for our mechatronics discipline. Here is our “Challenger” moment. The Challenger space shuttle disaster has been the pre-eminent ethics case study used in the engineering community for several decades. From now on, Volkswagen will take its place, at least for mechatronic engineers.

Continue reading