Engineering graduates will need help very soon

The most critical issue for engineering right now is a collapse in short and medium term employment opportunities for engineering graduates.

It’s not just the Corona Virus. Mobility restrictions and the oil price collapse are stopping engineering projects around the world.

Project cancellations and a loss of investor confidence will force engineering firms and suppliers to curtail hiring and many will close or stand down existing employees.

What can we, as a global community of engineers, do to help the next few cohorts of engineering graduates, many of whom will find it nearly impossible to find paid engineering work? If we don’t find ways to support these people, we risk losing a generation of engineers and stifling an economic recovery with critical engineering skill shortages.

I would like to hear about your suggestions – please respond to this post with ideas.

Here is my suggestion.

We all know that engineering graduates have so much to learn that is not taught in university engineering schools. Much of that has to be learned in the workplace. However, there is also much that graduates can learn while they’re looking for work.

My forthcoming book “Learning Engineering Practice” provides a detailed learning program for engineers looking for work:

  1. Perception skills – listening, reading documents, reading people and seeing;
  2. Researching engineering component and service suppliers;
  3. Researching the business environment, understanding where finance is being directed at engineering projects; and
  4. Building proficiency in applying relevant engineering standards.

The last one, applying engineering standards, is where experienced engineers could make a big contribution. In any given engineering discipline, these days, there are 50 – 100 relevant standards used in everyday practice. It takes time for an engineering graduate to learn which standards are out there, and how to apply them with discretion.

There will be lots of us with excess time on our hands. There are excellent online teaching tools these days. As a community, we could develop online learning resources for graduate engineers who will be either unemployed for many months, or forced into casual employment such as driving delivery vehicles, warehouse packing or fruit picking.

University engineering courses provide only a superficial introduction to one or two standards at best. Recently I have been helping to compile indicators of practice for mechatronic engineers, working with the National Mechatronics Committee in the Mechanical College of Engineers Australia. We identified around 75 relevant standards. While not all mechatronic engineers need to be proficient in applying all of them, there is plenty of scope for learning. After all, standards represent the accumulated experience of engineers who have learned practical lessons, often the hard way.

I believe that a concerted effort by volunteers, with appropriate organisation, could result in helpful learning resources and even one-on-one online coaching capacity. This might help a large number of graduate engineers to build their knowledge of industry standards, giving them credentials to help them and their future employers when the economy starts to recover.

Here’s an opportunity for us to invest in our collective future, as a profession. I am happy to contribute more details if you and others think this is a worthwhile idea to pursue.

If you have extensive experience working with some engineering standards and you have time to help out, let me know. I would be happy to give you some pointers and suggestions.

Use my UWA email address: james.trevelyan@uwa.edu.au