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It Takes a Team

The article, “The Graduate,” by Kerry Hannon in the May/June issue of Prism was quite thought provoking. As Ms. Hannon put it, “the corporations want the whole ball of wax—soft skills, science skills, and diversity.” I would suggest, however, that the concept of “academic supply/industrial demand” is inherently flawed. This is so because it assumes that (1) all education at the university is the responsibility of the engineering/engineering technology faculty, and (2) that industry need make no meaningful commitment to the education of future engineers/technologists.

On the first point, current university expectations often require that a future technologist/engineer complete a core of just the sort of “soft” skills and “full-blown” humanities courses referred to by Ms. Hannon. She states that “schools are just not quite sure what the best methods to teach communications skills are likely to be…” I respectfully disagree. If “soft” skills are not being effectively taught, it is incumbent upon industry to communicate with the faculty responsible for teaching those skills. Failure to involve all the players is perhaps part of the reason why industrial “soft- skill” expectations are not currently being fully met.

On the second point, the function of any education is to provide a student with the basics of his/her profession. Education is in marked contrast to training. When industry finds university graduates wanting, it may be that industry has chosen not to be involved with training the graduate for industrial employment. Once again, failure to involve all the players is perhaps part of the reason why industrial expectations aren't being fully met.

To address this situation, a number of meaningful steps could be taken. First, cooperative education as a requirement for graduation needs to be expanded and be supported by industry. The cost to industry of the co-op approach must certainly compare favorably with the current massive troop movements by industrial recruiters who scurry from campus to campus and fly potential candidates to cities like Denver for half-day interviews.

Second, more professional involvement with students is necessary. When a student reports to a committee at a professional society meeting, the student is developing interpersonal skills. When the student visits a job site, the need for organization, communication, and planning becomes real. In summary, to improve engineering/engineering technology education, let's invoke a team approach involving and committing all the players.

Andrew C. Kellie
Professor, Department of Industrial & Engineering Technology
Murray State University

 

 
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