A great deal of philosophical work throughout the centuries is dealing with reality – asking questions such as what, why, and how. Relating this to reality in the engineering work place, there are two engineering realms – the object world and the world of social processes. Object world is defined as angle of reality focused on the object under analysis, while the world of social processes tends to give different angles of reality. In this sense, we have engineers that have different perspectives or different angles of reality. Those angles of reality then relate to their identity and motivation as engineers.
The fact is that there are different types of engineers – just as there are different types of people. Different engineers have different levels of development and preference for some knowledge or skills. And just as with people, this diversity should be the advantage. However, the problems arise inside the often-narrow definitions of company’s hierarchy. On the one side, there are often problems with unnecessary desire to have “equal” distribution of technical workload among employees. On the other side, senior engineers do see the importance of skills, so they often emphasize on the skills that person has. From their perspective, skills might be more important as harder to teach employee, while you can easily have knowledge transfer using senior engineer’s experiences, manuals, and training. In addition, the structure of companies are often rigid, allowing senior engineers to often only progress as managers and not necessarily as very highly skilled engineers. Finally, companies fail to motivate engineers, relating the motivation only with money rewards. However, according to recent research in the area of higher
cognitive skills, motivation primarily comes from autonomy (the desire to be self-directed), mastery (the urge to improve at work), and purpose (making a contribution through transcended purpose).
Having in mind the emphasis on skills, coming from senior management, the list of engineer’s skills keeps on expanding: structural organization, analytical skills, problem solving, innovation and creativity, organizational behavior management, interests negotiation, mathematical modeling, conceptual problem solving, fast learning, working in team, establishing order in the uncertain and environments with lacking information, audience analysis, analytical listening, life-long learning, etc. However, what is higher
education offering students? It is offering them: frequent abstraction of the object world, given and solvable problems, often no wider context and with little connections within disciplines, lack of application of knowledge, focus on theoretical science.
So? Problems? But we are engineers, aren’t we? When problems appear, we solve them. So we just need to remember this, since apparently we forgot somewhere on the way. One thing is sure – change is needed not just on the university level, but also inside the companies, that are often operating by 19th century principles.
First of all, the change needs to start from faculty. In my undergraduate education, the relationship among students and faculty was a relation of less and more experienced colleagues. We actually did addressed each other as “colleague”. I see as beneficial that faculty involves in a more open-ended relationship with students. In addition to that, there is a systematic use of modern computer, information, and communication technology. Solution can be increase in time spent in school or increase in credit hours, adding some management and writing courses, but can be also flexibility in choosing courses instead of some engineering or other area courses. The class structure needs to change too, including exercises, problems, courses scopes to achieve balance of science and practice, along with active discussion of real world problems, putting students on the spot to articulate and defend their approach and results.
Beside the change in the university, there needs to be change in the companies too. This change would be a result of the start in the change in the universities. Companies need to recognize different types of engineers, accept that diversity and use it better. This should not result in creating more positions but should reflect in liberating the choice for position. In addition, a flexible structure has a potential to allow individuals to achieve optimal performance by finding intrinsic meaning in their work. In addition, relating the salary to seniority and achievements and not necessary to position is another of the potential solutions.
Reference: Pink, D.H., Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, Riverhead