Engineering capacity building - twin youth with experience

Engineering capacity building - twin youth with experience

How can young engineers be given opportunities to gain meaningful job experience?

Expertise takes time and guidance…

  • Building basic engineering capacity is achieved by increasing the pool of competent engineers.
  • Engineering competence is achieved through education and job experience, with expertise being achieved only after 10 years of concerted effort (Leonard, 2005)
  • Quality job experience must be gained by learning 'good practice' from experienced engineers. Therefore, mentoring is a key part of an engineer's development and must be built into any organisational structure that engineers may operate within
    Barriers to gaining experience…
    Young engineers in development situations often:
  • Operate without supervision, so taking on responsibility beyond their experience, because of limited resources to attract experienced engineers. This leads to poor decisions and lack of career progression for the young engineer.
  • Or, they are unable to gain work and experience, despite an abundance of need, because of a lack of capacity to support young staff. Denying young engineers the opportunity to gain experience means there is no transfer of knowledge to the wider base of engineers, limiting future capacity.

Example: engineering shortfall in post-apartheid South Africa

  • Pre-apartheid local governments in 1989 served 14 million (the privileged population) with 2,500 civil engineers (= 21 Engineers/100,000)
  • Post-apartheid local governments in 2000 served 47 million (the total population) with 1300 civil engineers (= 2.8 Engineers/100,000)
  • In 2004 an estimated 3500 to 6000 engineers were required (Lawless, 2008)
  • The number of engineers in local government is predicted to remain almost the same, with graduates replacing those leaving the industry, emigrating or retiring. So further interventions are required to grow the stock of experienced and effective engineers

Further reading

Place graduates alongside experienced engineers for simultaneous workplace 'doing and learning'

Engineering teams need hierarchies that support young engineers but maintain main responsibility with experienced engineers.e.g:

  • A senior professional to initiate projects, supervise and coach junior staff according to a structured training programme
  • Two graduates to carry out work under supervision
  • Two students requiring experiential training who will assist and learn from the graduates and seniors

Retain experienced engineers

  • Through payment incentives and recognition of experience: reduce emigration losses, encourage staff to remain until normal retirement date
  • Bring retired engineers back to coach graduates through mentoring programmes and in-house 'learner-ships'

Encourage young engineers

  • Link industry with research to provide practical learning and real-life problem solving (see example)
  • Develop volunteering systems to build experience:
  • Brainstorming, technical support, proposal writing
  • Offering stipends to organisations employing graduate technical staff and sponsorships for technicians to continue studying
  • Professional accreditation should be encouraged through training schemes, designation of supervisors and payment incentives for becoming chartered or incorporated

Example: industry/university partnership-Korea

Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO) founded South Korea's Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) in 1986 to improve the in-country research capabilities needed, to diversify the business ahead of an anticipated future decline in Korean steel-making. POSCO's research facilities serve as a joint arm of the university and the company. POSTECH is now recognised for its leadership in South Korea's educational reform.

Example: Volunteering – "Future Relief Workers"

The Future Relief Workers Scheme is run as a partnership between the UK charities Registered Engineers for Disaster Relief (RedR) and Engineers Without Borders-UK (EWB-UK), to provide placements for young engineers looking to take their first steps into overseas development and relief, placing young engineers on development projects overseas in countries such as Nepal and Laos.

Further reading:

- Lawless, A (2008) Numbers & Needs in Local Government: Civil Engineering – the critical profession for service delivery, South African Institute of Civil Engineering
- D Leonard and W Swap (2005) Deep smarts, Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, Boston, Mass