With the current economic climate and an ever-aging engineering community, newly minted engineers will have to ramp up faster than ever before. They will work on projects that were previously staffed by more senior engineers and with technology that evolves at unprecedented rates. The pressure to innovate and meet tight deadlines simply raises the bar for success.
To make matters more complicated, a significant portion of the engineering workforce will retire in the next decade, so the most senior person on a project may also face a learning curve. New engineers have to be more resourceful and self-sufficient than ever. They will be lucky if they have access to a mentor, and while access to information is more plentiful than ever, they will need to decipher what is most relevant and reliable.
Information literacy is a critical skill in lifelong learning. Knowing where to go to find answers and how to leverage available reference resources is not only important for entry-level roles, but also as engineers move up the ranks into leadership positions.
As electrical engineers choose from a variety of career paths – from renewable energy R&D to microelectronic design – they will inevitably face situations they didn’t learn about in school. While some may have completed specialty courses and internships related to the field they’re entering, the on-the job learning curve is significant. Engineers must quickly learn the ins and outs of how to find answers to their questions.
Beyond getting to know colleagues and mentors, engineers should determine the available content resources. Many tech and power companies employ special librarians, who are tasked with helping engineers research and find answers. Electrical engineers should start by getting a tour of available information resources from the special librarian if possible, and also check in regularly to learn what new resources are available. Many resources are listed on corporate intranets, so engineers should investigate what is available.
Too often engineers turn to popular search engines like Google when faced with a problem. If that’s the only place they turn for answers, they will not find the most useful, reliable or documentable sources. For instance, if an electrical engineer starting work on a design system has a question about a formula related to the project, she needs to ensure that the information she uses to answer her question is accurate. An internet search may present an answer, but the quality of that information will be ambiguous at best. In contrast, if the engineer uses a trusted source like RF Circuit Design (2nd Edition) or Efficient Electrical Systems Design Handbook, she will consistently find the sound information needed to move forward with her design system.
Learning how to leverage information resources is not only important for learning the ins and outs of a first job in electrical engineering, but it also lays the groundwork for rapid promotion and success in leadership roles. For example, an electrical engineer recently promoted to project manager may be surprised to find out that the company she works for has information resources related to management training. Using the same research skills that helped her succeed as an engineer can be used to track down useful management resources such as Effective Team Leadership for Engineers.
While graduating electrical engineers enter the field full of theory and equations, the most important skill they’re taught in higher education is how to find answers. Taking this skill, information literacy, and aggressively applying it to a career in electrical engineering can help new engineers achieve their goals faster than they imagine.
Sasha Gurke is senior vice president and cofounder of Knovel (http://www.knovel.com). Gurke has more than 25 years experience in the technical information field. He led the expansion of Knovel’s award-winning technical resource and contributes to the company’s success by integrating real-life workplace solutions.
Having been in the industry for about 30 years, and watching my son come through university at the moment, I don't think graduates emerge with "new skills".
For the most part academia moves slower than industry. Lecturers tend to be serving up their experiences from a while ago.
Most of the real learning that my son gets is from his vacation work in the industry with university giving him some theoretical basis.
Bottom line though is that if you are not a self-motivated lifelong learner you don't belong in this industry.
From my experience engineers are always stuck in a default learning mode no matter how old they are. The only thing that I have seen over time is the word “and” being used more liberally in job descriptions (i.e. ramp up). In the past an engineer may have juggled a few balls, but today employers want engineers who can juggle randomly mixed objects from ping pong balls to anvils while doing backflips on water, singing the Star Spangled Banner as a counter tenor, and as management assigns (catch all). From experience I have not seen this hoard of mythical experienced baby boomer engineers, but I have seen requirements that an engineer has been recently graduated (90%+ of new grads are in their 20s, the rest 30+) because they have “new skills” that seasoned engineers cannot learn (oh?). As for using the internet to quickly find answers (i.e. Google). With information and products changing so fast (i.e. documents are finally corrected, SW updates and patches) an engineer has to go online first because others have likely already had the problem and posted the solution. This article boils down to employers screaming “throw another log on the fire” to a hoard of surplus engineers.
If an engineer needs to go to the internet to find general information it is a sign of not being prepared. Of course, information in itself is of marginal value without insight and understanding. Data on specific items may be available on the internet at a manufacturer's website, and what is available anywhere else may not be quite as accurate.
Life long learning is the only way to stay valuable as an engineer, the serious problem is that most sources of learning don't come with certificates to show that you have been there. That is a problem when dealing with those who don't believe anything that is not documented and certificated.
I have continued my education to include mechanical designing, plus some skill in hydraulics and pneumatics, in addition to learning PLC programming and several CAD programs.
"Too often engineers turn to popular search engines like Google when faced with a problem." - Nonsense - turning to Google first does not imply turning _only_ to Google. Google is a very valuable first step and gives tremendous bang-for-the-buck.
to cd2012: I saw this again and again. Many of them were laid off indeed or retired earlier. One thing I noticed is that many of them didn't intentionally or systematically change their focus with time to transform themselves into "experience" based . In IC design and software, most of engineers are valued by their output in terms of number of lines of code. Frankly, a lot of work is merely to read spec and code. Many young engineerscan to the same. The value of these aging engineers is lost. When they relise this, it is usually too late.
To work in engineering, we have to keep life-long learning.
There are a lot of other engineering jobs besides IC designer. And unfortunately a lot fewer students entering college as ee majors.. In fact due to automation there are fewer IC designers needed than a decade ago. If you design analog ICs I believe you would see this aging issue up close and personal.
I personally have yet to see this "aging workforce." I have worked in the semiconductor industry as an IC designer in both Silicon Valley and in Austin and saw very few fifty-something and older engineers. Although wishful thinking says they made their moneyz and splitz or were promoted to management, I think most of them are laid off and/or move to different industries. The median age is a constant 35 or so.
I recently saw an experienced engineer was sacked because he couldn't learn ho wto leverage his experience.
"Information literacy is a critical skill in lifelong learning. Knowing where to go to find answers and how to leverage available reference resources is not only important for entry-level roles, but also as engineers move up the ranks into leadership positions. "
"Learning how to leverage information resources is not only important for learning the ins and outs of a first job in electrical engineering, but it also lays the groundwork for rapid promotion and success in leadership roles."