There's a delicate balancing act between making use of the engineering talent you have and filling the gaps.
It’s no secret that the U.S. needs more engineers and others to fill STEM jobs. There are numerous programs in place to build the funnel, but this widespread engineering shortage won’t be filled overnight. Companies must figure out how to plan for growth while stretching their engineering resources as far as possible. There are a few things these companies can do to plug these short-term gaps while waiting to reap the benefits of longer-term initiatives to attract more people to the profession.
Companies that can’t hire enough engineers must ensure their existing workforce has the tools necessary to work as effectively and efficiently as possible. This includes facilitating and encouraging collaboration and providing access to knowledge management systems and other time saving tools.
Too often engineers spend time working on tasks that have already been completed by one of their colleagues. For instance, a global company with multiple locations may have groups of engineers that are familiar with the work being done in their office, but don’t know what’s happening anywhere else in the company.
If one engineer designs a system or process for her company, another engineer should be able to take advantage of it regardless of their respective departments or geographic locations.
In order to improve knowledge sharing and to make sure that engineers are not reinventing the wheel for a given task, companies must do more than just encourage engineers to share their work, e.g., calculations. Companies must also implement an effective knowledge management system where engineers can edit, control and access documents from all projects within a central repository.
In addition to implementing an effective knowledge management system, companies should have their engineers use other time saving tools. For instance, many engineers use Microsoft Excel for performing calculations during preliminary design stages, despite the fact that this program does not always provide a sufficient level of accuracy or useful features such as unit conversion. In this case, companies can increase efficiency by providing calculation packages that offer advanced functionality and increased levels of accuracy such as Maplesoft or SMath. Engineers should be encouraged to save time by using these tools over Excel.
Even with tools and technology available, companies must also ensure their employees use more efficiently what is available. In my last post I wrote about how information literacy and lifelong learning is essential for a successful career in engineering. It’s important to not only stay on top of trends and advances, but also to have hands on experiences with tools and technology.
To ensure engineers obtain hands-on experience with knowledge management systems and other resources, companies should have someone in charge of training workers to use the technologies appropriately. If this role doesn’t exist, it should be created to increase adoption. The investment will be justified by increased efficiency resulting from high adoption and proper use of information technology and knowledge sharing.
Increasing efficiency is by no means a replacement for the additional engineers that many tech companies desperately need. But taking steps to help engineers work effectively and efficiently can go a long way to ensuring that company operations run as smoothly as possible, especially when there is a shortage of engineers.
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.
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