Tag Archives: knowledge

Episode 112 — Boomer Exodus

lavalampThe gang discusses opportunities and challenges of dealing with Baby Boomers as they depart the engineering field.

  • Adam is aware of the “retirement cliff,” which describes an impending loss of skilled workers, nearly all of them Baby Boomers, in a short period of time.
  • Americans tend to derive much of their self-identity from their jobs, notes Jeff.
  • This episode focuses on dealing with the loss of crucial information as seasoned engineers retire.
  • Many baby boomers have not saved enough for retirement, and so are deciding to work longer.
  • Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce published a 2011 study on STEM careers, noting that 10 years after graduation, 46 percent of STEM graduates have left the field.
  • While the clamor for more engineering graduates continues, a number of authorities claim there is no engineering labor shortage.
  • A 2013 article from National Defense Magazine explained that the “engineering shortage” is not a myth, although the engineers who commented on the article seemed to feel otherwise.
  • The concern over retiring baby boomers dates back a while, with a July 2000 article (pdf) from Monthly Labor Review discussing the substantial effects to be felt by U.S. employers.
  • Jeff references a white paper (pdf) from The Integrity Group that discusses the effect of Baby Boomer retirement on the energy industry.
  • Harvard Business Review published a 2014 article examining the costs associated with retiring experts.
  • A Bloomberg article from earlier this year discussed steps taken by defense and aerospace company BAE to prepare for upcoming retirements within their engineering ranks.
  • Paying workers more money can overcome their reluctance to assume jobs they would not otherwise consider, suggests a Twin Cities Pioneer Press article.
  • Jeff notes that many Baby Boomers are in no hurry to leave the job market.
  • Many companies cope with the loss of retiring engineers by hiring them back on a part-time or flex-time basis.
  • An infographic (pdf) from Kelly Services forecasts engineering job growth through 2023.
  • Interested listeners can look up forecasts for engineering employment offered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Thanks to Dean Hochman for use of the photo titled “lava lamps.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 68 — Engineering Expert

expertJames Trevelyan speaks with us about the skills and talents of expert engineers, and how those of us who have not yet achieved “expert” status can improve our ability to complete engineering projects on time and within budget.

  • Brian feels he is becoming less of an expert as time goes along; there just seems to be so much to know!
  • Our guest is James Trevelyan, a professor of Mechatronics Engineering at The University of Western Australia.
  • Some of our listeners may remember Dr. Trevelyan from Episode 19. (Yes, Jeff said Episode 17 during the podcast, but he was wrong!)
  • Dr. Trevelyan has recently published a book, The Making of an Expert Engineer.
  • Our guest mentions the book by Louis Bucciarelli, Designing Engineers, as one of the few sources of information about what engineers actually do on the job.
  • Engineering provides great opportunities for making the world a better place… and for spending other people’s money!
  • Research indicates that engineers have trouble delivering reliable and predictable results.
  • Carmen quotes the singer Meatloaf, noting that “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.”
  • James mentions the accomplishments of C.Y. O’Connor, an engineer who oversaw the construction of a water pipeline across uncharted regions of Australia in the late 19th century.
  • Our guest feels the skills needed to drive projects to completion have been largely lost as experienced engineers retire.
  • While Jeff longs to take engineering students out onto the factory floor, James indicates that some students aren’t particularly keen about participating in plant trips.
  • Engineers spend a lot of time teaching others, even if on an informal basis.
  • Peer instruction has proven effective in helping college students learn new material.
  • James mentions our prior interview with Dave Goldberg, in Episode 65.
  • Once again, we mention the Grinter report (pdf), which changed the course of engineering education in the United States.
  • ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc.) is the organization that accredits most engineering programs in the United States.
  • James has spoken with corporate leaders who actively work to dismiss engineering employees, seeing the engineers as unable to produce predictable results.
  • Engineers have a reputation for being unable to communicate with those in other professions.
  • Listeners who are curious about accrual accounting are directed to Episode 34, Accounting for Engineers.
  • Expert engineers accurately forecast what can be done, then deliver on their promises.
  • An ability to avoid problems is often the mark of an expert engineer, and is more highly valued than the ability to solve problems.
  • “Prudent engineers build on past practice as much as they can.”
  • Engineers rely a lot on unwritten (implicit) knowledge.
  • Michael Polanyi was a philosopher who suggested that “we know more than we can tell.”
  • Explicit knowledge can be written down, and easily transferred; this type of knowledge forms the basis for much of what is taught in universities.
  • Expert engineers do not rely solely on their own knowledge, but know how to build on the knowledge and abilities of others.
  • Supplements to James’ book are available online, including a classification of engineering knowledge (pdf).
  • University grades don’t have much relation to engineering performance, at least as evaluated by supervisors.
  • Young engineers with an ability to obtain assistance from seasoned engineers are more likely to experience career success than are those who find themselves unable to garner expert support.
  • James hopes that senior engineers will begin cataloging concepts and ideas that younger engineers need to learn and understand.
  • One important skill that has been lost among the current generation of engineers is the art of writing of technical specifications.
  • While prior guest Dave Goldberg champions Noticing, Listening, and Questioning (NLQ), our current guest dedicates a chapter of his book to similar observational activities, which he designates the “three neglected skills:” listening, seeing, and reading.
  • We debated the relative merits of programming languages in Episode 64; James tells us that programming among engineers is most frequently performed with Excel (and its accompanying Visual Basic language).
  • James can be reached via his website: JamesPTrevelyan.com.

Thanks to Ruth Hartnup for the photo titled “Expert Ethan.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 35 — Knowledge Network

graphWe consider engineering as a knowledge network in this episode of The Engineering Commons podcast.

  • Adam relies on his colleagues to help him coordinate his work, as well as to provide him with technical guidance–such as in conducting a Proctor soil compaction test.
  • Carmen similarly has to share information within his office about running a radio-frequency (RF) interference test.
  • Jeff needed fellow engineers to explain how to check the swashplate in an axial piston pump for excessive wear (“scuffing”), and to examine the piston shoes for embedded foreign materials.
  • The theory of Distributed Cognition contends that knowledge and cognition is distributed across objects, individuals, artifacts, and tools found in the environment. This allows a group of people to perform cognitive tasks that no single person can accomplish alone.
  • Chris Gammel had mentioned “context” as being his word of the year, even before he started Contextual Electronics:
  • Organizational Memory is the information and knowledge that is stored in the individuals, records, and procedures of an organization.
  • Social Objects are physical objects that facilitate social interactions.
  • Hugh MacLeod refers to his drawings as social objects. (If you like Hugh’s style, you can get your own business cards that display his artwork.)
  • Carmen makes the analogy that social objects are like cloud condensation nuclei.
  • You can enjoy the same Star Wars/Pulp Fiction wallpaper that Carmen has on his computer at work.
  • Jeff quotes from the 2010 article, Reconstructing Engineering from Practice, written by James Trevelyan and published in Engineering Studies 2:3, 175–195.
  • Both Adam and Carmen use TI-89 calculators, while Jeff relies on an HP-48G (only because he had two copies of the HP-49g+ prematurely quit working).
  • Aditya Johri has written an article titled, Learning to demo: the sociomateriality of newcomer participation in engineering research practices, which discusses how engineers get assimilated into an organization. It was published in Engineering Studies in 2012.
  • Carmen has had good luck getting technical leads by asking for help on his Twitter feed.
  • YouTube has provided Carmen with some good technical background. One of his favorite channels is The Signal Path.
  • Another YouTube channel Carmen recommends is that of Alan Wolke, who will be our guest on the next episode of The Engineering Commons.
  • A shout-out to Brian and Morgan for commenting on the show notes for previous episodes.
  • Technicians, mechanics, and machinists can all be good sources of technical information.
  • Adam, Carmen and Jeff discuss the tension between a need to share engineering knowledge, and an employer’s need to retain proprietary information.

Thanks to Bobbi Newman for the image titled “graph.” Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson