Volume 3 No.3, Fall 1999

ISSN# 1523-9926

 

The Engineer 2000 

James E. Globig
jglobig@engr.udayton.edu
Engineering Technology
University of Dayton

ABSTRACT

There has been a shift in demand from the traditional (but too stereotypical) ";put me in a corner and let me design"; technical specialist to a cross-functionally trained team player – especially in the product producing sector.  The re-invented American industry has emerged lean and mean and needs engineers that can and are willing to continuously learn and to execute a wide range of technical tasks when called upon.  Our Engineering Technology programs, with their applied nature, are uniquely suited to fulfilling this demand. 

I.   CHANGING INDUSTRY 

In the last ten or so years there has been a change in the type of technical person that most industries need.  In many cases the companies themselves haven’t recognized that there has been a shift in their requirements for their technical contributors.  In these cases they continue to hire the same types of engineers they have traditionally hired and then wonder why a new engineer didn’t ";work out";.   

The 1980s and early 90s were a time of design and manufacturing  ";catch up"; for many companies.  High product costs and low quality were forcing the American consumer to look to other countries to satisfy their demand for high quality products at a reasonable price.  In embarking on the new product catch up era, manufacturers continued to hire engineers with a high level of expertise in a specific area most needed by the company.  Even though this trend undoubtedly contributed to our ability to return to the forefront in design and manufacturing technology it has also brought with it a dilemma. 

With the increasing demand for products made in America, came the increasing need to react quickly to the changes in the market.  Many manufacturers found that, as their focus needed to change from design of new products to their manufacture and sale, their mix of technical contributors did not fit their new (and changing) requirements.  This led to a period where industries would hire a sizable work force for a specific product or strategy and then, when that task was accomplished (or when the market requirement shifted), they were forced or chose to terminate significant numbers of employees.  In the early 80s these employees were almost always blue-collar, but then another change took place where companies began to take previously unheard of steps to reduce cost.  They began to terminate technical contributors at an increasing frequency and in increasing numbers.  Finally, in the early 90s these reductions in force, as they began to be called, even penetrated to the senior technical and upper management ranks.  There was a time when this hiring and firing of task forces was almost chronic, and in the author’s opinion frequently irresponsible.  The ultimate result of this short sighted, desperate, but probably necessary phase in American industry was: 

        The nearly complete erosion of loyalty between employee and employer.

        The trend toward ";outsourcing"; as a way for companies to acquire labor, new products, and sub assemblies without taking the financial and legal risks of hiring additional, specialized, frequently technical, employees

        The migration from pure research to applied research and in many cases no research as R&D budgets are cut in deference toward new product revenue and profits.

        The loss of knowledge and history of the technological and/or market roots of a manufacturer.  At times this loss penetrates so deeply that the foundational character of the company itself is lost.  The author uses the term ";they fired the company"; for this phenomenon.  Of course sometimes the character and foundation of a company are so out dated or otherwise flawed that a complete re-organization was necessary to survive but often times the re-organization itself led to the company’s failure. 

        The erosion of ethics in business, which has penetrated to engineering and manufacturing, with increasing pressure to decrease cost and increase revenue.

 

II.   INDUSTRY REQUIREMENTS 

Despite this fallout, in just the last few years, American industry has made a remarkable comeback perhaps most characterized by our automotive industry.  But along the way we are learning (or re-learning) some important lessons: 

        Employee – employer loyalty (not to be confused with dependence) still has a place in industry because it results in increased performance.

        Encouraged by the recent success and health of American industry, companies are becoming more socially and environmentally responsible.

        The role of cross-functional teams as a way of obtaining synergistic results from a limited and priceless human resource.

        The need for employees that have the ability and the desire to contribute in a variety of roles.

        As companies make an effort to find or re-build themselves, they are taking a more pragmatic approach to hiring employees with ";the right stuff"; as opposed to a specific degree, number of years of experience, or expertise in a specific area.

        Increasing the diversity of their work force in support of their increased social responsibility, as a way of adding depth to their job functions, but primarily to increase their performance in a global market.   

As is illustrated in these shifts, one characteristic of American industry remains and in fact has been reinforced through this difficult transition.  We will not change unless we are convinced that change will increase stakeholder value.

 

III.  CHARACTERISTICS OF THE ENGINEER 2000 

Even though technical expertise is still highly valued in industry, it is not as highly valued as the flexibility, ability and desire to continue to learn throughout ones career.  The field of engineering has become so broad and products so diverse in their technological content that many companies realize that most applicants possess technical talent that can be utilized within their company either immediately or in the foreseeable future.  In almost all cases, a new engineer has to spend some time learning about a company’s core technology regardless of their expertise in that specific area.  More often than not, companies value the intellectual, sexual, and cultural diversity that new engineers bring more than if a new employee brought more of what the company already has.  In the author’s 20 years of experience in engineering and engineering management and in networking with others who hire engineers I have observed and heard several repetitive themes that have come to the forefront in recent years: 

        Industry needs engineers who can communicate both orally and in writing.  There was a time when if an engineer knew how to design with microprocessors or knew how to program in ";C"; (the specialization in demand at the time) she could find employment in any locality at top compensation.  Because companies are on a constant leaner-cheaper-better curve, the traditional specializations have been devalued.  The engineer of 2000 will go to a trade show, speak with customers and business partners on Sunday, write a specification on Monday, present the specification to the product team on Tuesday, execute the design on Wednesday, prototype the design on the bench on Thursday, and then work with manufacturing cell members assembling a pilot production run on Friday.  A key characteristic is to not only communicate well with other technical contributors in one’s field but to communicate effectively with marketing, sales, management and especially blue collar employees.  Finally, appropriate dress and demeanor remain a critical component to effective communication not just when representing the company outside but within the company as well.   

        Industry needs engineers who know how to work on a team and get synergistic results.  Yes, I am yet another proponent of teams but with an important difference – the team must be able to achieve synergistic results.  Authors and industries have been talking about teams for years and most companies claim they utilize them.  When observed, you will find, as the author has, that there are two types of teams.  Team Waste meets once per week for an excessive amount of time under the guise of ";teamwork"; to give the other team members an update on what one is doing because each member is actually working independently.  Marketing, engineering, and manufacturing then fight about what isn’t getting done, assign that task to someone who isn’t even in the meeting, and then walk out and continue to wander off in their own direction.  Team Synergistic has little need to have meetings because they are working along side each other every day.  They practice Concurrent Engineering almost naturally because they are all working on the same team and are pulling in the same direction from day one of the program.  Even though the members of the ideal team S come from diverse technical, professional, cultural, and age groups, it is important that they all share a set of common values and/or objectives. In addition to the members in Team W, this team undoubtedly includes at least one member from sales, one member from the work cell that will manufacture the product, and the person responsible for releasing and archiving the final documentation, and a member from the key supplier(s).  Each team member has learned to trust and respect the other and recognizes the importance of both their role and of the project itself to the company.  In addition to performing their own role, each team member feels like she can ask questions, challenge, and assist the other, regardless of areas of expertise, because they both recognize the synergistic effects when complementary talents pursue a problem. 

For most engineers, the Team S characteristics illustrated in Figure 1 are much more difficult to learn than one would think.  And they are learned characteristics.  The ability and the desire to work successfully on a team comes naturally to some personality types but not to most engineers.  (Yes, I’m stereotyping again but nonetheless it is true!)  If we didn’t think we could do a better job than someone else designing a new circuit or laying out a new work-cell then we wouldn’t be engineers. This causes us to be independent; too independent to contribute maximally to many teams. The reality is that many engineers don’t object to and often prefer to work alone and often don’t get past the Role Clarification or Commitment stages of team performance.


Fig.  1

        Industry needs engineers who hit the ground running.  The days where companies put new and particularly entry level employees through several weeks of orientation are gone.  The norm is that a new employee receives on-the-job training.  Companies want a new employee to start contributing to their success from day one.  If it’s a new program, they want an entry level employee to be able to analyze the problem, budget his time, estimate the cost, develop and document a plan, and then assemble and debug a prototype without burning his fingers or cutting them off.

         Industry needs multi-disciplined engineers who are willing and able to tackle various  and  untraditional tasks.  With industry’s move away from the more theoretical functions, they are looking for engineers that can perform a variety of applied functions as is illustrated in figure 2. If an engineer designs a new assembly and then throws it over the wall to a technician to prototype, there won’t be anyone there to catch it.  The Engineer 2000 may be expected to create a sound design and personally take that design to prototype and even through manufacturing if necessary.  In fact many companies will require that their engineers ";live"; (in varying degrees) with a new product.  Which means the engineer who designed a new product or assembly then changes to the traditional engineering technician role to prototype it, then changes to a manufacturing engineering role to assemble it and set up the work cell.  The engineer then changes to an industrial engineering role until production runs smoothly, and finally changes to an applications engineering role to boost the initial sales and help resolve any remaining customer concerns.

Another important quality manufacturers look for in engineers is the ability to accomplish tasks outside of ones primary educational background.  Electronics engineers that can perform basic mechanical design or that can lay out a manufacturing cell with AutoCAD or Pro-E are in high demand.  Similarly, mechanical, or manufacturing engineers that can do basic electronic design and document that design on schematic capture software or even Pspice are equally valuable.  With easy to use data acquisition systems like LabView, it no longer requires an electronic engineer to set up and operate a fairly complex data acquisition and control system.

One can sometimes recognize the Engineer 2000 because they frequently have a smile on their face (which is what happens when one is constantly learning new things and contributing to their company’s success in new ways) and their business cards simply say ";Engineer.";


Fig.  2

        Industry needs engineers who understand how to release a high quality product, to specification, on time, on budget but without compromising their ethics.  We’ve all heard the phrase ";Its time to shoot the engineer and release.";  And at times the author has had to do just that (figuratively of course).  However, along the way the author has learned that more often than not, an engineer who is reluctant to release a new product to manufacturing has some good reasons.  Industry needs engineers who understand the importance of announcing a completed new product or at least a Beta model at the annual trade show.  This requirement puts a specific and fixed date in a new product development plan before the specification is even completed.  This date frequently limits, as it should, the features and functions of the initial release of a new product if the product team is to hit this date with any certainty.  In fact, its important for engineers to understand that no matter how diligent one is in getting the last remaining features, functions, and performance into a product or bugs out of a product, inevitably the customer will find faults that need to be fixed or enhancements that need to be included in additional releases.  Most often, the revenue a company loses and the dissatisfaction of customers who are not able to purchase the new product outweigh any minor flaws remaining in the product upon release.  But, when there is situation where a product is about to be or is being produced that is not ";as advertised"; that’s when an engineer should bring the situation to management’s attention.  This is another area where the Type S team is particularly effective.  Product release becomes a team decision where each team member has a vested interest in releasing a product that enhances their company’s image as well as their personal image. 

        Industry needs engineers who know how to design both quality and regulatory compliance into new products.  It is no longer acceptable to release just a high function, high performance, high quality new product.  If this product isn’t manufactured under ISO 9000 registration and doesn’t meet F.C.C, NAFTA, and European Community and a host of other standards its market potential will be limited from the beginning.  These standards are difficult to meet and can have a significant negative impact on the cost of the product if not properly designed in from product conception.

 

IV.   IMPLICATIONS OF ENGINEERING TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION 

Just as industry reacted to changes in their markets, the schools of Engineering Technology must react to changes in our market.  Our customers are the manufacturers and our products are our graduates.  The author believes that we need to view ourselves as meeting industries’ requirements for new engineers by supplying a high quality, technical human resource.  At the University of Dayton, we meet twice a year with an ";Industrial Advisory Committee"; made up of leaders from a variety of industries.  We listen carefully to what they have to say about their technical human resource requirements.  In order to satisfy our customers by providing a multi-faceted engineer, I believe we need to: 

        Continue and strengthen the ";hands on"; portions of our programs. 

        Encourage (maybe even require) our students to take advantage of internship and co-op opportunities.

        Have significantly more and higher quality laboratory contact than Engineering curriculums.

        Teach computer modeling for preliminary design verification; not as a replacement for hands-on experience. 

        Strengthen our efforts to develop well-rounded members of the engineering team.

        Teach Concurrent Engineering principles

        Offer multiple courses requiring the successful planning and implementation of a team project.

-        Project should be a real industry sponsored project when possible

-        Team should be cross-functional and ideally would include business majors

-        Project should include a complete, well written specification and (if the team includes business majors) business plan

-        Project should require a presentation upon completion of each major phase

        Develop leadership skills by training and assigning a team leader

        Require students to take multiple courses outside their major which develop a centralized theme of their choice. 

        Provide training on how to acquire and hold a job

        Train fourth year students on job search and interviewing skills

        Train students on how to be good employees:

-        Being a team player

-        Willingness to move to different jobs as their company’s human resource needs change.  We should find ways to challenge students’ flexibility and design these into our courses. 

        Set the expectation and cultivate the willingness to continue learning new skills.  Encourage students to pursue a minor or another bachelors or a masters degree in a different field.  Most companies would prefer to hire an engineer with on-the-job experience over an engineer with no experience but with an advanced degree in their major area of study.  However, an engineer with a BSET degree and a minor or double major in Manufacturing, Mechanical, or Industrial Engineering Technology is a dynamite combination.  Finally, an MBA or a Master of Science in Management Science degree will still open many doors - especially later in ones career. 

        Keep in close contact with industry to monitor their technical human resource needs.

        Become their ";one stop shopping"; center for technical job openings

        Forecast their needs three to five years out in order to make curriculum changes in a timely manner.

-        The present demand for computer engineers has caused many engineering programs to have a digital orientation.  For this reason, industry is beginning to have difficulty hiring entry to mid level engineers who have adequate analog design and sensor interface capabilities.

-        There is a shortage of engineers who can design a mechanical assembly in 3D, simulate it, and program a CNC machine to fabricate it.

        Be pro-active in satisfying industry’s need for diversity by developing a climate that attracts and is supportive of low-income groups in engineering fields.  I have found that many of our most talented Engineering Technology students have come from low to mid income backgrounds.  The author strongly believes that their need to ";do-it-yourself"; in their formative years was an important factor in developing much of their intrinsic desire and penchant for applied engineering.                        

V.  CONCLUSION 

There are numerous opportunities to provide the product producing sector with their chronically unsatisfied technical human resource requirements.  They are hungry for ";the right stuff."; More importantly, I believe that our Engineering Technology programs are uniquely suited to fulfill those needs by providing graduates that are comfortable and capable of performing a wide range of applied technical tasks from prototyping to product design to project leadership to sales. There has been a shift in industry away from research toward new product design, implementation and continuous improvement. The Engineering Technology major has traditionally attracted the ";do-it-yourselfer"; (as opposed to the do-it-aloner) which just happens to be the kind of contributor that the growing small business sector and large manufacturer alike are searching for.  

 

LIST OF WORKS CONSULTED 

Alan Downs. Corporate Executions: the Ugly Truth About Layoffs- How Corporate Greed is Shattering Lives, Companies, and Communities.  New York: AMACOM, c1995. 

Allan Drexler and David Sibbet. Drexler / Sibbet Team Performance Model. Annapolis, MD: Drexler and Assoc, c1992.

Michael A. Hitt. The Birth, Life, and Death of a Cross-Functional New Product Design Team. Cambridge, MA: Marketing Science Institute, c1996. 

Mitchell Fleischer. Concurrent Engineering Effectiveness; Integrating Product Development Across Organizations. Cincinnati: Hanser Gardner, c1997. 

Concurrent Engineering: What’s Working Where / edited by Christopher J. Backhouse and Naomi J. Brookes. London: Design Council; Aldershot, England; Brookfield, Vt: Gower, c1996.

 Adapted from ASME Committee on Education. ";Mechanical Engineering Technology."; c1983.

 John H. Zenger. Leading Teams: Mastering the New Role.  Homewood, Ill: Business One Irwin, c1994.

 Rosa Lynn B Pinkus. Engineering Ethics : Balancing Cost, Schedule, and Risk – Lessons Learned from the Space Shuttle. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, c1997

 Guide to the University of Dayton General Education Program. Sixth Edition, Dayton, OH: University of Dayton, August 1998.

Diversity in Work Teams: Research Paradigms for a Changing Workplace / edited by Susan E. Jackson & Marian N. Ruderman. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, c1995.

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