Thursday, September 06, 2012

Education and Qualification Frameworks

The Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) is supposedly built around core competences and articulated streams. Its purpose is to avoid a plethora of qualifications and assist employers make the right choice about persons to employ whilst otherwise providing career paths for employees.

When I see professional occupation bachelor degrees I see a plethora of qualifications, a lack of core competences and lack or articulation streams. Basically everything above AQF level 6, is the university sector, and is still largely built around duration rather than competences. That at and below AQF-6 is more frequently reviewed with purpose of improving identification of core competences and articluation streams.

So looking at bachelor degrees in civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, chemical, architectural, building, mining, agricultural, electronic, computer systems engineering: all I see are established technologies and established bodies of scientific knowledge. And have to ask where is the engineering? It is a plethora of qualifications, which are in the main completely worthless to employers and future employees. Its about profession rather than needs of industry and society. Sure, the graduates of such programmes may be what engineering and scientific consultants want: but consultants are themselves a problem. Typically isolated from the coal face, consultants are the high priests of over-the-wall-design.

Buildings, bridges, dams, cranes, ships, and aircraft are all structures, however the typical structural engineer has a B.Eng in civil engineering and designs buildings. The typical structural engineer should probably be kept well away from the other structures or may be not: for that is the problem. Employers seek persons with 5 to 10 years experience because they want people who are job ready relative to their industry, their business, their technology, their products.

This poses a problem. People cannot be job ready from academic institutions simply pursuing core competences. Yet it is something that both employers and employees desire. Employers basically want to buy what they need now, to get the job done know. Put another way they have a simple supply problem of make or buy: their preference is to buy. Employees are reluctant to spend their own time after hours getting upto speed, and their employers are unwilling to pay for time spent doing so. There is thus a certain expectation on the part of school leavers, that having paid for education, they will be job ready, and no further study required. That they get a job, work 9 to 5, and then go home and relax. A major let down, when they discover no 9 to 5, and no real relaxation, and they have the responsibility of coming up with solutions, and their job and possibly that of others depends on it.

Part of the problem is poor management on the part of employers, and the choice of buying rather than making. Training is part of quality assurance (QA), and QA is part of training. We currently have this call that we are short of engineers. But contrast this back to the 1990's, when engineers were being retrained or cross-trained in information technology (IT).

Now this is where one of the issues arose. Why did the engineers need training? Most engineering study programmes include computer programming, having learnt one programming language learning another is not a major chore. It was computer programmers that were needed not computer scientists. Even so, most graduates of engineering should be capable of picking up references on computer science and information technology, understanding it and applying, adapting and developing it further. There should have been no real need for extra training. But employers need to know that the people they employ have the required skills, further that they have the right attitude. Attitude is important, for whilst they may have potential to learn on the job, some jobs are not clearly defined, especially professional level jobs, and the job becomes whatever the individual makes it. Often this makes the job contrary to the required job function, and the individual filling the job position becomes an hindrance to the employer. So we end up with growth of professions, and increase in occupations, and job protection. Many of the arguments put forward by office professionals about who can and cannot do their job match those of earliers times by qualified trades people.

Core competencies is not about down skilling of jobs, but recognition of the generic skills people already have and the skills required to do a job, rather than defining in terms of some occupational certificate. The aim is educational awards which are more generic.The engineer, applied scientist, computer scientist, information technologist, and computer programmer all have core competences and core body of knowledge in common: primarily derived from mathematics.

There is also the issue that when it comes to design, the more that can be done in one head the better. So architcture, structural engineering, mechanical and electrical services engineering, all get combined into architectural engineering. A naval architect is also multidisciplinary. Mining engineers, cross civil and mechanical engineering disciplines as it relates to mining. Agricultural engineers, cross boundaries of farming, and civil, structural and mechanical engineering. Mechantronics covers electrical and mechanical engineering. The knowlege held by humanity can be combined in many different ways to service the needs of many differing aspects of industry and society.

Persons with B.Eng qualifications derived much of the design theory for our existing technologies, but now that theory can be presented directly, and it can be presented in Masters programmes via study, or it can be placed in various undergraduate qualifications. Persons with B.Sc qualifications also derived much of the design theory before B.Eng qualifications came into being. Persons with 2 years of science and mathematics study, also derived much of the design theory before B.Sc became commonly available. And persons with no formal education at all design many of the technolgies and did much of the scientific research in the first place. Someone somewhere had to have interest and motivation to go in search of and discover, before such knowledge was available to be recorded and published in books, and before such could be taught in schools.

The ability to learn, to investigate and research is of importance. Those with a B.Sc are more likely to have a more rigourous education than those with a occupational degrees like B.Eng and B.Bus. Put simply a B.Sc is of limited occupational value: it doesn't make a person a scientist. The graduates of the B.Sc for the most part have simply demonstrated the ability to research and learn, as a result they gain employment in positions which require on the job research and learning: and unrelated to any scientific discipline. Whilst those with B.Eng and B.Bus in the main see themselves as engineers and administrators: their focus is wrong and hinders them in getting employment. Our ancestors weren't so much as concerned with profession, but with learning. Study problems find solutions. Now we have all these competing professions, each arguing they are better at solving problems than another. Reality is that they really don't know how to solve problems, rather they each have a set of solutions they want to sell.

Just as science put an end to many of the trade guilds and their rituals, it can be expected that knowledge engineering and information technology will bring to an end many of the professions which have otherwise proliferated in recent years.

One person can speak to many people, but only one person can read a book at a time. It can take a scribe a year to produce a copy of such book. But one person can read that single book to many people, say 30 to 1000 people. Each of those people can either remember what they have heard of write it down. Thus many more copies of the book are produced, and many more people are able to go forth and spread that knowledge. Our education systems haven't really caught up with the printing press, radio and TV, and now teachers are trying to get upto speed with electronic information and communication technology.

People can experiment with computers and software, and at relatively low cost. Experimenting building a real boat costs a lot of money, requires the right place to build it, aswell as the right tools and materials. But just about anyone can build a virtual boat if they wish to: they just need a computer, the right software, and the time and interest. And it seems that people do spend a lot of time in virtual worlds. May be this is telling us something. In the industrialised world, there are too many restrictions: someone else already owns, been there done that. One the one hand heritage provides a foundation to build on, on the other it is a hindrance. There was something in the viking burial and burning the chieftain with all his possessions. So barring staying asleep, keeping out off trouble and doing nothing, enter the world of vitual reality. If its already done in one virtual reality world then create a new virtual reality. It is an extension of dreams which can be communicated and shared with others. Dreams which were previously shared via writing books: can now be created in a manner which more completely reflects the thoughts of the creator. The "movie wasn't as good as the book", such incidences reduced, but still got a problem where the creators skills are not upto creating what they dream.

So the industrial world having transformed, to retailers and otherwise the need for information technologists and website builders. It becomes something of a problem when get a shortage of plumbers and electricians, and others required to keep the real world going. It becomes a problem if we haven't developed the core competencies required to sustain and otherwise function in an industrialised society. It is partly governments fault, partly employers fault, and partly individuals fault.

Formal education needs to develop curiosity, the ability to investigate and the ability to learn. People shouldn;t be focused on collecting awards but rather learning and developing understanding. Education is largely built around acquiring a body of knowledge: the problem however is that formal education sets the timetable and the sequencing of subjects. That timetable and sequencing doesn't fit peoples real needs. Further when it comes to mature entry to formal education, it is often a waste of time: they already have the knowledge they just don't have the scrap of paper that confirms so. The mature student then ends up being lectured to by persons who think they their subject matter, when reality is the student knows and understands more. Further its the lecturer who doesn't fully know the subject who sets the exam, and determines what is important: thus potentially passing the wrong people through to the job. In many instances we have self professed experts dreaming up jargon, and creating their own little niche community: its business not real learning and understanding. You call it a wrench, I call it a spanner. Whilst we have these little differences, we can identify outsiders, and exclude. We have those that consider there is a difference between mass and weight, then there are those who think the difference is of no importance. The two groups cannot work together safely because they communicate using different dialects of the same language. Formal education thus has a tendency to create subcultures and division, rather than fostering real diversity. The real world is more chaos than order.

So industry wants engineers with 5 to 10 years experience. they did not graduate from the universities at the beginning of this year and they will not graduate at the beginning of next year. Industry, government and population have messed up. They are continuing to mess up, because industry has not stating what it really needs. Industry reviewed by engineer in traditional disciplines, the reports typically identify the need for engineers. I contend the reports are wrong. The mining indsutry doesn't need civil engineers or mechanical engineers. Civl and mechanical engineers can only be partly employed, that is why task is outsourced to consultants. Why have a civil and mechanical engineer on staff, when a mining engineer can do the work of both and so be more fully employed? Why wait 4 years for a civil engineer, when a civil engineering associate can be educated in 2 years to do the required task? But once again why have a civil and mechanical engineering associate on staff, when one person can have both qualifications? Further why create the occupation of mining engineer?

It is really a matter of the formal education system concentrating on generic core competencies and employers having their own training programs to develop the required industry body of knowledge. Trades people and supply officers need to be able to read and understand the drawings and specifications which the engineering types produce. Educating them all as engineers is wasteful. Engineers on the other hand also need knowledge of what the trades can do: basic engineering subjects cover such things as mechanical and electrical plant, manufacturing processes along with technical drawing. Studied alongside other subjects, this is scheduled across an entire year. But rearranged it can be completed in the first part of a year, and precede continuing to other subjects. Occupational health and safety is a common area for AQF-1 awards, and such is equally important prior to pursing education in workshops as it is to pursing employment.

But one problem is the view that mathematics should be taught whilst the mind is fresh, but equally so the use of tools should be taught young whilst the body is supple. However such is about developing proficiency, rather than enabling competence. So in terms of enabling competence we can introduce the craft tools first, before getting into the more abstract and esoteric tools. Even so there are still issues to be resolved as to what to include, in the core competences and the articulation stream or streams. It should be clear that the study streams will diverge.

The real issues are:

1) When and where should the study streams diverge?
2) How much has to be learnt and how long to move over to another stream?
3) How to get, and how long to get certification and recognition of prior learning (RPL) without wasting time studying. Formal education is a time consuming acquistion of knowledge not assesssment of.

Employees want to stay employed, and employers want an adaptable workforce to stay in business. A B.Eng does keep a person employed, its want the individual can do with the learning acquired that keeps them employed. Its important to realise that civil and mechanical engineers become locked into an area of practice once they start work. Shifting into another area of practice is not easy because it requires the individual to be trained for the industry, the technology, the business, the product. Business tends to prefer to train fresh graduates. It is therefore upto the individual to cross-train, and otherwise keep a foot in another area of practice other than the primary area they are employed in. Further more being recognised as capable in the other area of practice.

The more effort put into organising, arranging the available knowledge, the more generic the knowledge will  become and the clearer the articulation streams.

One important factor brought about by the internet is that knowledge is not an hierarchal tree, but a complex web. So mapping an academic hierarchial framework to the knowledge is problematic in the first instance.

Thu 2012-Sep-06  23:37