Sunday, September 02, 2012

More on Education and Engineering.

Whether the chunks of wood are part of a house,a railway bridge, a naval vessel, an aircraft, the machinery of a wind mill, doesn't matter, none of it is engineering. The engineering was done many years ago, these technologies are established.

According to Engineers Australia my formal education makes me an engineering technologist. I consider that to be nonsense. All the structural design I do is within the scope of my education at the engineering associate level. Most of the work was previously done by engineers or elsewhere carried out by engineers. So my question is: why would I want to spend an extortionate amount of money to go from B.Tech to B.Eng, and still do the same job. Further more why are we pressuring engineering associates to upgrade to B.Tech or B.Eng? They have little relevance to the practice of engineering, and are not determinants of an individuals ingenuity and contribution to a business or to the community. Such assumptions is where the rot has set in.

Ingenious people developed new technologies, then industry needed people who could specify, build, adapt and modify such technologies. Academies, Institutions, and Societies of engineers had emerged and industry looked to these entities for the people needed. But that changed the function of these entities. Membership, no longer truly nominated and elected for real world achievement, instead the entities became examining and qualifying bodies and membership granted for relatively trite real world achievements. These members are now just as guilty of stealing the title engineer as are the train drivers and plumber they contend have stolen the title. The title Engineer doesn't belong to those who have completed education and passed qualifying exams, it belongs to the ingenious pioneers who push forward the frontiers of science and technology. Until reach that point merely dealing with established science and the technologies which can be developed and assessed on the basis of that science: the role is technician or technologist: not engineer. The institutions etc... should properly nominate and elect individuals to the title of engineer. MIEAust or FIEAust who really cares? Technologist and Engineer, stood side by side, how do we know the difference? Simple, everyone knows the real engineer: and I don't mean as a consequence of celebrity and popularity. Everyone knows the engineer because that is how important their contribution is and should be.

There have been criticisms of the B.Eng. Industry not happy that the graduates are not job ready. The community not happy that engineers have little understanding of history, culture and the social impact of technology. The professional bodies representing engineers have generally opposed adding anything extra to the academic programme. It would increase the length of the programme and cost more either to the individual or the government. Alternatively it would require other stuff removing from the programme to add the other desired subjects, without increasing the over all duration.

Once again I reiterate the B.Eng doesn't have anything to do with the direct needs of industry or society, its purpose is for continuing to MEng and phD, or otherwise tackling the frontiers. It isn't the frontiers that industry or society has immediate concern with, it is the existing and established technologies they are concerned with. The average graduate of the B.Eng tackling the frontiers is not a good idea. The graduate of the B.Eng needs supervision and training on the job, to develop competency in applying their knowledge to the established technology. Which is fine if there are employers around who can provide such training. Unfortunately there are few such employers.

So it may be cool to leave school and get a B.Eng, but it is neither good for industry or society, nor particularly beneficial to the graduate. There is no need to increase the duration of the B.Eng, it would be better to scrap the qualification, or at the minimum not make it available to school leavers and make it into a postgraduate degree. Most school leavers are looking to get a ticket to employment, and most employers are looking for experienced job ready personnel.

Now in the USA ASME has indicated there is no problem with the B.Eng and no deterioration in ability to pass the FE/PE exams, even if with the passage of time there may have been some deterioration in the duration of the academic programmes. That misses the issue. The NCEES FE/PE exams are about the established science and technology, not the frontiers. Those with the EIT license are not job ready. Those with the PE license lack understanding of greater society.

Those with the Associate Degree's and B.Tech's are meant to be job ready, they should be capable of passing the FE/PE exam in a specific area of practice, on graduation, not 6 to 10 years afterwards. These are the people that industry needs to sustain the technologies they are already supplying. These are the people society wants to sustain the expected performance of the established technologies they have become dependent upon. The most ingenious of these are the ones, who then need to extend their breadth and depth of knowledge. First so that they are more able to develop new technologies from the established science. They can only develop new technologies if they work for an organisation which pursues such development. Second they need increased breadth and depth so that can push the frontiers of science and technology. Once again a role that can only be pursued if work for an organisation that pursues such research and development.

Thus we can train people to be job ready faster. Further more, individuals can add more history and culture to their education, because they are freed from irrelevant studies. The structural designer doesn't need to study optics, electrostatics or nuclear physics. They just study structural design, and then get on with. If they have other interests then they can study such things. Which raises another issue. Both TAFE and University programmes in the modern world are geared for fulltime study by school leavers. More night school and weekend classes are required to increase the capabilities of the already employed.

Continuing professional development (CPD) also needs to be more than some time wasting networking activity, in the past self-learning and on the job study have been weighted lower than attending formal seminars. That weighting has apparently been removed, but it is actually still there in an indirect way. Paid seminars and formal education still rates higher. Even though the people presenting the seminars potentially know less than the attendees, and the real push for many of the events is just networking. No real or relevant learning taking place at such seminars, just attempts by some to gain business contacts for their employer. Not about technical development at all. If doing the technical job properly, then will be learning every day. CPD is some bureaucratic rubbish imposed by persons obviously not doing any real technical work, persons not encountering real world problems and persons not properly researching the issues concerned. Persons who think have to be taught everything. So when bump into a problem, shouldn't tackle it unless previously taught the solution. Oh! Gee look, a thorough review of the literature shows no ones previously solved the problem. Now what? Calling interplanetary craft, is their anyone out there with the solution? Need a teacher, not allowed to think.

Whilst the science and technology are established, it doesn't mean the work is highly repetitive or that the specific solutions are known and published. The methodolgy and procedures for arriving at a specific solution maybe known, but the specific solution still needs to be determined and then validated by testing. After which more published solutions will become available. None of which involves pushing frontiers of science or technology, it is merely adapting and applying the established in different ways. A pump is a generic technology no matter what is flowing through it. But each different substance pumped, will raise different issues to be considered. Further a pump could be taken as an analogy for driving electricity around an electric circuit. Also the mathematic models adopted may be similar. So we have mathematical models with common methods of solution. Which all assists in making the subject matter included in initial academic training more generic and applicable to more problems likely to encounter. But industry still needs people who know the established solutions, rather than people able to find the solutions. It is a matter of proficiency not just competency.

For example the graduate engineer deriving a deflection equation for a beam is wasting time, when 2 footsteps away is a book containing the required formula. From the employers viewpoint, the solution is known, and the employee should get on with the job, and use the correct formula. It is also poor supervision, that such graduate ends up pursuing such derivation.

The purpose of educating Associate Technologists and Technologists is that they are familiar with industry standard references. Part of the education process is quality control on those references, and also the development of additional design aids and checks and balances on the correct application of knowledge, and improving the quality of the job function itself.

Consider that a graduate of a B.Eng mechanical or civil will not be conversant with the Building code, nor the structural codes relating to materials and buildings, nor the crane code, nor the industrial racking code, nor the pressure vessels, nor the codes which relate to cars, ships or aircraft. They will have the engineering science to become familar, but if industry is to sustain its quality, then someone needs to pass on consistent industry practices. Not highly viable if rely on consultants and pressure vessels turn up once in a blue moon. Also problematic if they can pick up the mathematics, but ignore all the other characteristics of the system, and the food stuffs being processed in the vessels corrode the vessels only after a few months of operation. The whole of the technology needs to be passed on. Need people who have an interest in the technology and study the technology, not just study abstract esoteric mathematics and science.

If developing an Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) for say structural design, then the starting point should be familarity with volume 2 of the building code of Australia (BCA) and the timber framing code (AS1684).

BCA volume 2 is prescriptive with respect to common materials and applications in residential construction, and is some what taken as self-evident with out real proof of suitability. It covers timber framing via reference to AS1684, and masonry walls, and concrete footings, and glass in doors and windows, and roof cladding of various materials. A formal technical education should rip this stuff the pieces, highlighting its limitations, faults and deficiencies. Students should be capable of replicating the contents of AS1684 via application of the loading code AS1170 and the timber structures code AS1720. To replicate simplified wind loading AS4055 from AS1170. To verify the AISC/ASI design capacity tables (DCT's) for hot rolled steel against AS4100. To use AS4600 and verify the load capacity tables issued by manufacturers of cold-formed sections. To check residential slabs and footing code AS2870 against the concrete structures code AS3600. To check the masonry requirements in BCA vol 2 against the masonry code AS3700. To assess glazing against AS1288. Are all these prescriptions valid, are the design aids correct?

In this way they become aware of how long it takes to get the answer using the design aids, and how long it takes if such not available. Which then raises the issue of the pressure placed under when a seemingly simple extra requirement steps beyond the scope of the design aids and have to revert back to first principles.

{{Interrupted to go explain XML files}}