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Meaningful Contribution

Posted By Gideon van den Berg, Monday, 13 November 2017

When our young engineers enter industry, they spend a long time trying to reconcile what they have been taught at a tertiary level versus what particular selection of skills and knowledge sets are important for their immediate place of work. Now, according to Malcolm Gladwell (author of “Outliers”) what we term as “expertise”, requires around five years to develop. This period of “getting good” unfortunately also appears to equate to “getting stuck”.


The hard truth is that engineers are employed by businesses, not training institutions. They need to contribute in a very tangible way, as soon as possible. In the context of mechanical engineering (where engineers do not need to register with ECSA as such) this has a particular spin-off. Due to business/operational constraints, much is done to/with our young engineers to make them ‘useful.’


However, on the other hand the value of ‘professional development’ is attended to very seldom. And to make it worse, it appears that, whenever engineers are ‘developed’ they are given MBAs and are removed from the technical side of operations.


I believe this ‘isolation’ - especially in the first years of employment – creates a silo culture. I’ve dealt with skillful, talented engineers, who have been blinkered by their industry and have lost sight of the  whole, beautiful, vast field of knowledge, known as mechanical engineering.


Making a difference

These engineers will eventually become bored with their small aspect of mechanical engineering and grow into the field of management sciences – since it appears there is still some excitement to be had in that field! This leaves a skill and mentorship vacuum, which in turn makes it even more difficult for the new crop of young engineers due to the lack of mentorship and role models.


This is truly the space where the voluntary associations such as SAIMechE can, must and are making a difference.


Consider two items of major importance. The first: SAIMechE’s student chapters where students are given a chance to interact with engineers and their fraternity, to glimpse a wider view of the actual industry and its possibilities. The second is SAIMechE’s Professional Development Programme (PDP). This programme, based on internationally agreed professional attributes, has been created, and is available free of charge from SAIMechE. It was created to help guide young engineers to develop into competent professionals and is in-line with the 11 Outcomes that ECSA requires from its candidates.


By being part of a voluntary association such as SAIMechE – and taking part by interacting with your local branch – you are taking responsibility for your own professional development and furthering the interest of the profession.


When you get down to it, gathering CPD points is not all that difficult when you have developed this habit. When was the last time you picked up a new piece of knowledge or a tool? There are so many things to explore... have you heard of TRIZ when you innovate or the Design Structure Matrix when planning a project?


Having read this, and perhaps given a bit of a nod in agreement, you are also now vicariously responsible to bring our young engineers (and yourself) into the “fold.”


Article by: Gideon van den Berg, National Treasurer and Chairperson of the Eastern Cape branch.

As posted in the SA Mechanical Engineer, September 2017 issue

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