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RE: Cross-Training vs. Specialization

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I vote for "cross-training". A member of your staff with a broad range of
skills will be more valuable over the long haul.

Bill Allen

-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Polhemus [mailto:polhemus(--nospam--at)]
Sent: Tuesday, June 02, 1998 7:22 AM
To: 'seaoc(--nospam--at)'
Subject: Cross-Training vs. Specialization

We have an ongoing debate in our organization regarding the best philosophy
for producing our bridge plans.

The "oldsters," who've been around the block a few time, favor the
tried-and-true "specialization" approach, where each member of the design
group has a "specialty," such as prestressed beam design, or foundation
design.  In this scenario, each member of the team works on every job that
requires his specialty.

Their argument is, that this lends itself to an "assembly line" workflow,
which tends to crank the work out expeditiously, and tends to eliminate so
much need for checking and revision, since each member of the design team
becomes so expert at his specialty that he can practically do it in his

In turn, this helps enhance the company's profitability (or so the argument

Those of us with not so many grey hairs favor the "cross-training" approach,
wherein every member of the team seeks to become as adept as possible in
every phase of the work.

To my mind, favoring the latter, there are two thoughts:

1) I have seen people who've come out of "specialized" organizations and who
have basically to relearn the craft of structural engineering all over
again, all aspects of their knowledge outside of their "specialization"
having atrophied.  For example, I knew a fellow about ten years ago, who'd
been an engineer for seven years, and was registered.  But practically the
only thing he'd ever done was design AASHTO prestressed I-beams.  When he
came to our office as a new employee, he declared himself to be, in essence,
an engineer-intern all over again, knowing next-to-nothing about anything

2) We can't rely on a uniform level of difficulty for our projects.  At
present, we have really only one large project presently working, but the
norm is to have several smaller jobs.  In fact, a good portion of the time
we have several single-bridge projects, that bridge being simple enough that
one accomplished engineer can practically do the whole thing himself.
Cross-training helps to level out the resources needed in an uneven flow of
work such as this.

Those, at least, are MY arguments.

I'd like to hear from others on this score.  I'm sure there are a goodly
number of persons on this list who've seen it both ways.  How do you weigh
in on this issue?