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RE: Future Generations of Engineers

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I'm following with interest the discussions on this
thread regarding how much education is needed (and
what changes in our University course curriculum may
be required) to make young engineers more productive
right out of school.  I have a suggestion as to what
can be done, but just as important I think I do know
what caused this ?problem? to occur.

(Flame prevention note: If any young engineers or CAD
operators are reading this, please do not take
personally anything that I say. I am making broad
generalizations and I don't mean to offend anyone. In
fact young engineers today deserve a lot of credit. 
The challenges and difficulties that they face today
are much greater than those faced by engineers who
entered the profession years ago.)

Twenty seven years ago when young engineers (yeah, me)
started their first job, projects had larger fees and
longer schedules.  There were no computers (except for
mainframes) and every beam, column and baseplate was
designed by hand ? mostly by young engineers.  Many
spent the first couple years of their careers doing
nothing but manual calculations and drafting.  The
calculations were performed under the supervision of a
more experienced engineer and the drafting was done
under the guidance of that same engineer or that of a
senior draftsman.  The design process proceeded at a
moderate and comfortable pace.  Young engineers
gradually learned (by watching and working with those
around them) how to put together a set of contract
documents - first by working on column and beam
schedules, then by picking up red marks on plans and
details, and then maybe by drafting some details from
scratch (working from hand sketches drawn up by the
senior engineers). Over a couple of years, young
engineers got a ?feel? for what it took to design a
building and learned how to put together a good set of
contract documents.  The drafting component of the
training process was (in my opinion) vital to the
learning experience. It allowed the young engineer to
gradually absorb the many complexities, details and
procedures necessary to put out a complete and
coordinated set of structural drawings.

Fast forward 25 years?

All those calculations that took a couple months to do
25 years ago can now done in a single morning by one
engineer with a computer (ok, so I?m exaggerating a
little).  With the calculations finished up in the
morning, what?s the young engineer to do in the
afternoon?  Answer: the framing plans, schedules and

Fees are now smaller, schedules are faster, and things
now change more frequently during design than they did
years ago because the expectation (by some people) is
that now all we have to do to add a couple of floors
on a building is to "push a couple buttons", right?!  

The percentage of a project budget allocated for
design and number-crunching was larger 25 years ago
because it took longer to do all of those calculations
by hand. Engineering firms could afford to have young
engineers ?camped? on a large project because it was
easy to keep them busy.  Now the manpower allotted to
the design effort is a smaller portion of the total
budget, and in order to keep young engineers busy they
are taking on responsibilities much sooner in their
careers than was done years ago.  One of the big
responsibilities is often that of developing details.
So now we have young engineers with little detailing
experience (and often no drafting experience) taking
on a greater share of project responsibility earlier
on in their careers guiding ?CAD operators?,  who are
usually able to provide only minimal (if any) drafting
guidance to those engineers.   Most senior structural
draftsmen are now dead or retired and have been
replaced by ?CAD operators?.  Many CAD operators can
tell you ten ways you can draw a circle with AutoCAD
but they can?t properly dimension the circle. 
Structural drafting has become a lost art ? and you
need look no further than the closest set of drawings
produced in the last twelve months for confirmation. 
If your firm is consistently producing drawings that
rank an 8 or 9 (on a scale of 1 to 10) then my hat is
off to you. To make matters worse, many CAD operators
don?t have a clue as to what it is that they?re
drawing ? many are just converting squiggly red pencil
lines into straight black lines on the computer. 
Whereas artistry, speed and a basic knowledge of
building structures where of equal importance years
ago ? now it is often only speed that counts. 
It seems to me that what's lacking in the engineering
curriculums of our universities are courses to
instruct students on how to take the product produced
by their creativity and  knowledge of engineering
analysis and design principles, and put that design
onto a set of contract documents.  There's been some
discussion on this thread comparing engineering
education with that of the education required to
become a lawyer. I'm pretty sure that law students
take courses in contract law.  Contract law courses (I
think) teach students how to use legal theory and
concepts and put them onto paper (a contract). 
Structural engineers likewise use engineering concepts
and theory to produce designs which then have to be
put on paper; i.e., the contract documents - just like
lawyers!  At present, engineering students are getting
no instruction that teaches them how to put their
designs onto paper.

I think if courses were offered to teach the
fundamentals of producing contract documents
(drafting, specification writing, etc.), those courses
could be of more benefit to young engineers (and their
future employers) than would be additional coursework
in advanced structural design.

I noticed that many engineers right out of school
often tend to over-analyze things.  That's because
analysis was all they were taught in school.  Many
seem to ?over-analyze? and ?under-detail?.  Maybe if
they were taught the basics of drafting and detailing,
as well as the basics of how the total building went
together (i.e., interface between structural,
architectural, MEP, etc.) they would be more
productive ?out of the gate? on their first job.  I
think this might be one of the advantages that AE
programs, such as the one offered at Penn State
provide. (No, I am not a Penn State graduate.)

Off the soapbox (again).

Cliff Schwinger
(Lehigh '76)

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