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RE: Future Generations of Engineers

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And this is where I will disagree with you.  To me, the proper place for a
"new" engineering grad to learn those practical things in on the job
during those first 4 years of experience.  That is PRECISELY why there is
the 4 year experience requirement in ALL the PE act is EVERY state (except
California which I believe is only two years).  As you so eloquently
pointed out, this is how it was done in the past and how, I contend, it is
still meant to be done.  The difference is that the profession now does
not seem to want to live up to its share of responsibility but rather
force all that responsibilty on to the universities at the expense of the
future young engineers having to pay for additional years of education
that should not be needed.

And I doubt that potential lawyers spend much time in school writing
contracts.  As I understand it, contract law (and other law courses) are
mostly spend learning about past cases in which the rules have established
precident (at that was how my one contracts course was taught in school).
Thus, they are learning the "theory" and must still ultimately learn the
practicalities of law on the job...thus, the reason why most lawyers start
out doing the "grunt" work as clerks and "researchers" for the more
seasoned lawyers (i.e. partners) otherwords, so that they can learn
from others.

While I certainly think that some very minimal "practical" application
structural material could and should be taught in an undergrad program, I
will always feel that the overwhelming bulk of that knowledge should be
and really only can be taught on the job by DOING it with a seasoned
engineer looking over the young engineer's shoulder on a frequent basis.


Ypsilanti, MI

On Tue, 29 Jul 2003, Clifford Schwinger wrote:

> 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
> details.
> 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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