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Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?
38

Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
--
From Engineering News-Record, 4/23/2012, Gary J. Tulacz:

This view is hurting the designers, too. "Engineering has always been a problem-solving profession," says Giorgio. "When you treat design like a commodity, it will be managed that way, without regard to the value-added capabilities of the top problem-solvers."

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

10
A majority of the engineers I work with at various companies around the world should be treated as a commodity--the same commodity pool as the fast-food chains pull from. As long as so-called engineering schools are graduating mouth-breathing troglodytes with a strong sense of entitlement in such numbers, the profession should be increasingly looked on as a commodity.

For my week-long Field Facilities Engineering class I send out a pre-test and tell the students to use any resources that they have access to and take as long as they want. It is a multiple choice test--the average score is under 40% and the highest ever turned in by a graduate engineer is 52%. I gave the test to my son (2 years of college before falling in love like no one has ever been in love before, now he's a lease operator in Oil & Gas) and he scored 60%. My wife (high school graduate) scored 52%. These people should be treated as commodities.

How do you change it? STOP LOWERING THE REQUIREMENTS FOR GRADUATION. The engineering program my son was in did not have a senior-design class requirement. Materials was combined with Statics into one 3 semester-hour course. Electricity was taught in the ME department by ME graduate assistants and it was an elective. Differential equations was a technical elective and you are only allowed to take 6 hours of technical electives (as I recall, the "humanist" electives had to be at least 18 hours). As long as the profession is this poorly served by academia, we should not be surprised that the world sees us as the guys who drive the train down a track.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Star for David.

That message explained a _lot_.

Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Well, I guess it's safe to say that David probably didn't attend my school nor has he worked with anyone who's graduated from there. I visit the campus at least once a year as part of my job and I'm always impressed by the students and the projects which they're working on.

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

John,
I would bet that if you compared the syllabus of "your school" today with one from each of the last 5 decades you would see that the even at very good schools the requirements have slipped year on year. The students today are every bit as smart as we were and we were every bit as smart as our parents were, I think that the disconnect is is the universities emphasis has shifted toward creating alumni that will donate while industry still wants engineers that can contribute.

When I worked for a salary I always watched for engineers from West Point or Texas A&M because they were universally a cut above the herd. I haven't had anyone from West Point in my classes so I can't speak to changes there, but I've had 3 recent A&M grads and while all three were smart people none of them seemed as well prepared as they would have been a decade ago, and all seemed to resent hard questions (as though they were entitled to skate through their profession).

I find it funny that virtually every new grad I've worked with in the nine years since I started consulting has resented messy numbers (e.g., why would a pipeline be 1457.2 m long instead of 1000 m long? why would someone ask them to add depth in m to surface pressure in bar(g)?). I'm not sure why they would think that the world will come to them with tidy numbers and consistent units, but they sure seem to.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I agree with zdas04 wholeheartedly! I would only add my experience with the colleges over the past 20 years or so:

The syllabus and program can be tough or lax (and they are getting more lax in my opinion). In either case, though, the only requirement for graduation seems to be the final tuition payment. Enrolling at a school is viewed as entitling one to a ceremony and certificate.

Professors have no incentive to give a failing grade. They have plenty of incentive to pass the student on, though. Failing a student leads to administrative hearings, charges of harrassment and bias, public slander via the social media, and a host of other consequences (including lawsuits).

I can name five BSEEs, all from name-brand schools, who cannot successfully compute the current flowing through a 250Ω resistor when a voltmeter tells them that the potential across it is 10 VDC. Even with a live internet connection at the desk and their Circuits 101 textbook on the shelf, they just are not capable of grasping that basic concept. That does not make them bad people -- but it does indicate that they have landed in a job for which they are not a good match.

The diplomas are real, though. How did they pass power systems or electronics courses? Here's how one did (he actually brags about it). The professor in question (an old friend of mine) verified it for me, unbeknownst to the bragging young BSEE:

"But Dr. X, I paid my tuition just like everybody else in the class -- what do you have against me that makes you want to give me a failing grade? Is it because I belong to the Church of [insert faith here]? I bet it is! Just wait until my lawyer gets hold of you! ... What's that you say? I can have a "B"? C'mon, how about an "A"? That's better. See you next semester! I'll be signing up for your advanced class."

But they can text-message 10 different friends or family members during a 30-minute technical training session.

Those are commodities, not professionals.

Sorry, this discussion hit my "go" button quite squarely.

Good on ya,

Goober Dave

Haven't see the forum policies? Do so now: Forum Policies

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

What we gotta do is to get the print media to capitalize Engineer the way they do Realtor, that'll help:)

Regards,

Mike

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Strange that several companies are clameing there is a shortage of engineers, if the schools can just churn them out as you say. But on the other hand, most engineering jobs require experence, so that tells me that employers don't trust recent grads, or are unwilling to train newbes.

I guess the term "we pretend to work, they pretend to pay us" applies here.

So companies need to learn to pay for quality, and demand it.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I wonder how the introduction and recent escalation of tuition fees has/will affect that attitude in England & Wales (i.e. I'm paying therefore I deserve a gong at the end). When I did my degree there was no evident paying of fees - the government paid some nominal fee directly. And if you failed, you were kicked out, as a couple of my 1st year hall-mates discovered. I don't think it even occurred to them that they could reverse the decision, or even appeal. Simply put, degrees were awarded to worthy candidates, not wealthy candidates, or candidates with connections.

- Steve

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

2
As to companies claiming a shortage of engineers, I believe that in many cases it is more of a 'shortage of engineers we can poach from competitors who can be highly productive from day one with no investment by us and who are willing to work for our slightly below market rate of pay'.

As to the quality of education, I sometimes wonder. I sure as hell don't seem as smart as a lot of the 'more experienced' folks. How much of that is just me, how much my education and how much genuinely the difference in levels of experience I don't know. Certainly saw evidence of things that used to be taught at high school having to be taught at university.

Posting guidelines FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm? (probably not aimed specifically at you)
What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Now that I'm more calm (excellent coffee this morning), I'll add the disclaimer I should have to my rant. There are exceptions, and there are exceptional schools. Exceptional students goes without saying.

So I'll join JohnRBaker and name a couple of more rigorous schools that I have investigated personally in the past few years:

Christian Brothers University, Memphis
University College, Dublin, Ireland
Seoul National University

There are sparks of hope out there elsewhere, I'm sure. Keep a positive note in the thread...

Good on ya,

Goober Dave

Haven't see the forum policies? Do so now: Forum Policies

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
Wow! I had no idea engineering curricula were being diluted so much. How does one correlate social science courses to donating? That seems to be more a matter of conscience and choice than humanities coursework.

Goober Dave I would call that threatening. I taught two sections of remedial math at my undergrad alma mater. One kid threatened me with tattling to the Department Head for using 'd@mn.' I told him to feel free in doing so. He was one that refused to learn despite complete ignorance of fractions, decimals, etc.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

The high school vs university discussion is a pendulum. When my dad started university after WWII he took a math placement exam to determine where in the math continuum he would start (pre-Calc in his case, some of his friends started in Calc II). When I entered university in 1977, there wasn't even a mechanism to test out of Calculus. When my youngest started university in 2004 Calculus class was remedial and could only be counted as an elective. You'd think that that would allow more room for engineering, but in this case math is in arts and science so they added 10 hours to the humanities electives.

I am seeing a corporate response (at least in Oil & Gas) to unqualified graduates being intern programs. All the majors have 3-5 year programs where new hires must accomplish a list of tasks including courses and OJT with three different mentors in sequence before they can work independently. I find the courses to be kind of remedial, but maybe that is appropriate. The time with mentors ranges from outstanding to worthless as you'd expect. These programs mostly help, but not as much as they would if the interns had come out of university with the proper foundation.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Courses with numbers are hard. Courses where you just argue one person's opinion vs. another person's opinion "feel better".

It isn't that the humanities courses make someone more apt to contribute, it is that graduates contribute much more than people who didn't graduate. Giving you a piece of parchment significantly improves the schools potential cash flow when the student loans are paid off.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
David, it's surprising that an engineering school would allow that regardless of which department was responsible for the classes. What do the serious students do? Go along with the flow or take engineering courses?

When I began university, there were tests to CLEP out of algebra and English. I was encouraged to do both but I didn't. There were about 1000 students, K-12, in my school. It had a small offering of courses. Out of fear of missing something important and very little self-confidence, I took each class. I don't regret it. There were gaps and I had a hard time growing up.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)

Quote (zdas04)

It isn't that the humanities courses make someone more apt to contribute, it is that graduates contribute much more than people who didn't graduate.
Only true if they can keep a job with high enough pay to...

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

"More apt", not "Certain".

CLEP actually was an option when I started as well, but it wasn't well published and very few of us had even heard of it until we'd been in university a while (where I come from a school with 1000 students was the big time, there were 16 in my high school graduating class, 200 in K-12, the "guidance counselor" was the typing teacher who had a high school education herself).

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

lacajun, you were clearly smarter than I as a student. I had the opportunity to skip the practical machining classes first year of uni as I'd taken design technology (think shop with math in 'merican parlance) last 2 years of high school. I chose to skip them and came to regret it once I realized they'd actually done more advanced machining in the few labs they had than I'd done in my entire 2 years. Oh well, live and learn.

zdas - interesting point on the apprenticeships. Even into the 1980's a lot of 'engineers' in the UK went the formal apprenticeship route rather than the more academic straight to university route. At the interview for my first job in 1999 I even got asked why I took the university route and not an apprenticeship - even though by then real apprenticeships were rarer. Some of the larger aerospace/defense comapanies had similar graduate recruit programs to what you mention when I was looking in 99, I don't remember quite so much academic study but as I didn't get a job with them I never knew too much.

Posting guidelines FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm? (probably not aimed specifically at you)
What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
There were 39 in my graduating class. All of my teachers were college graduates and quite a few had master's in their field. There is something to be said for Florien, Louisiana as compared to some areas. Who would've thought so?

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Newton County Arkansas had 7 miles of paved roads when I left there for the Navy. Both the Shop/Driver's Ed teacher and the Typing Teacher got their positions through "relevant experience". We had one teacher with a masters who made $4/hour on an annualized basis--going rate for an agricultural factory worker (chicken plant) was $1.80/hour. The school/county/state were not magnets for teaching talent. In 1980 I was only the 8th graduate of my high school to graduate from college in the 20th century.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

David: while you have a point about slipping standards in engineering education. They have slipped because governments have listened to the continuous whining of the business lobby about "shortages", and about keeping up the grad rates for engineers coming out of developing nations etc. Taking poorer candidates and making it easier for them to graduate definitely decreasess the AVERAGE quality of the grads. The exceptional people are still in that pool- it's just tougher to find the gold through all the dross.

However, blaming the fresh grads is blaming the victims. Past generations of working engineers, and especially engineers who have "ascended" into management, have much more to do with the slide of our profession from true profession to commodity status than you could ever legitimately peg on fresh grads with a sense of entitlement. Youth unemployment is higher in most developing nations than it has ever been, and it's not because they're all lazy and coddled.

Engineers sell their services by the hour, rather than capturing the value that their work generates. What results is commodification: competition on a cost per hours basis rather than on value. Excess supply drives the price of any commodity downward.

We used to have difficulty educating enough engineers to meet our economic needs, such that wages and benefits were used by employers to compete for a scarce resource. That hasn't really been true in our profession for 30-40 years, but you'd never know it by listening to the media. Even the engineering bodies can't be convinced to read, analyze and understand the labour market data: they want to believe they're in demand and the future is rosy. Even though 2/3rds of Canadian engineering grads leave the profession entirely for greener pastures, there are still more than enough left in the market to fill all the available positions. Employers can afford to be choosy.

KENAT has the issue about shortages nailed. Employers no longer feel the need to hire young people and train them. When demographic or economic conditions shift and the labour market tightens even a little, they cry "shortage". Governments oblige by increasing the numbers of spaces available at the universities, and also by loosening immigration rules. They are rarely there to shut the taps again when the bust inevitably comes. Yes, this dilutes the engineering gene pool a bit, but the stronger factor is the supply rather than the quality of the grads: we still have no problem finding smart, motivated fresh grads to hire. Engineers who don't enter the profession fresh out of school aren't there ten years later with 10 years of experience, hence the "skills shortages" businesses whinge about.

Can we reverse this trend? Not until and unless engineers distinguish between promoting the value of engineering to society from promoting engineering as a career option or educational choice. Better engineering education won't fix this problem: linking engineering education to labour force demand such that we have fewer, better selected engineering graduates- that might help a bit. Unfortunately, even if we could get the local supply under control, that won't improve the lot of the ordinary employee engineer working in large consulting firms. Much of their work can and will be outsourced to regions where the commodity they supply can be generated at lower cost. Price pressure equals wage pressure.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Quote:

What do the serious students do? Go along with the flow or take engineering courses?

I requested of my school on many occasions to substitute "technical electives" (specifically differential equations, Thermodynamics II) in place of some feel good humanities courses (of which there were many, I assure you).

Needless to say, they wouldn't budge. I had already fulfilled my "technical electives" requirements. Want diff-eqs? (It IS on the FE, after all!) Great. They're more than happy to oblige, as long as they can skew it into addition income on top of your required coursework. No substitutions.

Meanwhile ABET accredits this drivel.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Moltenmetal,
I mostly don't blame the students. A new grad who understands that school is a very important foundation for an engineering career, but that the walls still need to go up is a jewel beyond price. I see them. They come into a project with the idea that most of their contribution will come after looking up the details.

It is the new grads who come into a project with the "I'm the Engineer" attitude who won't listen to field experience at all that make me crazy. They are entitled to respect and authority by virtue of their degree and don't intend to learn another damned thing. Ever. I see a lot more of those guys than I see of the first kind.

The students are absolutely the victims of the process. I haven't known very many people who would willingly do significantly more work than was required. A "B" student who took an extra 50 hours of class work to improve his technical knowledge will be ranked behind an "A" student who took the absolute minimum. The students are mostly going to do what is required. The problem lies with the requirements.

When my son was starting school I told him that he had to hook up with the Co-op coordinator first thing. That nothing is worth as much as practical experience. His school did not have a Co-op Coordinator, and the ME department head wouldn't allow companies with co-op opportunities to communicate them to the students. He was a lifetime academic who didn't see the point in industry.

As to short-sighted companies, pandering universities, and ill-equipped government, they each share the real blame of turning the profession into a commodity.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

yeah, and in my day i had to hike to school, 10 miles, up-hill, both ways ...

don't you think every generation says the same about the next ?

geeze, they don't teach them how to use slide rules (ok, some of us learnt in our spare time), and what about all those lovely graphical methods (ok, ditto) ... nah, these days it's all calculators and fintie elements ... geeze

but then each generation has different demands and options .. consider this site ? even 10 years ago (ok, 20), what've been needed to instantly get someone else's opinion on something, someone (hopefully) expert in the field, who you can't contact directly ?

and what of all the people in the expanding economies who are getting access to the training they need to become the engineers they have the talent to become ?

ok, our standards are slipping (in my day, engineering had a lower quota (entry) mark than arts ... just to get the cannon fodder enrolled; sure most of them didn't make it out of 1st year) but that's 'cause we're lazy (re-read first comment) and want instant gratification and don't want to do the hard work (ok, generalisation). so the future engineers will probably be immigrants.

welcome to the brave new world !

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Engineers need to have their enrollment numbers at universities controlled by a governing body instead of opening the flood gates every time industry cries "shortage". The American Medical Association serves in this capacity for medical doctors. The enrollment in medical schools and programs is limited each year according to what the AMA specifies so that there will not be an oversupply of doctors. This keeps the overall number of medical professionals where it should be, and keeps their wages up. Ever notice the ever-widening gap between an average engineer's salary and that of doctors?

Engineers need to assemble the type of representation described above, but for some reason haven't. For a group of intelligent professionals, we certainly turn a blind eye to the obvious.

Maui

www.EngineeringMetallurgy.com

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Maybe it is just a trend, but I see companies yelling there are shortages of truck drivers, and several other classifications that require some schooling. Yet the unemployment rate is what?

Some of the issues are the cost of universities are so high that it appears like someone would never be able to justify the cost on the basis of what companies are paying (I said appears).
This is an economic trend (they don't teach it much in high school). So the schools have apperently watered down the education to be able to keep the coursework within 4 years (lower the cost, by reducing the product) and increasing the number of grads (reducing the cost of professors, by increasing the class sizes).

So it seems as the cost of universitys go up, the quality of the education goes down. To bad this isen't being relized in the state capitals where money is approiated for these schools.

So maybe the solution is to provide less state and federal money to universities to make them trim there costs.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I like to think the behavior of new graduates is a poor indicator of the engineer they will become after some years of experience. I may not have had the "holier than thou" mentality entering the workforce but I still suffered many of the afflictions commonly seen on this site. Reluctance to use your resources, books and phones are just so heavy, every problem is worthy of a week long research study, lack of knowledge some would consider basic (still relatively clueless on three phase power), designing complicated solutions before looking for one off the shelf, the list goes on. I have made progress in avoiding these common pitfalls and see many younger engineers doing the same. Every generation has its perceived strengths and weaknesses yet for the last 70 years each generation has pushed the envelope further than those that came before. We will be no different.

Comprehension is not understanding. Understanding is not wisdom. And it is wisdom that gives us the ability to apply what we know, to our real world situations

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

If you want to see what motivates these academic institutions, follow the money.

Colleges and universities are non-profit institutions, yet the determining factor in deciding if a non-tenured professor gets to keep his job is whether or not he brings in a sufficient amount of grant money. That is his primary job. Teaching responsibilities are often looked upon as a fundamental requirement for the position of professor, but teaching is at best secondary or much lower down on the list of priorities. Some professors place such a low priority on teaching duties that they have their graduate students teach their classes for them. And I'm sure that many of the engineers on this forum have experienced this first-hand.

The greater the number of students that are brought into a program, the greater the amount of tuition money that program earns. This makes the people running it look good in the eyes of the President and the top ranking officials. So increasing the enrollment numbers is good as far as they are concerned. Dumbing down the curricula widens the breadth of students that can graduate from that program as well, and curving exams helps accomplish the same thing. So the programs may become easier over a given period of time. When industry cries "shortage" and the news media broadcasts it, it results in essentially free advertising for the universities. This is often followed by a surge in applications for engineering programs.

The problem is that four years down the road when these students graduate, the number of available jobs will usually not be what they expected, and many will struggle to find employment in their chosen profession. This surplus of talent allows employers to be very selective about who they hire, and helps to keep wages down. So employers reap the benefits from crying "wolf". The end result is that engineers no longer enjoy the same level of remuneration as medical professionals, who wisely limit the number of graduates they produce each year.

Fixing this issue should be straightforward, but we would need a central organization that has the authority to issue a mandate limiting the number of students that are allowed to enroll in given engineering programs each year. And they could accomplish this by being selective, and only admitting the better students. This would keep the level of talent up, and allow the programs to be more challenging than they currently are. Please understand that I'm not referring to a union, but to a professional organization that is made up of engineering professionals. We need to put together our own version of the AMA.


Maui

www.EngineeringMetallurgy.com

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

The American Engineering Association is what it should be called.

Maui

www.EngineeringMetallurgy.com

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Hmm, if you look at the run away costs of healthcare in the US it might be reasonable to assume that some of it stems from the constraints on number of doctors.

So if we do the same for engineering will we face the same?

Now for medicine not many people elect to outsource their healthcare to lower cost market - though there is some medical tourism.

However, outsourcing of Engineering to lower cost markets is already a reality.

So Maui, how do you handle that issue? Sure for non exempt industry areas there are rules requiring the work to be overseen by someone who is a PE that jurisdiction but it seems that approach has limits.

Posting guidelines FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm? (probably not aimed specifically at you)
What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

My Alma Mater (a public Engineering school back in the mid-west) has capped undergraduate enrollment as well as fixing the ratio between graduate and undergrads (I understand having an enrollment skewed toward too many MS and PhD students actually undermines the scores given, particularly to public universities, by the various rating and credential agencies).

They also have a very active "Keystone" program where undergraduates get a chance to work on corporate funded R&D and design projects which are actually intended for production by the sponsoring corporations. Also, this past year they competed in a program funded by NASA to design and build a satellite intended for a low-Earth orbit radiation study and they WON despite NOT having a department of Aeronautic/Aerospace Engineering, unlike the rest of the schools which they competed against, and also unlike the competition, their effort was manned by mostly undergraduate students drawn from several different university departments under the primary leadership of the ME-EM Department.

No, I'm generally positive, at least with respect to my Alma Mater, as to what I've seen recently (as I said, I have an opportunity to visit the campus usually at least once a year as part of my job and since I'm a regular donor to their financial campaigns I'm kept up-to-date as to what's happen on campus and as to where my money is going).

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

2
I do not think that the trend of engineering as a commodity will reverse itself. The people in control of that commodity seem to be the purchasers, and not the sellers. Until the sellers take control the engineering supply there is no way we can do anything but take the going rate.

I agree that there is some watering down of the engineering curriculum, but I also think that some of what is taught to engineering students leads them to expect the moon. Students need a better grasp on the mundane aspects of engineering and the work world. That mundane view cannot be provided by most engineering professors because they are, generally, a product of in-breeding within the engineering education system.

Additionally, working engineers tend to have the attitude that they are personally the salvation and no one else can provide the solution but "me." Until the profession accepts that there are plenty of avenues to get the work done, we will compete against each other at the cost of lowering our lot. The ego strokes for being able to do the work of engineer, analyst, designer, and detailer appeal to some and costs everyone.

The majority of engineering work seems to be geometry creation of some form. There is huge money to be made selling computer programs that create geometry. And, oh, by the way, the software can do some engineering work for you: you don’t even need to know how to be an engineer to turn out “engineered” results. Greed feeds on this: the company owner can save money by obtaining occasional engineering input from some program that puts it all in black-and-white, or even pretty graded color plots; the software company gets to sell upgrades. Just boot up your engineering staff on-demand. I don’t see engineers winning with this. We spend more time doing the work that used to be done by subordinates; and, we also spend less time doing our work because those subordinates seem to be performing it.

I imagine that the forum for wooden barrel makers, if it were to exist seventy-five years ago, had similar complaints. One can still buy wooden barrels in 2012. They are well made, maybe even better than in-the-day, but mainly an oddity. I don’t think that engineers will go the route of barrel makers, but there are lots of canned solutions that we are competing with.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

"...working engineers tend to have the attitude that they are personally the salvation and no one else can provide the solution but "me." Until the profession accepts that there are plenty of avenues to get the work done, we will compete against each other at the cost of lowering our lot. .."

Your logic biffles me. the first sentence implies the 'right' approach, the second then claims it is the problem.

Biffling, baffling and boffling.

I didn't bother with the rest of your post for obvious reasons this isn't eng-rants.com

Cheers

Greg Locock


New here? Try reading these, they might help FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm?

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

6
I think I live on a distant simplistic planet. In my world, I really don't see inept interns and diluted curriculae. In my small Canadian logging-hick-town, the high school still was able to produce students that succeeded at institutions abroad such as MIT. Smart kids have never been stupid, nor are they today. Academic curriculae may have changed over the years but by and large the textbooks I have read in 2010 (the ones used by our intern students) teach the same stuff in the same way and the same style with the same level of difficulty as those in 1980. In fact, I would argue that the earlier vintage books did a better job of presenting material in a way that was easier to understand than do the books written today. It is almost as if there is an underlying tone of "...we aren't dumbing this down for you any more like the way our forefathers used to...". Perhaps I erroneously extrapolate to conclude that if the kids are studying essentially the same theory and the books are strikingly similar from the points of view of content and scope (with the aforementioned variance in presentation), then the classroom, lectures and examinations are likely similar as well. The older books were probably written better because, back in the day, the authors probably had more passion for and more interest in what they did.
I do not blame academia or the academic realm at large for the commoditization of engineering, nor do I blame the propaganda regarding market demands for engineers. In my simple world and simple mind, commoditization is due solely to our collective inability to market, control and employ ourselves in the workforce. Specifically, we have failed miserably in convincing society that we are actually smart people who should be worth a lot for what we do. Instead, we have meekly succumbed to a system in which we can only find "employment" from "employers", where our "employers" are driven by a passion for profit instead of a passion for technical ability or creativity, and the majority of us have become whining, grumbling, disenfranchised slaves to our hated masters (many of whom, coincidentally, are MBAs). To make a bad situation worse, we have gone out of our way to cut each others' throats in bidding wars and the like, all of us desperately trying to snatch fragments of work like stray dogs competing for table scraps.
I do not agree with the message that suggests that "...they..." deserve to be commoditized, if by "...they..." we mean the perceived ill-educated and untalented young people entering the engineering workforce. The truth is, WE deserve to be commoditized. WE brought this on ourselves, and WE have done a fine job of leaving a rather poor legacy of this profession for THEM to try to fix.
Shame on US.
So...what do we do? In my mind, we start our own companies, engineers working for engineers who do engineering. We stop enslaving ourselves to MBAs, BCOMMs and other people who never will be and never can be nor ever can be expected to be like us. We start doing a better job of marketing ourselves by demonstrating to the public what we do for them and why it is valuable.
I think it was lacajun who started a thread regarding firing the MBAs and letting the engineers run the show. Well, that's pretty much what we have to do.
Are we there yet?
What steps have any of us taken to get there?

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

2
Kenat, I believe that the runaway costs associated with medical care in the United States today is a direct result of the practices established by the insurance companies. This is an area which received surprisingly little (or no) attention regarding reform in the health care legislation that was passed by Congress and signed into law by Obama. How these insurance companies set policy, handle claims, and establish charges for different types of exams and medical care, as well as the exhorbitant salaries that many of their employees enjoy are a very big part of the problem. The sky high premiums they charge for malpractice insurance, which not surprisingly was brought about as a direct result of lawsuits, is also a significant factor in these runaway healthcare costs. The wages that doctors earn I am sure does play a part in this, but I believe that it is secondary to the ones that I mentioned above. In my opinion, limiting the number of doctors that are enrolled in medical programs each year does not have the adverse financial impact on the healthcare system that you assumed.

And no, I would not expect the same issues to be mirrored in engineering if enrollment in those programs is capped. Runaway engineering costs are extremely unlikely due to the number of choices that clients have. If they are not happy with one engineering firm or consultant, they can go to another. Just as if you are not happy with your doctor and want a second opinion, you can consult another doctor. The difference is that doctors tend not to have a bidding war regarding prices because patients want the best medical care that their insurance companies will allow them to afford. They don't concern themselves with cost in many cases, but quality of care. In engineering it should be similar - clients should want the best engineering services that they can afford. But engineering firms will often slit their own throats in a race to the bottom on pricing. This is where the difference lies, and it is all too common in industry today.

Medical outsourcing is a reality these days - MRI scans are now electronically sent overseas on a routine basis and evaluated by medical professionals in foreign countries. Insurance companies provide incentives for this because it is far less expensive to have an overseas doctor with similar training but lower salary requirements interpret the results. The insurance companies and medical institutions save money if this is done, but somehow this savings does not get passed on to us in terms of lower premiums or reduced costs. So where does this saved money go? In the pocket of the medical industry - problem. By the way, would you allow yourself to be examined by a medical doctor or operated on by a surgeon who was not board certified? If the answer is yes, then why would someone go to an engineer for services if that engineer was not certified in a similar sense (read PE)?

Snorgy, I think that the mix of abilities in today's students are the same as they have always been, but that the motivations and expectations these students have on the whole are not. They seem to have a general sense of entitlement, that things will automatically be made easier for them if they encounter what they would consider to be an issue. The text books are as good as they ever were, and in some cases are substantially better than what we used. But the expectations placed on the instructors to pass a larger percentage of the students even if they underperform, and the manner in which the educational system has been motivated by "no child left behind" and similar legislation, has hampered our educational progress. It's not that students are less capable - they aren't. It's that the bar has been considerably lowered in terms of our expectations for them.

I believe that the way for us to raise our profession up is to take the reins. We shouldn't sit by and complain about how we are underpaid, unappreciated, or generally disregarded by society as Dilbert-like eggheads. We should do something about it!

Maui

www.EngineeringMetallurgy.com

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I just received a MS in engineering from a small state school. The content was rigorous and challenging but the bar to pass was low. This means that the curious and capable got a good education and the average were allowed to skate through.
I personally witnessed different grading criteria used on the same exams.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

sounds like you're sugggesting that we engineers take up some of the accounting/marketing stuff (that we dislike ?) ...
but then the one's who go over to the dark side will be lost to the force ...

sounds like "i have seen the enemy and he is us"

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Correction - in my post above the last sentence in the third paragraph should have read,

Quote:

If the answer is no, then why would someone go to an engineer for services if that engineer was not certified in a similar sense (read PE)?

www.EngineeringMetallurgy.com

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Still looks like a money problem. If you feel the university you went to is watering down the classes, then tell them you are no longer donating money because of it.

I can't exactly do that because I quit donating many years ago because I felt there aquireing land by eminate domain for a sports center wasen't right.

I also no longer live in that state, so I can't use voting influnce to reduce the state contributions.

But I can discurage others from going there.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I actually enjoyed my non-core electives. After all, I WAS attending a UNIVERSITY and NOT a 'trade school'. And given the evolution of my career over the past 40+ years, I would have to say that what I learned in those courses were as instrumental as was differential equations or thermodynamics in terms of the contribution which I make to my organization or in manner in which I've been able to provide a comfortable life for myself and my family.

It's sort of like when I attended a high school reunion a few years after I started to use computers on a regular basis in my job, and I had the opportunity to talk to my old typing teacher. I was able to tell him, with a straight face, that of all the skills which I learned while in high school, that it was what I learned in his class, Typing I, that I know I will be putting to good use virtually every day where I work. I'm sure that there were some people who at the time (remember this was 1964/65) could not figure out why someone, particularly a GUY who was heading for engineering school, would waste half of his Senior year taking a typing class (except for me and one other guy, the rest of the class was made up of girls). But then who could have known back then that in just a few short years 'keyboard skills' were going to be so critical for people to have, even professionals.

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I just finished engineering at University of Alberta last year.

I have been told Canadian engineering schools are far more regulated than American ones, information on how it is done is here:

http://www.engineerscanada.ca/e/pr_accreditation.c... (not that much information here, but basically the board has requirements on what needs to be taught to everyone and every few years will do an audit of each program)

As a result of this, it is generally accepted that an undergraduate engineering degree from one university is equal to any other one, with maybe some schools being regarded at superior at a speciality. Graduate programs become more specific, so which school/who your supervisor is will have a larger effect.

The non-science/math/engineering classes I took were Economics, Simple Modelling of Systems (business course), Behaviour in Organisations and Business law.

It would of been nice to be able to get in more humanities options, because I did thoroughly enjoy them, but I don't see where in our schedule they could be put without removing some key component or extending the degree.

Many people graduating from UAlberta take the FE exam right as they graduate because they want to work in the States. We were told by our Dean that we have between 95% and 100% pass rate every year. The consensus opinion of my friends who took it was an easy, but long test.

How different is this from a typical undergraduate engineering education in the US?

Also, maybe it is because my province is so industrially focussed, or because I haven't been around enough, but I don't see much devaluation of engineers and feel very well respected.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Maui,

You could be right about the sense of entitlement. I do see some of that in the younger and younger engineers on the Client (Producer) side of the O&G sector, who at the age of 25, are already "commanding" the lowly 45-55 year old EPC flunkies (like me) about what to do and when. I have even been on the receiving end of emails from E.I.T.'s (Engineers In Training) to the effect of:

(1) Addressed to my Project Manager: "...make sure he knows what he is doing because I don't think he does...".
(2) Addressed to me during a site visit when I asked the question, "Interesting. Any reason why the contractor would not have erected this free standing T-post holding up one cable tray and one 4-inch line in such a way as to center the column on the pile cap? I see several occurrences of this." To which, the response was, "Piles are never finished dead centre relative to where they are supposed to be, and the pipe support needs to be built in exact accordance with the drawings with respect to Northing and Easting, otherwise the pipe shoes don't end up being correctly positioned. Don't you know anything about construction?" To which, my response was to silently ponder what they do with the T-post when the pile is driven far enough off-centre that the misalignment exceeds the width of the column, and further, what do they do with the clamped-on pipe shoes in such a situation, and then just keep my stupid mouth shut and not ask any more questions for fear of making myself look even more stupid.


The above said, I have been pleasantly spoiled by the interns we have working for us (and me) now. They kick butt and hit the ball out of the park with evry task we give them; they are smart, hard working, pleasant and a pure energizing joy to have around. I certainly am enjoying teaching them as much as I can, despite the fact that I am apparently too stupid to be taken seriously by E.I.T.'s on the Client side.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Holy crap, David, where did your son go to school, so I know not to hire graduates from there?

I graduated from Georgia Tech and teach at Southern Polytechnic and both schools have much higher standards than that.

What needs to happen is other professions (doctors, wall street bankers) need to be commoditized MORE, not engineers less.

Hydrology, Drainage Analysis, Flood Studies, and Complex Stormwater Litigation for Atlanta and the South East - http://www.campbellcivil.com

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

With the day I'm having, they'd sue me for slander.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I see the commoditization of engineering as the cause of poor quality, not the result of it. There are ever more layers of directors and managers who mostly focus on their next career move rather than on improving the quality of the work done by those they manage. It is these people who treat engineers as interchangeable cogs and low ball proposals. Meanwhile, people who are good at engineering get disgusted and end up jumping on the bloated management bandwagon themselves.
This is not going to change anytime soon. I predict that we will see more and more major engineering disasters before things get better for engineers. This is happening already.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Star for you, JohnRBaker, for the trade school comment.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

CharlesHeard,

Congratulations - and yes, those folks up here (Alberta) who are fresh out of university and who take the U.S. FE exam invariably pass it. One of the interns I had two years ago took it "just for something to do", and passed it without really studying much.

In general, I think Canadian universities are comparable to one another, and probably also could "hold their own" compared with most other schools around the globe.

I also agree that *Regulating* the profession (i.e., you can't even use the titles "professional engineer" or even "engineer" legally unless you actually are one or the other, or both) is a good thing.

Sadly, however, stick around in the work force for a while. Trust me, the devaluation and lack of respect shall come.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I also passed my professional licensing exam first time out, but then I DID go to school with a lot of Canadians, being that we were a 'Hockey School' winky smile

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

David
I think you’re right on but the root cause in the 80s when greed became the mantra for more and more people. As budgets were cut and tuitions were raised engineering students changed. There was more that had never worked a day in their life and went to school on someone else’s (daddies) money. They would be lucky to find the cylinder head on their car much less take it off.
Getting the “riff-raff” out of engineering has also got rid of a lot of the problem solvers.
The same problem has affected lots of lots of majors. Colleges in order to stay open "Dumb down” and let more people in to get more money. They diluted the curriculum and lowered the admission standards for money.
If I had to borrow the money now to go to engineering school, I would instead go for an IBEW apprenticeship.
Students are looked at now a source of income for both colleges and lenders. Wheather or not they learn anything that can be useful to society is secondary.
In both the Northwest Territories Act and the Homestead act politians of the time saw the need for education and provided for the land grant colleges. They knew the value of education in "promoting the general welfare."
The most dramatic growth cycles in the US economy occurred when education was cheap. One was the GI Bill following WWII and concurrently the California higher education system. Other states with low cost college programs did as well.
Good colleges and universities were the geese that laid golden eggs. Now we have legislators and higher education boards looking for money. There are guts and feathers all over the table but they didn't find the golden egg.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

When I enrolled in engineering school in the Fall of 1965, in-state tuition was $68 per term (3 terms per year).

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

By 1977 I paid $135/semester ($35/hour during the summer)

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

In 1982 I paid $750/semester for state tuition.

Maui

www.EngineeringMetallurgy.com

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

JohnRBaker,

If that is true, then recent major hockey tournaments bear witness to the fact that the American students appear to have learned as much or more than the Canadian students.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

If I had to do it again, and pay that much, I think I would hire a lawer for every class that missed a day. Make the professors attend and teach every day possible.

So university of Pheonix isen't the only school selling degrees. But at these costs, I am thinking i will send my daughter to an on-line school, and lose the university houseing costs.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

This topic is so redundant that we are now beating the dead horse’s soul. First, we cannot compare ourselves to doctors and lawyers because it takes longer and more money to become one than just getting your bachelors degree in engineering. On the flip side these two fields are having their own down turn (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-37244113/5-... and http://money.cnn.com/2012/01/05/smallbusiness/doct...). Engineering start salaries in the states with just a bachelor’s degree are still doing better than others (http://www.cnbc.com/id/44008484/Highest_Paid_Bache...). Now for the arguments of trade workers like electricians (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction...) make an average medium salary of $49K which is less than the average start pays for engineers. As for being a commodity, we are at the mercy of the companies if we like it or not and has been this way for decades. I have yet to see any argument saying otherwise. Maui has argued that we should limit the number of graduates is a great idea, but the greed that breeds in the colleges is way too tempting for them not to gouge the system. As for duming down the students, I think is ludicrous (now that is a $20 word). Colleges live or die on their reputation and I cannot see how this is good for business.

To overcome being a commodity, I think if we can somehow band together and the “Engineers” copyright every design we create (instead of signing it over to the companies) or at least have some ownership of the design that we get royalties (just like singers) every time they use it in the market. I think this is the kind of leverage we are missing. Being just good worker bees will only get us so far, but being some how more financially connected to our designs may bring our craft to a higher level.

Tobalcane
"If you avoid failure, you also avoid success."
“Luck is where preparation meets opportunity”

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

CharlesHeard: CEAB accreditation ensures that all degree granting engineering institutions meet certain minimum standards in order for their graduates to be considered eligible for licensure after they gain the necessary work experience.

Don't for a moment confuse that with the notion that all Canadian engineering univerity degrees are considered to be EQUAL in the eyes of employers! They are not, and for good reason.

What I've seen first hand at my own alma mater is the retirement of virtually every single professor in my department who had any significant amount of industrial experience. When I went there, we had guys who had left industrial practice to become professors- it was these guys who taught the plant design course for instance. They have been replaced entirely by pure academic professors- fine researchers no doubt, some with an earnest desire to be good teachers too- but with no experience working as engineers. The amount of practical education the kids receive in school, aside from what they learn from their employers on work terms, has fallen sharply as a result. They're still smart, hard-working kids, with a strong knowledge of (most) of their fundamentals- or at least the majority of the ones we hire as co-ops and fresh grads are that way- they just need more training than they once did.

Again, it isn't the kids' fault that we're a commodity rather than a profession- I agree with SNORGY that it's our own fault.

SNORGY: what have I done about it? I work for (and own part of) a firm started by and controlled by employee engineers. We build what we design- we sell products rather than man-hours so we get paid properly for the value of our engineering. We share the profits of that work fairly amongst the people who earned them- not just to the engineers or the owners, but all employees in their due share. And we hire young people and train them, both as students and as fresh grads, so the next generation can get a foothold in the profession the way we did. I also counter the "shortage" propaganda with the real statistics whenever I can. Surprisingly, I find the people least willing to believe that engineers aren't in short supply are engineers themselves. You'd think we'd be the most analytical and rational people on this issue, but it turns out that the truth hurts too much for some people to be receptive to it. And I volunteer at my alma mater to teach part of a course, instead of feeding them a "grad gift" every year. I only wish they'd give me a tax receipt!

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Twoballcane, copyrighting our designs or getting royalties on them is an interesting idea. I like it in concept. The problem that I envision is that companies would simply refuse to go along with it. The economy is so bad now that people are thrilled to find work, and gladly sign over any patent rights or other rights in thier work.

Since this happens often enough in these discussions, we really could use a new emoticon for beating a dead horse. Can anyone oblige?

Maui

www.EngineeringMetallurgy.com

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Maui,
Like this?
B.E.
http://www.emotty.com/emoticon/172/beating-a-dead-... ..

The good engineer does not need to memorize every formula; he just needs to know where he can find them when he needs them. Old professor

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

deadhorse

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

In my 45+ year career as a professional (from when I co-opted summers during school to my current situation) I have NEVER worked where signing a 'patent agreement' was NOT a condition of employment, period! At least from my experience I can't see how anyone could set-up an arrangement where he could retain 'ownership' of the work he did for his employer.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that you couldn't negotiate some sort of deal where you get to share in the benefits derived from your 'inventions'. My first employer, for whom I worked 14 years (this included my summer co-opt time), offered an incentive program which encouraged it's engineers to come-up with new ideas which could be patented. For each idea submitted which, upon research, was deemed beneficial to the corporation and which proved to be unique enough that it actually COULD be patented, you would receive $100 (after taxes), and for each idea for which a patent was subsequently issued, another $100 (after taxes). Now remember, this was back in the 60's and 70's when a $100 could actually buy you something winky smile

BTW, this was a much better deal than a friend of mine who worked for Dow Chemical, also a company in Michigan, who eventually had 23 patents issued while he was there, for which he received 23 Silver dollars encased in Lucite (all Patent Agreements must provide a minimum payment of one dollar to make it a legal transfer of ownership since patents are real property). Granted, if he's still alive (he was much older than I) those 23 silver dollars may be worth much more than a dollar today, but I know back then he wished he could have gotten a $100 like I was getting where I worked.

And as for my current employer, I don't really know if there is any additional remuneration since I've never had anything patented since I started to work here (I had 2 patents at that original company along with 4 other ideas which were never patented but for which I did collect my $100), however I do know that you at least get a plaque to hang in your office since one of guys I work with has had a patent while working here.

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Berkshire, perfect! How can we incorporate it directly into our replies on this website?

Maui



www.EngineeringMetallurgy.com

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Those complaining about all of the humanities courses may not have been looking at it creatively enough. I ended up taking 12 credit hours (4 semesters, each with a 3-hour course) of Art.

The attitude mostly expressed here would be Bah! Not Engineering, Math or Hard Science! Waste Of Time!

All 4 classes I selected were metals/jewelry. Torches, soldering, cutting, rolling, surface treating, heat treating, bending, pickling, drilling, punching, embossing, stamping, forging, riveting, casting, anodizing, designing, et cetera. Tons of practical materials experience - albeit mostly on a small scale.

Heck, I would have had an Art minor, but refused to take the worthless Art History class.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Quote:

Those complaining about all of the humanities courses may not have been looking at it creatively enough.

We had a list of courses that qualified for the humanities requirements. I assure you, none of them could be skewed into being useful. These courses are designed to be inexpensive to run, while still fetching the usual $/credit hour fee. Then make every major require to take them. Cynical? No, just accurate.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Maui,
Find out how TGS4 did it, he put it right on the forum here.
B.E.

The good engineer does not need to memorize every formula; he just needs to know where he can find them when he needs them. Old professor

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Quote of the thread:

Quote (moltenmetal)

They have been replaced entirely by pure academic professors- fine researchers no doubt, some with an earnest desire to be good teachers too- but with no experience working as engineers.
That is what I see as well. My fluids professor had a grant to work on a mechanical pump to recirculate blood out of body. Consequently at least half of the course focused on shear forces. That has been marginally useful a couple of times when people were pumping an oil/water mixture and getting an emulsion, but I probably could have figured it out without the pain. People teaching "book learning" who learned it from people who only knew "book learning" are just not effective.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

And don't forget, "There is no horse so dead that it cannot be beaten further."

Regards,

Mike

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

As evidenced by 100 plus postings on ENG tips
B.E.thumbsup2

The good engineer does not need to memorize every formula; he just needs to know where he can find them when he needs them. Old professor

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

CODE --> TGML

[deadhorse]
It's in the smileys, under animals.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Quote (imcjoek)


We had a list of courses that qualified for the humanities requirements. I assure you, none of them could be skewed into being useful.

You mean there was not a single psychology class on that list? Anyone who has ever had to manage other people will tell you the some basic understanding of psychology is absolutely necessary. I know that the psych class I took my senior year counted toward one of my non-core electives.

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

It looks like the American Engineering Association already exists. And they express many of the concerns described in this forum on their opening page.

http://www.aea.org/

Maui

www.EngineeringMetallurgy.com

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I had Psych, Econ (micro and macro) a (decent) writing class and a foreign language requirement - in addition to my metals stuff to fill out humanities requirements.... all of those were pretty useful stuff. I did also have a "womens studies" class I considered pretty worthless*, but not much else. I must have picked a reasonable school or something.

*except for the entertainment value of arguing with the militant vegan. That all ended the day she wore leather shoes to class and I pointed out they came from an animal.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I bet those shoes looked nice.

Some of the art classes may have come from people who think engineers are to dull. Those people just never seem to understand the simple beauty of a 60 Hz hum..

However I to was required to learn a second language. Strange that I did not see at the time that FORTRAN was a second language. It also seems to be mostly dead right now.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I also took Economics, both Micro and Macro, as well as one course geared explicitly to engineering, but these were all required courses, as was Statistics, English Composition, First Aid and 2 years of Physical Education (I was on the ARMY ROTC Drill Team so we got 'varsity credit' and were therefore exempt from taking 'Phys-Ed').

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

John,
That was my experience as well--about as many required classes in Arts & Science and Business as in Engineering. My problem was that I couldn't take Econometrics or Physics III as my non-engineering electives. The choices were things like "World Religions" and "Movie Appreciation". No numbers. Just opinions. I did enjoy a Logic class, but mostly because the guy teaching it didn't speak English at all and we made fun of him a lot (not a good course for even a smart guy to take on without being able to comprehend sarcasm).

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

The non-core electives open to me, at least as best that I can recall, were in areas such as History, Literature, Languages, Psychology, Physiology, Archaeology, etc. And while it was true that we were required to take several non-core classes in areas like Economics and English Composition, first as an Electrical and then finally as a Mechanical engineering undergraduate, there were some people who made the same argument about Chemistry, non-Newtonian Physics, Statistics, etc. But as I stated a while ago, I did choose to attend a UNIVERSITY. Now it is true that since it was a Technological University, there wasn't much of an opportunity for a so-called 'politically correct' curriculum. For example, with a male to female ratio of over 20 to 1, there was not a lot of interest in things like 'women studies' (that may no longer be the case since the ratio is now down to something like 5 to 1 as the university has been on a longterm campaign to increase the enrollment of girls in STEM-oriented programs of study and since I have 4 granddaughters, one of which is just starting high school, we're keeping in mind that if she and her sisters, keep their grades up, since I'm an alumni in good standing, they could enroll and pay in-state tuition despite the fact that they live in Texas and we live in California).

But back to the issue of additional non-core classes, in my case it was 4 years of ARMY ROTC Military classes, which while they did count toward grade-point and I did get academic credit for them, they were considered 'above and beyond' when it came to be used to fulfill elective requirements needed to earn my degree.

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
I took a few humanities courses and found them of some use. Yet, it is appalling that a university would make DE an elective for a Mechanical Engineering program.

In dealing with people, I found my own brain through Bible study and prayer providing a better foundation than psychology and sociology courses. Engineers are not complete social boobs emotionally disconnected from others and the world we also inhabit. For anyone to think yet alone to voice that displays a high degree of ignorance of engineers and the profession as well as pomposity. May we all avoid that trap re: other professions and each other.

As for this issue beating a dead horse, if that is the way we view it, we are defeated already. Since we, as a profession, continue to see a decline in many areas, e.g., pay, prestige, promotions, challenge, work conditions, etc., the horse is still alive to some degree. I've learned in my career some enemies will not cease and desist until you are completely and thoroughly annihilated.

At some point in my undergrad education, a journalism major interviewed some of us girls majoring in engineering. He began his interview with a statement then a question. "When you graduate, you are going to make 2-3 times the starting salary of me, a journalism major and a man. Does that bother you?" Why ask such a question?

As a young engineer, a designer bluntly said engineers do not deserve the pay they get and don't deserve to make the same money as doctors and lawyers. We don't have much value for some. True, we don't get near the education of those professions; however, you cannot become licensed to publicly practice those professions with a 4-year degree. Engineers can and do. We touch people's lives just as broadly and intimately as doctors and lawyers.

How many US citizens are members of AEA? I am not and was unaware of it until Maui's post. How many of us will join AEA and its effort to improve our direction?

SNORGY, I agree that engineers need to start their own companies. I very much enjoy what I am doing but it is incredibly difficult and expensive. I may not make it. I haven't found any willing to take the risk with me. They will share in the reward but not the risk.

I recently had a young ME grad of a very good program say to me that maybe I could do controls and maybe I was just claiming to be able to do controls. I said nothing. This young man didn't remember LaPlace Transforms to any degree. It is odd to be 4 years out and forgetting already.

Congratulations to moltenmetal for running his own company and doing it right. I wish you all the best!

graybeach, I've been pushed by management to "just get it done" and don't worry about whether it's right or not. That is a big part of the problem for many companies. It does nothing more than get you a bad reputation.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

lacajun,

If controls is what you do, I know two or three such folks up here who do quite well as independents. Granted, they are not all PE's (P.Eng.'s) since they do well enough with CET / RET (technology) designations. Up here, I think a P.Eng. in your line of work could write his or her own ticket for success. In fact, some small companies have sprung up that are geared solely towards that purpose. In that way, some EPC companies can outsource their controls work to outfits or independents.

The EPC firm where I work now are discovering that "Controls" people are in short supply. You would do well up here, as I am sure you will be able to do anywhere, in time.

Myself, there does not seem to be a strong market demand for well rounded mechanical engineering generalists who are Jacks Of All Trades But Masters Of None, at least not as independents. I have had my own company for over a decade, but I have remained a full time employee with an EPC firm at the same time. I only do my own thing on occasion, with the requisite full disclosures etc. in place. I suppose there are now a few things that I could do in my own company (piping stress for example), but the one thing that I appear to be better at than most of my peers is Project Engineering / Management which, unfortunately, I absolutely hate doing, and which has no "engineering" component to it. My life sucks that way: what I am really good at, I hate; what I like to do, others (specialists in the field) can do better than I can do.

This self-defeating viewpoint has hitherto prevented me from taking the plunge that you have taken.

I do have a couple of months off starting July 1, when I start my "summer job" (which doesn't pay nearly as much but is countless loads more fun and rewarding than any facet of engineering). I think I need to take my own advice, do some thinking during that time, and figure out a way to do my own thing, maybe with a few like-minded engineers and technologists that can do the things that I, personally, cannot do.

As risky and expensive as it is, I believe that the plunge that you, and others like you and moltenmetal, have taken is the right thing to do.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
SNORGY, thanks for the tips and information.

I have some good things going on with my company, if I can lead them into positive cash flow. I'm going to stay the course awhile and see what happens. I'm working diligently towards some goals. I was laid up this week but will be hard at it tomorrow.

Half of my brother-in-law's family is from Winterpeg. As much as I love them, I decline their offers to live there. They seem to love me in return and want me nearby. This has been an ongoing discussion for about the last 17 years. My sister's in-laws treat me as they do my sister, i.e., like part of the family. When Mother died, her mother-in-law and a brother-in-law flew down to help us out. We've spent holidays and vacations together but Canadian winters are bitterly cold for my Southern blood. Four or five days in Winterpeg for Christmas is about all I can do. Brrrr!...!!...!!!!

There are better controls and instrument people than me. Somehow, there has been room for me, too, and I am very grateful. There is room for you, too, Jack-of-all-Trades-Master-of-None.

From my perspective, an ME who is a good generalist would be an asset. Many engineers become myopic in focus thus loose their ability to do much beyond citing codes, rotating equipment, relief valves, or something else. To have an ME that has remained broad in application is rare. That may not apply in large numbers but it's been true of my observations. Some of the best MEs I've worked with had a range of abilities and they made excellent discipline engineers and project managers. Those MEs used their engineering experience a lot to keep the project moving forward and moving forward smoothly. If you go solo, you never know what work will come your way.

If you go it alone and can find partners who are like-minded, that's probably the best way to do it.

Whatever you do, the first thing you need to do is get rid of that defeated way of thinking. You're educated, experienced and obviously not intimidated by work, challenges, or others. You certainly don't lack intellect. That is a lot to be grateful for and to offer others. You have a good sense of humor, too, which is priceless in many situations.

Three things pushed me in this direction: a layoff and two subsequent resignations, almost back-to-back, over ethics issues. Doing this was something planned for retirement not now. My plans didn't seem to take root...

Be sure going solo is what you want to do. It isn't easy and it is expensive. I am using my own money to finance it. I can't get a loan from the bank. It is unnerving initially but it gets easier over the months. Most have little patience or stomach for this and, granted, they do have more responsibility. I am single, no kids, and have no life so it's easier for me. If I become homeless, I can live under a bridge until I get on my feet again. I am a backpacker so grunge in small doses is tolerable. winky smile That is harder to do with a wife and kids.

I think I still have some worksheets to use as an evaluation for your tolerance for getting out on your own. They include your wife's input, too. If you want them, let me know. I'll be glad to send them to you, if I still have them.

Mostly this is between the Lord and me. With my raunchy childhood, I don't know how to trust Him. This is an exercise in learning how to trust Him with everything. My dad was not a loyal dad in any way so trust is a big issue with me. I am accustomed to having to do it all and not rely on others for anything. This is so overwhelming I cannot do it all. I know I need help and the only help I have is God. He's got to show up or I continue not knowing how to trust Him with all things in my life. It's a huge leap of faith for me. This is part of faith at which I stinketh. I either swim or sink.

That probably doesn't apply to you and most others here. I reveal it to help you understand my mindset and events leading to this point in my life. Your life, I hope, has been much, much better than mine in all ways. smile

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

My favorite line, at least within "Forrest Gump", is

"right about then, God showed up"

.

He may not show up in the way you expect.

Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
Thanks, Mike! His plans are not my plans, for sure.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

lacajun: I didn't found the firm, and am grateful to those who did. But I did have the wits to join and to stay. Then again, I've paid my gratitude to them many-fold in the money I've made for them over the years, so I think we're square.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

lacajun,

Thanks for the words and encouragement.

Every bit helps. If you do have those worksheets that you mentioned, perhaps you can direct me to where I might be able to get a hold of them. Sometimes seeing how others have structured the thought process behind how to plan such a thing gives that one answer that makes or breaks the indecisiveness.

With respect to trusting Him, as the folks at Nike would say, "Just do it." He won't let you down.

In Denmark there is a rather famous saying; I actually have it in the form of a decorator plate on my wall:

"God gives us the nuts, but he doesn't crack them for us."

Keep plugging away, you will be fine.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Wow, I'll back up what Greg said, there are entire countries that apparently only have trade schools for Engineering (my 'trade school' was a bit less elite than Greg's though).

Funny thing is, based on my experiences and this site I'm tempted to say folks that came from those trade schools generally seem at least as well rounded as those from the US systems.

I'm almost tempted to say more well rounded but that would be at best anecdote not evidence in any meaningful way so why upset my fellow countrymen (and women).

Either way, I can't help thinking a lot of these none core courses are just at best about generating revenue, and at worst are attempts at political indoctrination based on one course my wife's school tried to make her take.

As for the elitist protection of the word Engineer idea etc. that's a deader horse than the main topic of this thread.

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RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
SNORGY, I'm at an ISA conference this week but will look when I get home.  I don't have them on this PC.

KENAT, isn't well roundedness in an individual up to the individual and the choices he or she makes?

I don't think protecting the term engineer is elitist or dead.  I know techs who claim to be engineers but they cannot make basic calculations or possess basic engineering knowledge to back it up.  Should we accept them as engineers?  I am curious only and don't have an axe to grind with you.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

To kenat: to make them less square.

To all:

According to the books on economics “commoditization” leads to “perfect competition”.

Are you folks worried about second or the first?

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I don't think the colleges are forcing anything :). The students are the ones who chose to go to that college for that curriculum and most likely prepared themselves by taking the necessary math and science class in high school to prep them for an engineering degree. If the student was more into the technical hardware side, like diesel engines, then the student would go to technical high school and prep by taking hands on training on engines in general and then go to a two year (or even less) tech school and receive a certificate. Even better would be to be trained by the manufacture of the engine. Even in this career path, there is animosity between the ones who were formally trained and the ones who learned by just working at your nearest garage.

Tobalcane
"If you avoid failure, you also avoid success."
“Luck is where preparation meets opportunity”

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Since it appears that we're approaching the 100th post, I thought it might be time for a bit of germane humor; advice about some electives that perhaps today's students should be considering as they prepare to enter the real world:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thought-catalog/coll...

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Don't you think a class on common since would make someone well rounded than many of the classes offered?

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

ccrank108 - but what if you failed Common Sense 101? Would that be as damaging to your career as failing Ethics 300? Or would failing Common Sense 101 be a prerequisite for other degrees (SNORGY, I'm looking at you to finish this thought for me...)

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
KENAT, I don't know that we're forced to take courses to round us out. People can always find an alternative. Often people will not seek knowledge in other areas they truly need to seek. They can not learn the "softer side of life" in spite of sitting in a class and passing it. I enjoy learning about "the softer side of life" from others and need to learn about many of those things. But there is only so much time in life and I wouldn't forsake knowledge I need to do engineering for humanities. Overall, I learned that getting the BS matured me quite a bit. Consequently, I am of the opinion that education in general matures people. It opens the mind.

CheckerHater, I would say the books on economics have it wrong. I've not seen perfect competition. But, my room temperature IQ probably cannot see it.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

You simply can't make someone learn material they don't have an interest in. I had to take several classes that I had no interest in. I got good grades in all of them, but 2 days after finals I couldn't recall a thing about them (and a year later I couldn't remember having taken them). That experience didn't really help round me out much. I've read 2-3 books/week for the last 50 years. I have had exposure to a significant range of ideas and philosophies. The "humanities" courses I was forced to take actually delayed my lifetime study of mankind.

There is a (long)list of the things an Engineer must be proficient in. Not all of them involve numbers, but very few of them are included in the list of Humanities Electives that my son had to choose from.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I get this feeling that a lot people here have little or no idea of what it means to attend a UNIVERSITY. It's really sad in many ways.

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

TGS4...

I do not remember any degree program where failing Common Sense 101 was a prerequisite. It could be that there is something wrong with me.

In fact, it Might Be Amnesia.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

As I've alluded to before, if you're only interested in learning a skill, go to a damn trade school and save yourself a crap load of money. I chose to attend a university since I was more interested in being educated then simply being trained. If you still fail to grasp the point that I've been trying to make, perhaps you DID take the wrong electives after all.

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

The point you seem to be missing is that in many countries engineering degrees are primarily concerned with engineering. Whilst in your opinion that reduces those universities to trade schools that seems rather ridiculous to those of us who attended them. I haven't, by and large, noted that my American colleagues are better read, have a more intense understanding of music, or a better grasp of art, than those of us who went to uni in Germany, the UK, France, Holland and Tokyo, looking around my office.

They do seem to have more of an interest in politics and religion. Which is fine, but neither are discussed at the dinner table.

Cheers

Greg Locock


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RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

2
I got "A"s in Philosophy and "B"s in engineering.

I should have been a Philosopher...then I could get paid for thinking and dreaming about work, wondering if it's all real or all an illusion.

Come to think of it...there are some days where that actually helps me.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Just reviewing the transcripts alluded to in my last post...

Good thing they didn't give out "M"s in university. I am not sure that I could have philosophized my way out of the ensuing nightmares.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

To back up a bit...

If common sense could be taught it wouldn't be so uncommon.

Regards,

Mike

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Good point, the more I think of work, the more I see that some of it adds no value. So the no value tasks I don't complete, leaving me more time to do the high value tasks.
Philosophy does help.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Thank you Greg, you made my point more eloquently than I, and having attended a UNIVERSITY that predates not only the founding of the US higher education system & the founding of the USA, but by some reckoning even the word University, it seems a bit more authoritative coming from you.

Many countries around the world, even signatories of the Washington Accord, are happy to specialize at university such that you spend your entire time studying your 'major' and directly related subjects.

So for instance, my entire 3 years (yes some of those countries manage to complete a bachelors in 3 years as has been discussed before) was spent studying aspects directly related to Aerospace Systems Engineering. The furthest away I got was 'maths'; a combined 'law, accounting & management' course and a half unit of 'aircraft operations'.

If by your definition that makes me and all the folks that got similar education 'trade school technicians' or some such then so be it, I'm not sure that diminishes our education.

Many of these countries actually do have 'trade schools' or variations on 'technical schools' (often combined with some form or apprenticeship) that offer more applied education but even they offer some courses that it would be rather harsh to classify graduates of as 'mere technicians', and certainly not just mechanics.

So, given the runaway cost of education in the US I can't help but wonder if perhaps some of the non core 'prerequisites' aren't so essential after all, or at least adjustments couldn't be made as to how and when they're taught.

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RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
Dissension, dissension, dissension...

Psychology, sociology, management, organizational behavior, English I/II, American History, etc. were all required courses in my day. I wouldn't have sought those courses but I am glad I took them. They have been of some use here and there.

I've read a lot but most is non-fiction.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Quote (lacajun)

...Psychology, sociology, management, organizational behavior, ... were all required courses in my day....

I've read a lot but most is non-fiction.

By my reckoning, these two statements, while intended to be completely unrelated, are essentially synonymous.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I think pretty much all (I know of no exceptions) mechanical engineering degrees in the UK have engineering as a major right through.

My particular course had some management and economics sneaking in in the final year(s) - primarily aimed at production engineering and management types. We did have one mandatory unrelated class in each of the first two years (French Language and European History in my case).

I also think there is a different culture here. Most students see going to university as a mind-opening experience in its own right - leaving home and living in a strange town with new friends. The idea of going to the local uni so that you can stay at home seems all wrong, but it's one that I've heard from several Americans I know. There's more music, art and culture in central London than in a lecture theatre in some provincial town.

- Steve

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I have no problem with the English, specific Philosophy courses, History, Economics, etc requirements. At the end of the day if we can't communicate then no matter how good we do our sums no one will ever take us seriously. My problem is making Engineers fill in big expensive gaps with time-wasting nonsense (Film Appreciation for example).

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I hope people are not misunderstanding my comments. When I was attending university, except for the fact that I changed my field of study from Electrical to Mechanical near the end of my second year, when I finally graduated there was NO concept of my having had a 'Major' and/or a 'Minor'. My degree was considered to be in Mechanical Engineering, period! And while I was required to take a certain number of non-core electives in areas often referred to as 'humanities and social studies', other then what was recorded on my transcript, there was no implication that I was getting anything other than a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering.

That being said, since I graduated my university has implemented an alternative program. They now have both a 'College of Engineering' and a 'School of Technology'. In both cases they're offering a 4 year bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering (and several other specialties, as well as postgraduate degrees). From what I've learned, if I were enrolled there today it would be in the 'College of Engineering' and in all honesty, except for having attended a few presentations at conferences where people from the 'School of Technology' were presenting, when I'm actually on campus in my continuing role as a representative of a supplier of technology (CAD/CAE/CAM/PLM software) to the university, I'm spending virtually all of my time dealing with the chair of the ME-EM department in the 'College of Engineering' as well as several of their professors and instructors, and on occasion, graduate and undergraduate students. So it's very possible, at least from what I've learned from around the edges, that the 'School of Technology' may be offering curriculums more closely aligned with what many of you have described as what you've experienced. And again, as best as I can tell, the 'College of Engineering' is maintaining what I guess we would call the traditional, at least as defined here in the states, approach to fulfilling the criteria for receiving a university degree in engineering.

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

John, I used the term 'major' when perhaps I should have said 'primary field of study' or some such. I wasn't implying that you minored in basket weaving or something.

I was merely making the point that in many educational systems around the world, folks that go to university to study a specific subject (in this case Engineering) spend essentially all their time studying that subject and/or closely related/directly relevant topics.

It appeared that you were implying this equated to the type of trade school that mechanics might attend.

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RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

My non-core electives were a very small portion of credits compared to what was needed to graduate. Without actually digging out my transcripts, I think the required credits needed was something like 205 credit-hours (note that we were on a 3 terms per year scheme when I was there) or about 17 credit-hours per term. Of these 205, my ROTC classes were not included but my 6 credits of PE and 18 credits (non-core electives) of 'Humanities & Social Studies' were. If we lump the PE and electives together that works out to a little less than 12% of the published minimum requirements for a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering. I hardly consider that as being excess.

And for the record, my 18 credits of 'Humanities & Social Studies' comprised of classes in American History and Psychology.

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

You mean you didn't have a PE (Physical Education) requirement?

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

No PE, nor any of the other non engineering stuff you listed in your 22 Jun 12 17:31 post or any similar posts either as elective or requirements.

As I mentioned before, the furthest away I got from engineering was my single combined law, accounting & management course and my short 'aircraft operations' course (it was an aero eng degree). This added up to maybe 5% and was arguably actually directly relevant to my degree, just not really technical.

Now I did participate in sports teams but this did not count toward my degree in any way shape or form. Additionally I could have taken 'technical' French but it wouldn't have directly contributed to my degree, just would have been an additional class for no extra formal credit.

Educational requirements in other systems really are quite different, and I'm not convinced denigrating them as 'trade schools' is fair or appropriate. I'm fairly confident that Greg's university for instance probably outranks yours on many international ranking tables despite not having all the non technical classes.

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RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Ahh, the uni/poly divide that still exists (in memory) in the UK higher education system.

Regarding "PE". Why would that be a requirement? Students who liked sports joined sports clubs, of which there were many, mostly funded by the university, but optional.

Incidentally, my "university" started life as a trade school (and I mean filing metal). The City & Guilds Institute of London still exists of course.

- Steve

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I actually agree with the European (can I say that?) way of education. I’ve paid for my degree and it was frustrating that I had to pay and take classes that I did not really need in the real world. It was just another way for the colleges to make more money. I think in stead of more electives in humanities and/or liberal art classes, the colleges (or student) should look for more ways to get internships to better prepare the student for the working world. I feel the best way to learn sociology, history, economics,…etc, is to learn it thru an engineering company’s lens than academia’s lens. I would have even paid for the internship than pay for liberal art classes. With this said, I was very fortunate to get two summers worth of internships at a national laboratory and see who the math and physics I’ve learned where used in the real world before I graduated.

However, the topic is engineering a commodity and how do we reverse it. Well let me ask this question. What is the proof that engineering is a commodity? I mean that we (from what I’ve read on this post so far) have engineers working for companies, PE in the public sector, and engineers who started and own their company. All of this with just a Bachelors Degree (and some without), maybe I’m just looking at this thru rose colored glasses, but for the level of education to ROI is not too bad. I’ve just seen this the other day (http://jobview.monster.com/Senior-Mechanical-Engin...) where if your specialty is plastics you can make between $100K to $120K, that’s not to shabby for four (or five) years of effort.

Tobalcane
"If you avoid failure, you also avoid success."
“Luck is where preparation meets opportunity”

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

I’m curious, for those who own their own firm or company, what is your ball park salary or how much of the revenue do you take in personally?

Tobalcane
"If you avoid failure, you also avoid success."
“Luck is where preparation meets opportunity”

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Sompting, I wasn't really thinking of the old polytechnic issue, more folks that take HNC/HND etc at local technical colleges or whatever they're called at different times in different places and go to the more technical/academic side - worked with several back in the UK that were as good or better than many degreed engineers I've worked with. I was also thinking about the German system where there is a distinction between the more academic institutions and the more applied ones as I understand if from our German Interns.

As to Twoballcane's point, I have to agree somewhat. Based on what I make I'm doing very nicely for the level of education I have. Are there folks doing better with the same or less, sure. However there are lots of jobs that require a bachelors degree (or equivalent) but that pay a lot less - even only half. Now my pay is skewed some by working in a very high cost of living area, however compared to other bachelors degrees engineers do OK.

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RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

BTW, my university started out as a School of Mines in 1885.

I also dug up my old transcript (my wife claims I never throw away any of MY stuff) and I was off a bit on a couple of the credit hour figures. The PE requirement was only 3 credit hours for graduation and one of these was a class in Industrial-oriented 'First Aid', administered under the guidelines and supervision of the U.S. Bureau of Mines (which was merged with other federal agencies in 1995) since the school was still granting mining degrees in 1965 when I took the mandatory class. My comment about 6 PE credits was with respect to the MAXIMUM number that could be used to calculate grade-point, but only 3 counted toward meeting the criteria for graduation and as I've already mentioned, I got 'varsity' credit (i.e. PE credit) as a result of my being a member of the ARMY ROTC exhibition drill-team (we never considered ourselves as 'jocks' like the hockey players did, but we did get to wear cooler looking 'uniforms' and we can't forget the rifles and bayonets).

As for the non-core electives, instead of 18 that number was really 15, of which only 12 could in a single area of study, which in my case was American History, with the last 3 credits in Psychology.

What I did recall correctly was that the requirements for my ME degree was 205 credit hours, which included the 15 non-core electives and 3 PE credits, of which one was the mandatory First Aid course.

So I guess in reality only something less than 9% of the credit hours required for my Bachelor of Science degree back in 1971 was in what many would call 'non-core electives'.

OK, even I'll admit that we've thoroughly beaten this dead horse...

deadhorse

John R. Baker, P.E.
Product 'Evangelist'
Product Engineering Software
Siemens PLM Software Inc.
Industry Sector
Cypress, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

To an Engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Speaking of commodity in engineering. We were speaking with a possible new client and we were told that they pay $0.30 sq. ft for one-story houses and $0.40 sq. ft for two-story houses for the structural design.

Sounds alot like a commodity to me.

I think we told him in the words of one of my good professors "to go pound sand", and I don't except to hear back.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Flat rate per unit area is definitely commodity pricing. I would run away from a client who thought I added commodity value.

As to the earlier question about how someone is doing after starting their own business, I have to say "very well, thank you". My business is a sole proprietorship with zero non-owner employees. My first year in business (and my worst year ever of course) I paid more taxes than I grossed my last year as an employee. Nine years later I am turning away work that I can't find time to do. I provide a unique service in a niche market and no one thinks of me as a "commodity". The few potential clients who think that Engineering is a commodity service look at my hourly rates (non-negotiable) and walk away. Many of them call back in 6 months and ask "what would you have charged for XYZ project", I tell them and their next comeback is usually "would you be willing to come fix the mess we're in for that?". That kind of conversation has led to some really good customers.

I see a lot of engineering firms (lower case) that are incapable of saying "We don't know how to do what you're asking, we need to pass". I keep getting called into projects that were started by incompetent individuals and perpetuated by incompetent management. A big part of my practice is fixing those messes.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
Mr. Baker, my experience was similar to yours. I won't take the time to review my transcript but I can say with a high degree of certainty that my degree plan was far less than 205 hours. It should have been more but the profs said student complaints led to a decrease in hours required to graduate.

Quote:

TGS4 (Mechanical)
27 Jun 12 11:28
Quote (lacajun)
...Psychology, sociology, management, organizational behavior, ... were all required courses in my day....

I've read a lot but most is non-fiction.

By my reckoning, these two statements, while intended to be completely unrelated, are essentially synonymous.

TGS4, from my perspective they are not. Some of what I learned in those classes I classified as false. Some of the required reading in English was fiction, too.

As to how much I make through my company, a pittance of what I made in Corporate America. Unlike zdas04, I have nothing unique to offer anyone and I am not in a niche market. In fact, in 2009 a respected and somewhat well-known instrument engineer said I have nothing special to offer and that I am an above average instrument engineer but nothing more. He must be correct as I've made less than $2000 in the last 14 months. I cannot get a loan from the bank so I'm using my savings to keep everything going. So I get the privilege of working long hours most days to figure out where I am going wrong and what I need to do to correct the situation. I am on the cusp of making some tough decisions. They are mine alone to make. I will make them and accept whatever comes after.

I often wonder why I have worked so hard to land in this situation. If it weren't for Mother's family's values and Biblical teaching, I would quit and live under a bridge for the next 20-30 years. I will continue and may still end up under a bridge despite working hard to not get there. I wonder how long my backpacking gear will last.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
Mr. Baker, my undergrad alma mater has a technology program, which I was in at one time and earned an AS in electronics. I had no confidence of being able to cut engineering. When I made the switch, I was astounded at the rate and depth of the material covered in engineering. It was quite an adjustment to make and I felt as though I was treading water for months. So, from my perspective, the technology program there is very good but it is not an engineering program. If I had not taken that torturous path, I wouldn't have that perspective. I mean no disrespect to anyone in/from a technology program either. I've worked with engineering tech grads that were greater than me in many ways. We had choices to make and we made different choices. I cannot account for that.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Pamela,
From the list of forums that you participate in I'm guessing that you don't work in Oil & Gas at all. While you are making those "hard decisions" you might think about coming to the dark side. The controls problems are simpler than you'd see in most industrial applications, but the volume of installations is staggering. Expertise in flow measurement is pretty much required for an Automation or Controls Engineer, but that stuff can be self taught reasonably quickly. In my experience an "above average" Automation Engineer would be a star in this industry.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

lacajun, I don't think anyone here with a technologist training is claiming to have the equivalent of a 'university' education.

However, a bunch of us that went to University in other countries/systems and didn't have a bunch of non engineering electives or requirements as part of our studies are questioning if it's fair to say we went to 'trade schools'.

I doubt that aspect has too much to do with perceived commoditization. It seems this is more of a concern in the engineering as a service side of things if I'm understanding correctly.

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What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)

Quote:

KENAT (Mechanical)
27 Jun 12 10:48
(Sorry lacajun, went off into the weeds a bit there.)

Weeds are welcome terrain. smile

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
David, I've done flow and worked for Marathon Petroleum's Canton, OH refinery before Micro Motion lured me away to do global industry marketing for them in refining. Great job and wonderful company. For the first time in my career, I didn't have to beg for money to spend. What! A! Concept! I've attended Enercom the last few years in Denver to network in O&G. That's where the CEO of a $100 million dollar cap looked at my business card then looked at me and laughingly said I couldn't possibly be the engineer. Someone else began talking to him, while I was, and he walked off without another word to me. I've not made much other progress to make contact with O&G companies. O&G must not need me. Problem is others don't seem to either. There must be some problem with me I have yet to discover.

KENAT, I thought "trade school" could have been worded differently but I understood the point Mr. Baker was trying to make, which was a good point. I apologize for the faux pas on my compatriot's part. It seems we've all arrived at some understanding of "fluff" courses. Having worked with engineers from other countries, I think we're all in the same boat, i.e., we have a spectrum of abilities, interests, motivations, etc. I respect people based upon how they treat others and handle themselves. I've not found any university book teaching those fine subjects. Personally, I would have enjoyed more engineering courses but that wasn't in their plan. I enjoyed the engineering courses a lot.

I think commoditization relates to the perceived lack of value we bring to improve the lives of others. Where would so many aspects of modern life's advancements be without engineers? Most people don't have any idea what it takes to bring an iPhone, iPad, wind screens, automobiles, fuels, batteries, toilet tissue, notepads, paper clips, medicines, etc. to market.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

The more I work with downstream and refining guys the more certain that this should be two industries. Upstream is very different from refining in virtually every way. One jerk doesn't define the industry.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
Oh, I don't know, David. I tend to think anyone with wit/2 can learn upstream. Engineers have always quizzed other engineers about their ability to learn a new industry. As long as the math, science, and engineering principles don't change, they'll be OK and they'll come up to speed.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Didn't say it was hard, just that it is DIFFERENT. My work has more in common with Civil guys doing water treatment than Mechanical guys doing refineries.

Even the "similar" calcs are very different. I generally design pipe to ASME B31.8. The processes make sense and the results take into account varying population density.

One of my [plant background] clients recently had me do a wall thickness calc using B31.3. There were more steps, a lot more table look ups, and at the end I got the same pipe selection I got under B31.8. That was fine for most of upstream (very low population density on the whole), but if I had been running the pipe adjacent to an elementary school or a hospital the B31.3 calcs would have given me a wall thickness with inadequate safety margin built in. But the plant guys turn up their noses at the [simplistic in their estimation] B31.8 calcs.

Downstream Plant guys are much like Chemical Plant guys. Upstream guys work with much lower risk density and don't see the value of most of the Plant junk. Like I said, a different industry.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
I see your point, David, and agree.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
SNORGY, shoot me an email through my website and I'll send the documents to you. Since they are copyrighted, I don't want to post them here. I took my work off so they're nice and clean for your thoughts.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Thanks lacajun.

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

Not to revert to the original topic too much (I'm a fairly recent grad so cannot speak firsthand about the rigors of old academia) but I had to comment because I just sat in a staff meeting Monday and my boss enthusiastically announced to my office that he was outsourcing my job.

To elaborate, I work in about an eight person office where I am the only engineer. I work with one other project manager who, though generally bright and technical minded, knows only to read standards and run the individual calculations. The rest of the office is sales/marketing. So the company thinks it is really making some headway into Mexico and the owner (Business undergrad; MBA; insists that he is equivalent to a structural engineer because he runs a small construction material sales company) says he is going to open an office in Monterrey by the end of the year and excitedly elaborates on how he can, "get engineers in Mexico with the exact same education as Blax for a fraction of the cost!" Everyone gets excited about the expansion and, while 85% of my work is supporting jobs via email/telephone, I am sitting there thinking, well there goes any hope for decent wages here.

So I feel like engineering is treated as a commodity for two reasons:
1) To the extent to which many people (owners and engineers) lean on standards as the law. I can't tell you how many discussions I've had with the owner about cases where a code/standard does not reasonably apply. His response: "Standard X is the closest thing because a direct standard does not exist. And we are covered (meaning lawyers) if we use Standard X. If you vary from the standard, now we are taking on liability for this engineering." I am wrapping up my last year as an EIT and the company doesn't like spending money for outside engineering reviews of my work, so it's a convenient financial and legal decision to read it off the book (a practice that I don't agree with professionally or, in general, morally).
2) Cost: Everything is being standardized in business. E-Myth is all about the franchise model. And, while efficient, I see cases where the behaviors -- rather than the outlining responsibilities -- of engineers are standardized within the job description. I don't agree with it, but I think that is the trend in general and, when an outfit does decide it needs a real engineering mind, they go pull in a consultant as necessary.

Frankly, the commoditization of engineers -- specifically newer ones like myself -- was a big factor in my decision to go into contracting as early in my career as I am. I'm in an industry that is exciting but quite small. So where there has been limited organic engineering growth, I can now assure that I can really understand the full approaches to more applications in the industry.

Composite Strengthening Systems, LLC
Turnkey Design and Installation Services
Coming Fall 2012: COMPOSITE-STRENGTHENING.COM

RE: Engineering as a commodity: Can we reverse the trend?

(OP)
All of God's best to your efforts and endeavors, blax! Congratulations for taking that step so early in your career. I don't think you will regret it.

The outsourcing you've mentioned has been going on for awhile to various degrees. Early in my career, an older engineer said engineering could never be outsourced. His line of reasoning didn't make sense at the time and still doesn't. Ultimately, engineering is more easily outsourced than many old timers thought. Some of it has worked out and some of it hasn't.

Standardization has been occurring for quite some time. I'm learning through my own company how detrimental that has been to other manufacturers and small businesses. I wonder about the economic analysis behind some of these efforts now. Were they valid then? Are they still valid today?

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC

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