Five ways to enable the next generation workforce
Dynamically changing world markets expect constant growth of knowledge, skills, and competencies of future engineers, and partnerships among universities and manufacturing and technology companies can help. Market reports show that innovative technologies—such as programmable logic controllers and programmable automation controllers (PLCs/PACs), digital servodrives, and industrial robots—are increasing market share in industrial applications. Therefore, modern higher education must upgrade its thinking about incorporating the latest industrial trends and technologies. The following five key factors critically influence the success of future engineers in this dynamically changing labor market.
Step 1: Correlate educational offerings with demands of the local labor market.
Tomorrow’s engineers who want to find work in this dynamically changing world seek educational offerings that provide advantages for their future professions. An IT engineer, controls engineer, electrical engineer, and mechanical engineer will always be among needed specialists in the labor market. Well-prepared alumni in related occupations can expect good salaries and careers in progressive branches of industry. For these reasons, technical universities must communicate with local industry representatives to evaluate necessary knowledge and critical skills of their future employees. To achieve this goal, it’s helpful to establish a council of selected university educators and area industrial leaders to ensure course offerings are in line with regional needs of employers.
Step 2: Increase the number of practical courses in the education process.
Besides lectures, the educational process must include laboratory classes and small practical projects to apply knowledge learned. Cooperating with companies that have similar operations profiles to the fields of study at area universities enables additional modern teaching techniques. These include workshops, hands-on labs, and certificated lectures prepared with training materials given by the companies. Moreover, students can perform their theses based on real-world problems provided by cooperating companies.
To help develop and advance students’ practical skills, we must help them participate, with experienced engineers, in supervised engineering internships. External financing from cooperating partners, other institutions, and governments (in our case, EU grants) allows universities to choose the best students, via an application process, and provide a well-paid engineering internship for a minimum of three months. This kind of operational model can be successfully supported by exploiting modern Internet-based tools (such as the intranet system of the West Pomeranian University of Technology Szczecin, Faculty of Electrical Engineering). The system allows cooperating companies to get familiar with the current level of students’ knowledge and skills in selected fields of study. The platform also supports companies’ process of submitting thesis topics.
Step 3: Allow students to participate in research work.
Constant cooperation between the research faculty and regional companies often results in mutually led R&D projects. This model, which supports participation of the most active students in research, significantly increases their experiences with high-technology control and measurement equipment, creating elite future alumni as part of the education process. These activities also augment the number and quality of PhD candidates.
Step 4: Universities should support alumni entering the labor market.
To meet help meet student expectations, technical universities should organize meetings with future employers. Described in step 2, a Web-based information exchange platform allows companies to present jobs and internships for highly qualified engineers. The framework of a university’s organizational activities should include: cyclic job fairs, presentations of scientific clubs, and meetings organized in cooperation with companies. By obtaining external financing, universities can support development of students’ so-called “soft skills,” such as presentation techniques, interpersonal skills, and coping with stress and time pressures.
Step 5: Promote constant growth of the quality of alumni knowledge and skills.
A very important aspect of a university’s activity in the presented model is monitoring and validating the knowledge and skills of candidates and alumni who have entered the labor market. A survey can provide necessary information about the most important qualifications students require. This information helps to evaluate and improve the quality of teaching by lecturers. Teachers and students cooperatively working to publish articles in scientific journals provide additional engagement and learning.
Monitoring the number of participating alumni and time they spent to get their first job is another possible university role and could provide future opportunities to react and adjust to the dynamically changing environment of the industrial labor market.
Alumnus career paths of the development model described here and in the diagram are consistent with new legal considerations of higher education in Europe. They provide a basis for building close relations among technical universities and industry. Implementing this model for more than 10 years, the faculty of Electrical Engineering on West Pomeranian University of Technology Szczecin have educated many engineers working in Poland and Europe, who now successfully manage departments in leading automation companies. The model presented here has been implemented with 95% of the Electrical Engineering faculty at the university.
– Krzysztof Pietrusewicz, DSc, is the director of two EU-funded grants ($3.7 million, almost 700 participating students, including control engineers, electrical engineers, ICT engineers, mechanical engineers, material engineers, and mechatronic engineers), increasing the value of education at the West Pomeranian University of Technology, Szczecin. Paweł Waszczuk is a PhD student in electrical engineering there. Both are editors for Control Engineering Poland. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering, firstname.lastname@example.org.
At www.controleng.com, search Control Engineering Poland for more from Pietrusewicz.
- Match education to needs of local industry
- Increase hands-on experiences in education and research
- University should help local alumni and promote continuing education
Are you engaging local engineering universities, technical colleges, and high schools to help guide, cultivate, and take advantage of research and talent there? Send a link of this article to a local engineering professor to start or enhance cooperation.