A recent article in the automotive blog Jalopnik touched on a subject that I think several engineers are sensitive to. The article states that engineers are not mechanics. It dives into the scenario in which many modern engineers find themselves. Engineers go to school to learn engineering theory. They do not go to school to be mechanics or machinists. While their classes and study materials may touch upon the ins and outs of mechanical operations, in no way or form does that mean they are trained to take apart a muscle car like a Dodge Charger and put it back together again.
When I was in school, I took several classes tied to the world of physics and how to design and work with the laws of physics. The article from Jalopnik notes some of the basic classes that many engineers take in a modern curriculum: statics, dynamics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, introduction to fluid mechanics, computer-aided design, mechatronics, and engineering ethics. In my four years of undergrad and three years of a master’s degree, the amount of classes that required a physical project or build was less than 10%, conservatively. I will be the first to admit that my education did not cover the skills or knowledge that a mechanic or machinist would have. Much of my education in terms of proper dimensioning for machining and part creation came from on-the-job experience.
Certain companies such as FANUC Robotics have taken it upon themselves to educate the future engineers by providing certification courses for college students.
In our Salary & Career Report from 2016, our readers said that on average 46% of the knowledge they received in school was theoretical versus practical. The age demographic of engineers that participated in the survey were overwhelmingly (82%) 45 years or older. These engineers were in school more than 25 years ago. It leads one to believe that the education received was a better balance of theoretical and practical knowledge, even if many engineers stated the large amount of lessons learned while on the job. The important aspect to note is the amount of practical education taught in school.
In speaking with industrial engineering companies, that is no longer the case. Many engineering managers and directors I speak with complain about the lack of practical knowledge being taught in school today. Many of the students graduating today do not have the proper training to integrate themselves in the world of industrial production. Companies have taken it upon themselves to train college students in their equipment. For example, FANUC Robotics has created the FANUC iCERT Robot Training Program for college students. Here, students can become certified FANUC robot programmers and technicians. This elevates their skill set to work in the engineering world. The engineering education institutions need to work more closely with the major industrial companies to develop an education model that reflects the actual engineering world.