Vantage Point:Bringing inexperienced engineers up to speed - Chris Forbes

Oct. 7, 2010
Baby-boomer engineers are headed toward retirement, taking with them their experience and wisdom. New software tools help young engineers quickly get up to speed
Chris Forbes
New York, N.Y.

As the U. S. focuses on growth and innovation to stimulate the economy and ensure long-term competitiveness, we can debate the best use of resources to meet these goals. But let’s at least agree that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related jobs are essential to America’s global competitiveness. Issues concerning recruitment and retention of the STEM workforce have begun to take center stage, as we grapple with a decline in the number of students pursuing degrees in these fields.

In June, The Sloan Center on Aging & Work issued the Talent Pressures and Aging Workforce report, which identified several concerns in the manufacturing industry. These include the ability to recruit competent job applicants, the low skill levels of new employees, and how to transfer knowledge from experienced to less-experienced employees.

I’ve met with many engineering leaders over the past decade. In that time, I’ve observed how they work and discussed their challenges and successes. Not surprisingly, some of the hurdles they face are the same issues identified in the report. When I ask engineers about their top go-to resources for knowledge and information, I frequently hear that they most often turn to their colleagues down the hall for answers and advice. This is not a practical or sustainable option as experienced engineers retire.

When it comes to STEM, companies need to document the work experience and know-how of baby boomers before they begin to retire. Employers also should invest in resources that help engineers in the early stages of their careers ramp up quickly and make them more productive. To do this, recent hires need access to tools and mentors to help them develop their own expertise.

Knovel, a Web-based application, is one such tool. It supplies engineers and engineering students with reliable online technical references, interactive data, and access to information they can easily incorporate into their workflow. Engineers frequently tap Knovel to find answers to technical questions, particularly during product development and design. During this period of innovation, it helps them learn faster, increase productivity, and potentially avoid costly mistakes. Providing handy access to trusted content can speed the innovation process and supplement the expertise of seasoned engineers.

People are an essential asset, and now is the time for companies to double down on long-term investments in the next generation of the STEM workforce. It might be sponsoring scholarships for engineers, donating to STEM programs, or documenting best practices and know-how before boomers retire. For technology-focused companies, it’s making sure engineers have the resources and tools they need to be productive and to learn quickly. Investing in such programs and technology encourages learning, fuels collaboration, and arms engineers with the insight necessary to compete in a demanding global market.

Knovel ( offers a Web-based application integrating technical information with analytical and search tools. Subscribers worldwide include 70 Fortune 500 companies and more than 300 leading universities.

© 2010 Penton Media, Inc.

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