A professional qualification in Engineering is consistently ranked as among the most challenging career paths to pursue. However, most engineers would agree that the learning process is far from over at the point of graduation. With the rapid advancement of modern technology, pursuing further educational opportunities can prove vital to engineers after they've entered the workforce.
With this in mind, what's your approach to staying up to date in your chosen field? Is there any substitute for formal training courses? If not, how do you navigate the cost - both financial and in terms of the time you need to dedicate to staying on top of it? Does your workplace have a healthy CET culture? What could be done to make further study more accessible and/or appealing to you and other professional engineers?
To get the conversation started, we asked seven STEM professionals to share their thoughts on the importance of CET.
Mechanical engineer and co-founder of SolidProfessor, an online learning resource for engineers and designers.
"Today, we have advanced tools and technology like CAD software and rapid prototyping that have accelerated how quickly engineers can bring their ideas to life. Because these technologies are evolving at a rapid pace, the days of ‘once and done’ training is no longer enough to maintain proficiency with the tools - much less stay competitive with increased rates of innovation in product design and development."
Carol Martsolf, PE, LEED, AP
Vice President and Director of Training at Urban Engineers at the Urban Training Institute
“Continuing education and training (CET) plays an important role in the development and maintenance of key skills and knowledge – which is very important for engineers! CET ensures that we keep pace with changing technology and advances in engineering so we don’t fall behind and become antiquated. With a profession like engineering that relies so heavily on intellectual collateral, it is important to keep investing in that “collateral” and keep abreast of new initiatives. There are only advantages to CET, and no clear disadvantage. Studies suggest that lack of time or funds [are] a driver for NOT participating in CET. But it is important to invest in ourselves and our future as a profession, and continuing education and training is that vehicle.”
Computer engineer and co-founder of Thimble, a subscription program providing monthly DIY electronic kits to engineers interested in coding, building and hacking.
“From experience, engineers are curious by nature. We want to take things apart, understand how they work, and some of us even enjoy rebuilding afterwards. This curiosity doesn't just turn off once you graduate and settle into a comfortable career path. Staying up to date with technology is a never-ending task for engineers. Much of my learning recently has come from observing and participating in the maker movement. Project-based learning is the type of "exercise left for the reader" that I actually enjoy doing. I think there is plenty that even well-established industry professionals can learn from the maker movement and its culture of inclusiveness, innovation and self-motivated learning.”
Jim Meyer, PE
Training and Development instructor and Standards Committee member at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
“As with most questions, the importance of continued education in engineering depends on your situation. If you have constant interaction with other engineers with different experiences [or] backgrounds, it might not be overly important. However if you have been trained by one mentor… and are now just repeating calculations or designs the same way you were taught when you started, continuing education is extremely important. …When an employer is evaluating experience they look at the diversity of the work. Sometimes they see many years of very different experiences, showing the individual is constantly learning new skills while on the job, other times they see one year of experience repeated for 20 or more years. Again, these are the individuals where continuing education is really important. A good example of this is most state licensing boards accept involvement in ASME Codes and Standards Development as meeting the requirements for continuing education.”
Varaz Shahmirian, PHD
Director, Engineering & Technology Department, UCLA Extension
“The field of engineering has been changing at a more rapid rate than ever before. Today, engineers find themselves facing technical problems that require more knowledge and innovative methods to solve topics they were not covered in college. To keep their skills current they should take advantage of numerous professional, continuing educational programs which offer practical, solutions-based knowledge and application. These programs are offered online, or in class. Professional certificates offer the best option in gaining knowledge in areas such as nanotechnology, composite materials, cybersecurity, data science as well as management skills such as project management and lean Six Sigma. These programs provide the knowledge with a shorter time commitment, at a fraction of the cost compared to advanced degrees.”
Diana J. Schwerha, PHD
Associate Professor, Industrial and Systems Engineering, Russ College of Engineering and Technology at Ohio University
“Engineers build things that were once considered to be impossible; they make scientific discoveries tangible, real and available….Engineers by definition are constantly pushing boundaries and manufacturing for the future. Education enables that. Some engineers pursue advanced degrees in engineering management so that they advance in their field, others pursue professional training at conferences and workshops, and still others may obtain certificates in certain sub-areas that will allow them to transition into a different discipline. Engineers continue to seek education because they are wired that way. For an engineer, it’s either get better or stay stagnant, and being an engineer by definition precludes the latter.”
Dr Erika Ebbel Angle
CEO and co-founder of Ixcela, a biotechnology start-up company, and founder of Science from Scientists (SfS), a US-based program that sends scientists into classrooms to help ensure the nation's youth is globally competitive in STEM fields.
"We live in a society today where facts are at our fingertips through ready access to the Internet and search engines. The ability to use these facts and even the ability to know what types of questions to ask to get the right facts are, however, in short supply. These so called “critical thinking” and “problem solving” skills are at the core of what an engineering education delivers. Whether or not you are designing an aircraft, performing surgery, investigating a crime scene, inventing next generation computers, or inserting a photo into an email; understanding how to gather the information required and how to apply that information are critical ingredients to career success. Virtually EVERY career today can benefit from these skills."