Engineers of all experience levels require learning and development solutions to stay on top of advanced engineering technologies.

How to Educate Every Level of Your Workforce

Dec 12, 2019

by Tom Klemens

The rapid rise of advanced engineering technologies—such as additive manufacturing and robotics—has created a challenging environment for both practicing engineers and their employers. Traditionally, manufacturers have relied on a standard training regimen designed to get new hires up to speed by providing context and experience to bridge the campus-to-career gap. However, the career-to-career gap has become just as prevalent; even experienced engineers frequently need additional training to stay productive when faced with new technologies.

Addressing the career-to-career gap

Chittaranjan Sahay, Ph.D., director of the Center for Manufacturing and Metrology and a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Hartford, has been working with companies such as Pratt & Whitney to shore up these skills gaps in the workforce through the development of highly focused short courses.

“New technology comes along, and even experienced engineers sometimes don’t know where to start with it,” Sahay says. “Let’s say you want to measure the surface roughness. Most engineers don’t understand how using light waves to measure the profile of the surface works, even those who have seen it being done. So, we have to tell them what it is, explain how it works, and tell them how to use it so they can characterize surfaces.”

Even though such a system is based on principles that engineers studied in physics, how to apply it may be unknown or unpracticed. The best education not only provides engineers with information on methods for working with engineering technology, but also helps them to understand how it works, and the application behind it.

Getting on the same page

A decade ago, as a member of the ASME board of governors, Sahay made sure one of the organization’s primary objectives was to strengthen manufacturing. This involved identifying the areas of need by looking at each part of a process as it relates to the entire workforce.

Because manufacturers must continue to adopt cutting-edge technology to stay competitive, they also must proactively support the professional development of their workforce when implementing it. Frequently, this means providing training for engineers, as well as others involved in design or production, including those on staff and consultants.

“For that reason, there’s a need to constantly assess,” Sahay says. “We must always be asking ourselves, ‘Where is the technology today? And where are we with training? What is the gap now?’ And that gap has to be filled in, all the time, reaching all of those involved at all levels of the process.”

According to Sahay, all too frequently, different aspects of the work are addressed in different silos. That leads to designers solving a problem one way, those on the manufacturing side dealing with that solution in another way, and neither understanding why the other does things the way they do. A comprehensive approach to workforce learning and development can bridge this gap, creating understanding between parts of the process—and the people who implement it. The more people who have this knowledge, the smoother the manufacturing process can be. This builds resiliency within a company in the event of talent departures or extended absences.

“You start with the operators, training them in what they do,” Sahay says. “I realize they know better than anybody else what they’re doing, but still, with the advancing technology, they need to be trained on things that make their job easier, not more difficult. From there, you move on to the manufacturing people, the engineers, and the design engineers, and maybe even a step higher, to the engineers responsible for conceptual design. They all need to know how their roles fit in.”

Consider the vanes and blades in gas turbine engines, a staple at Pratt & Whitney. Sahay says these high-performance airfoils require high technology manufacturing and inspection capabilities to validate their fitness for service. However, with their geometric complexity and the tight tolerances they must be held to, an inspector can’t just pull out a ruler and a pair of calipers to check dimensions.

To ensure all those involved in designing and producing these components are in sync, engineers at all levels of Pratt & Whitney take a two-day fill-in-the-gap course on higher-level fundamentals. The course covers both design and production—how airfoils are designed, why they appear to be so crooked, how the radial flow across the airfoils is affected when the shape changes—even for those engineers not directly involved in the process. This way, all involved understand the effects of the decisions they make in their respective roles.

This education approach also mirrors a metamorphosis seen in the engineering field: jobs are becoming less siloed and engineers are expected not only expected to “do a job,” but also to “own a process.” Enhancing technical skills, understanding business opportunities, and leveraging engineering technology better are paramount to success. 

The benefits of a comprehensive education investment

Educating the entire workforce doesn’t just mean teaching each learner the same information. Often, what an early-career engineer needs differs from what a director of design engineering might need. In these cases, companies benefit from a longer-term education solution that creates customized solutions for each learner based on their experience level and past learning activity. From initial introductions to engineering technologies to curricula focused on preparing employees with the knowledge they need to progress or pivot in their careers, investing in such a provider could lay out a path for every employee from new hires to engineers higher up the chain who require training for these advanced responsibilities.

By creating long-term, targeted experiences for each learner, learning and development providers can bolster this depth of knowledge throughout an organization. For the companies working with these providers, it’s not just an investment in workforce education overall, but in each individual learner, providing a clear path for development and next-level knowledge. The end result is an engaged, knowledgeable workforce that stays on the cutting edge, which will push overall company operations to the next level.

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