The Engineering Conundrum 

“What is wrong with today’s engineers?” This statement can be heard throughout the utility and business sectors daily. The common sentiment is that the recent incoming engineers don’t seem up-to-par with the engineers from previous generations. Complaints range from a lack of knowledge, an inability to handle projects, and attitude issues. 

Have engineering schools forgotten how to train engineers? Have generational attitudes changed so much that engineers no longer want to think or work? The answer to both of those questions is likely “No.” Our engineering institutions may have implemented new technologies in teaching, but little has likely changed in their methods or expectations for engineers. Similarly, students may have changed slightly over the generations, but it still takes hard work and creative thinking for students to make it through an engineering curriculum. 

So, what has changed, and why has this perception become a reality in many businesses? The first change in many businesses is the “old guard” of engineers who were hired when many utilities and businesses were growing and have now begun to retire. This exodus has caused many businesses to lose a great deal of “institutional or tribal knowledge.” Incoming engineers are no longer receiving mentoring from these senior engineers who were the backbone of the business learning process. Without this institutional knowledge, engineers are making mistakes that could have been avoided through proper mentoring. 

Another major issue occurring is many engineers are being rushed into project management roles they are not ready to handle. This is due to the retiring workforce and the increased expenditures in many businesses to upgrade their aging infrastructure. Young engineers are tasked with several high-level projects that they are untrained to handle properly. 

The final issue is attitude. When these young engineers are not provided with the needed mentoring, proper training, and are overloaded with high-level projects, they tend to fail. They feel overwhelmed and that they are failing the company and their peers. Attitudes begin to sink, and many engineers leave the company or the profession. 

These Engineers are SET UP TO FAIL 

So, what can companies do to improve and prevent this situation? 

  1. Implement a strong mentorship program. Have the younger engineers work with the more experienced engineers to better understand the equipment and processes. In addition, companies need to document the processes and “tribal” knowledge so future engineers will have access to this information and are not left guessing. 
  2. Change the project management model. Instead of forcing engineers to design and manage the projects, keep them doing what they do best “designing.” Utilize Project Managers to handle the non-design processes of the project. This will make for higher-performing projects and better working environments. 
  3. Increase the training efforts within the company. Instead of expecting engineers to learn on the job or through osmosis, provide the information to them. In this way, companies can ensure that work is performed by the company’s processes and to the company’s standards. 

Our SDG associates are skilled in engineering processes and procedures that can supplement your team by offering a technical, common-sense approach and understanding to stage gate requirements and other bottlenecks to keep your engineering process running smoothly. We can develop tools to assess adherence to specific project criteria that a younger, inexperienced engineer may not have. Click here to learn more about Mesa’s Solution Deliver Group. Contact Shana Bullock at [email protected] for more information. 

About Mesa Associates, Inc.  

Mesa is a woman/minority-owned full-service multi-discipline engineering, procurement, and construction management firm specializing in providing engineering services for the commercial, government, industrial, municipal, and electric utility industry. Mesa is currently providing over $180M of engineering services to 13 of the top 15 utilities across the United States. Our growth is a result of delivering quality projects and value to our clients with unparalleled customer service. We differentiate ourselves by saying we are Large Enough to Perform, Small Enough to Care.