Evolve or Else: Engineers and Continuing Education
Arnie Peskin posted on March 05, 2014 |

Some time ago, a recent engineering graduate took a train to his new job at IBM.  He worried, ‘What will they do to me when they realize that all I can is answer the questions at the end of each chapter?’ As it turns out, IBM knew just what they were getting. He was given work assignments that taught him how to be useful.  The story has a happy ending. I was that young engineer.

This was my first experience of the value of Continuing Professional Education. It is a lesson is even truer today than it was then.

The impulse to stay current and broaden one's horizons is one of the most important characteristics of the professional engineering workforce. The vast majority of professions and most national or state governments require a practitioner to demonstrate regular participation in learning experiences to remain licensed in the profession.

While there are some engineering disciplines that do not have a tradition of requiring formal licensure, it still befits the engineer to keep current. One wouldn't go to a physician who has not fallen behind the advances of medicine. Similarly, an engineer’s value is severely diminished without continuing education, especially as technology seems to shift every six months.

The various national and international engineering societies emphasize the importance of continuing education and many offer opportunities to their membership. Some provide their own learning experiences such as courses, seminars, conferences and webinars. Some may also have a mechanism for certifying educational experiences obtained elsewhere.

When certifying an educational experience for credits, often called Continuing Education Units, the assessor will typically look at three things. It is important that an engineer keep them in mind to ensure the experience is a worthwhile one:

  •  The relevance of the information to the profession
      • This is usually broadly applied. Some of the most useful education can come from other engineering disciplines. For example, an electrical engineer may need to learn biology to implement a new biomedical instrumentation.
  •  The level of the course
      • Information that the practitioner should have learned in high school or college shouldn’t count toward professional growth. However, refreshers can still be beneficial in certain situations.
  • The qualifications of the instructor
      • Is the instructor at an appropriate academic level and/or in a position to be knowledgeable in the field?

Recognized educational experiences come in many forms. Traditional short courses and seminars are increasingly giving way to on-line education and webinars. But the fundamental principles will continue to apply – continuing education is a good and necessary thing. Engineers risk their reputations and careers if they do not evolve.

Incidentally, one of the best ways to learn something new is to teach it. There is something about having to prepare a lesson, and be ready to take unanticipated questions in a public setting, that focuses the mind. It may be worthwhile to check out the opportunities for adjuncts at your local college.

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