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  • 1.  Communication as part of the engineering skills set

    Posted 19 days ago
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    "Engineering graduates are facing changing requirements regarding their competencies, as interdisciplinarity
    and globalization have transformed engineering communities into collaboration arenas extending beyond
    uniform national, cultural, contextual and disciplinary settings and structures. Engineers no longer manage
    their daily tasks with plain substance expertise; instead they must be adept at communication, collaboration,
    networking, feedback provision and reception, teamwork, lifelong learning, and cultural understanding.
    This calls for a concomitant change in university curricula, challenging the current university system to
    supply graduates that possess working life skills relevant in today's work communities."

    Q. What are you, your employer, and university doing to raise your varied communication knowledge and expertise into

    the year 2024 and beyond?

    Cheers,

    Bill



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    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880
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  • 2.  RE: Communication as part of the engineering skills set

    Posted 16 days ago

    Thanks for sharing the paper, Bill. The author's point about the importance of social skills in engineering, especially good communication, is confirmed by my experience. However, some of her statements are dated, at least in the U.S. For example, the second sentence you quoted ("Engineers no longer manage...") wasn't true when published in 2009 or even in the 1960's. Solid social skills have always been important and life-long learning has been essential throughout my career.

    The two engineering schools with which I am currently familiar have been practicing what the author advocates for at least 20 years. In addition to coursework on communication, they embed communication and teamwork exercises in technical courses, culminating in a capstone course in which students' cumulative technical knowledge and social skills are required to graduate. Industry engineers serve on advisory boards and give guest lectures frequently. I believe that most engineering schools do something very similar. I don't doubt that more could be done, but we would run up against the problem of a limited number of course hours available to most students and the issues of a 4-year degree you mentioned in an earlier post.

    One statement by the author is completely correct -- "... it's hard to determine whether the right formula for providing our students with hands-on social capabilities upon taking on actual organizational tasks has yet been found." I'm unaware of any hard evidence showing what educational practices work best for social skills.

    B



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    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., BC.CE, BC.NE, F.ASCE
    ENGINEER
    Columbus MS
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  • 3.  RE: Communication as part of the engineering skills set

    Posted 15 days ago

    This conversation has been interesting to follow, and some great points have been made. I think one mistake that is made, and being made in this thread, is the expectation that communication/social skills should be taught as part of the engineering programs, and it is a failure of the universities if it is not done. Our future engineers' communications and social skills education starts long before declaring their major; it starts in our homes as we raise our children and, in our communities, when we interact with young people. We are not teaching our youth good social and communications skills in general and it becomes evident when they get to the work force after college. But this is not an engineering problem it is a society problem. I interact with lots of young people in other industries and profession and poor communication is problem in all of those places as well. What are we doing to solve the problem?

    Most of the engineering programs that I have interacted with, including my alma mater (The Citadel), do as William stated and bake it into the technical courses requiring team projects, presentations of work, and capstones that on some level require you to work like an engineer in the real world. And isn't that where we usually learn the most; in real world situations and not sitting in another class about communication? Those classes are valuable in many respects, but you have to go out and test it to find out if it is truly valuable.



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    James Wilson P.E., M.ASCE
    Plant Engineer
    Charleston Water System
    Charleston SC
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  • 4.  RE: Communication as part of the engineering skills set

    Posted 9 days ago

    An idea to take classroom presentations to another level: have a group of students seated as a (mock) governing board with responsibility to approve the proposed project. Communication skills on both sides of the dais would be challenged. 



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    Robert Weil P.E., M.ASCE
    Assistant City Engineer, Water Utility
    Decatur
    Decatur IL
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  • 5.  RE: Communication as part of the engineering skills set

    Posted 8 days ago

    An excellent suggestion, Robert.

    We included students and practicing engineers in the capstone course presentations; however, only the boldest students asked any questions. A separate presentation to students would allow more practice for those intimidated by the presence of faculty.

    Bill Mc



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    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., BC.CE, BC.NE, F.ASCE
    ENGINEER
    Columbus MS
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  • 6.  RE: Communication as part of the engineering skills set

    Posted 8 days ago

    Great points, James.

    Teaching employees better communication skills in addition to what they learned in school is an essential part of life-long learning. Observing and emulating good communicators works well, as does Toastmasters participation.

    Bill Mc



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    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., BC.CE, BC.NE, F.ASCE
    ENGINEER
    Columbus MS
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  • 7.  RE: Communication as part of the engineering skills set

    Posted 7 days ago

    Bill,

    Agreed. Toastmasters is a wonderful program and group to be a part of, though I haven't been in several years. It is a phenomenal way to work on your communication skills in a low pressure setting and you meet great people from other industries that want to make themselves better and help others on their journey. 



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    James Wilson P.E., M.ASCE
    Plant Engineer
    Charleston Water System
    Charleston SC
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  • 8.  RE: Communication as part of the engineering skills set

    Posted 16 days ago

    Mentoring is a good opportunity to teach communication skills, as it is, in itself, a communication exercise. I recently shared with my mentee my reflections on an ASCE book of years ago, which doesn't seem to be available anymore. It presented a model of sender, receiver and noise, which I will never forget. 



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    Robert Weil P.E., M.ASCE
    Assistant City Engineer, Water Utility
    Decatur
    Decatur IL
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  • 9.  RE: Communication as part of the engineering skills set

    Posted 8 days ago

    Bill – this is an interesting topic – and I guess we have discussed aspects of it in some other threads before. The shared paper greatly enhances some of the communication issues – in particular within engineering industries.

    In this post, I like to limit myself to highlighting some interesting and important observations presented by the author. Referred paper: {Pia Lappalainen (2009) Communication as part of the engineering skills set, European Journal of Engineering Education, 34:2, 123-129, DOI: 10.1080/03043790902752038}.

    Here are some of them I picked up from the section on Underestimated role of communication:

    . . . Despite the undeniable merit credited to social capital, communication has still not

    received strategic status in the eyes of many corporate operators. . . .

    First of all, traditionally communication, among other support functions, has been unduly underestimated as a resource-consuming and non-profitable area of corporate operations.

    Second, it does not play any visible part in yielding results or profits. . . unlike the core functions, although the role of such communications oriented competences as tacit knowledge, cooperation, human skills, and leadership are already acknowledged and known to bring advantage . . .

    Another underlying reason is that unlike many other areas of business, the impact of communication is not easily measurable . . . it is difficult to justify investment in activities whose impacts cannot be verified. This measurement problem has roots in the fact that communication is so closely interwoven with all organizational activities that the mere definition of what is pure communication and what is leadership, personnel management or marketing is close to impossible. . . .

    Yet another explanation for the inability to credibly establish the significance of communication is that communication, among other human resources, is associated with soft values, unlike core business activities that entail the potential to yield returns . . .

    Topped off with connotations implying abstract phenomena such as culture, human relationships, atmosphere, and communality, communication is often disregarded as irrelevant (relevant?).

    . . . company CEOs often take on their piloting duties with a CFO background, making them oblivious to the significance of communications. Naturally they cannot value what they do not understand, and the subsequent CEO-driven value system cascading down the hierarchical . . .

    The author's observations – very realistic, reverberating with many of our practical experiences – rightly indicate that communication is yet to get integrated into the business-models. Results are – although all sorts of communications are there – business structure does not know how to measure them to assign value to their importance.

    And the art of effective communication?

    Dilip

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    Dr. Dilip K Barua, Ph.D

    Website Links and Profile




  • 10.  RE: Communication as part of the engineering skills set

    Posted 5 days ago

    The art of effective communication? Let us brood over this question for a while in simple terms – with the hope that it would help us to realize different kind of clarity. I am posting this as a rejoinder to my earlier post.

    • Communication is to relate ourselves with others – in actions and reactions. It takes the forms of talks, speech, writings like in texts, mails and emails, and body-languages. Talks, speech and body-languages are face-to-face communications. With internet – this type also occurs through video-link.

    • Nature of communication begins with our thought processes – it is the instigator – a clean and healthy process lets us communicate lucidly. A bad one does the opposite. These processes have another dimension – it is the state of mind at a certain time and place. For all different reasons, this state has can be agitated, calm – or something in-between.

    • Communicative actions and reactions vary among people. The difference is due to the personality type as well as by those qualities or lack of them – that are imparted to us during our childhood (as James pointed out) by parents, neighbors, friends and teachers. They range in various degrees in terms of courtesy, politeness, respect, humility, appreciation and thankfulness.

    • With internet – another influence is added to qualify communication (more in Artificial Intelligence – the Tool of No Limit). Social-networks and other forms of to-and-fro communications are prime examples. These are already consuming considerable part of our time.

    • Wisdom says that one should stop communicating when the mind is agitated. Therefore, staying calm or becoming composed is so much necessary before launching any form of communication. By staying calm, one soon realizes – that the things he or she wanted to communicate with an agitated mind – do not make sense whatsoever.

    • But, a communication is multi-dimensional. The immediate two are source ↔ receiver. Which means, a certain communication may appear different to a receiver – depending on his or her state of mind. In a face-to-face communication the receiver may influence the source. In other words, it is the subject-object relationship.

    • But, as can be understood, such a relationship is not always strong, because a receiver can display calmness without showing any responsive behavior. This entails that the source communicator –owns his or her communicating behavior – and must take responsibility for it. Therefore, staying calm – as a remedy comes into relevance.

    • Staying calm – is like freeing oneself from bad emotions – to let them go. Here time comes with a hand to help. But, it is far from easy – therefore the relevance of meditation comes into the forefront.

    • Now let us move on to the core issues of this topic. The first thing to do is to distinguish between two basic types: Chatty Communication and Business Communication. Whether one is an engineer or any other – these two basic types tell what we are in broad terms. We cannot live without them – because all of us have personal, family, social and business lives.

    • The importance of chatty communications – or the informal ones – is quite unappreciated in my opinion. Because, such exchanges, more often than not, open up one's personality in honesty and sincerity. I always benefit from chatty exchanges (although I am not so much of an extrovert) – during coffee and lunch breaks in office. This is where we get energy from and give energy to colleagues and friends. It helps one to see things from different perspectives – thus enriching his or her works. In that sense, present pursuance of the concept of working from home, even after the cessation of COVID – appears thoughtless to me. Although, some have genuine reasons to work from home.

    • Perhaps most of us are aware that many business deals and policies get shape in private chatty conversations, face-to-face or otherwise. In such instances – mutual trust and friendship play key roles in deal making.

    • The formal or the business communications – on which we are sharing our thoughts and opinions on this thread – have a serious tone in it – because they carry more baggage of implications and consequences. Therefore, whatever we are sharing on this thread – are important conversations.

    • On Civil Engineering on our Seashore, quoting NAP #12635 Publication – I have discussed a term I have not heard before. It is the engineering "habits of mind" (refer to the values, attitudes, and thinking skills associated with engineering; AAAS 1990) – that are aligned with the required essential skills for citizens in the 21st century. The habits include: (1) Systems Thinking; (2) Creativity; (3) Optimism; (4) Collaboration; (5) Communication; and (6) Attention to Ethical Considerations. On communication it says: communication is essential to effective collaboration, to understanding the particular wants and needs of a "customer," and to explaining and justifying the final design solution.

    • There is another dimension to it – in terms of public perception of engineers – and we have shared our thoughts on it in a separate thread. Here are something written In Creativity and Due Diligence . . . The most common view is that engineers have tunnel visions of things. If this view is correct, it is very serious because engineering is supposed to be a creative profession. Unless engineers see a problem from different perspectives, it becomes difficult for them to appreciate multiple aspects of a problem, and be creative and innovative in their judgments. But some others tend to argue that the tunnel vision of engineers is the unfortunate outcome of their own pursuit of perfection requiring them to focus on details. Yet there are others who think that stereotyping engineers as such amounts to blocking their career path in the corporate hierarchy . . .

    • As pointed in the earlier post – all these do not solve the problems associated with the lack of measuring communications. But, shall we say, this is something others to ponder. I like to leave it at this.

    Dilip

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    Dr. Dilip K Barua, Ph.D

    Website Links and Profile




  • 11.  RE: Communication as part of the engineering skills set

    Posted 8 days ago

    Please allow me to share a new book on the topic:

    Collaborating for Comprehensivity: Fearnley, CJ: 9798321867235: Amazon.com: Books



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    Chad Morrison P.E., F.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI
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