Preparing Students for the Future through Education
One of the primary roles of education is to prepare students to join the workforce after graduation. Many engineering programs teach their students a great deal about theory and how to do calculations by hand, but this sometimes creates a knowledge and software gap. We recently spoke with Nathan Shipley, assistant direct of the CAD/CAM Laboratory at Wichita State University (WSU) in Wichita, Kan., about his observations in education in academia: how long it truly takes freshly-minted graduates to become proficient in the workforce and some of the methods his university employs to help students close the gap between what they learn in the classroom and what they will need to know on the job.
Shipley explained that it takes approximately two years of working and receiving on-the-job training for a recent graduate and new hire to learn the necessary skills to be productive on his own at work. If a student has participated in a traditional summer or semester-long internship, this cuts the time down to approximately one to one-and-a-half years to reach the necessary level of productivity.
However, programs like WSU’s have incorporated two different approaches into the curriculum that help cut down the time it takes new graduates to be productive contributors in the workplace. The first approach is to have students work about 20 to 30 hours per week at local companies while they are in school. The second is to have willing companies send real work to campuses so that students can gain real-world experience working off-site. These two approaches cut the amount of time it takes entry-level engineers to become productive at work down to three to six months.
While acknowledging that WSU is not the only school to use these techniques to educate students, Shipley did admit he thinks the approach is still somewhat unique. Department heads engage students by making sure they know these job opportunities exist for them and that they can earn credit for participating in job opportunities.
Shipley thinks universities should push opportunities like this more. In his own experiences, he has noticed that there is a significant difference in how people approach things if they have not participated in a similar program while in school. “They may understand the different aspects of engineering,” he explains, “but there is a knowledge gap and there is also a software gap.” When education incorporates real-world and on-the-job learning opportunities, students “use real software to solve real engineering problems.” This ultimately leads to employees who are stronger at their jobs from the first day and a more talented workforce.
Also not to be undervalued is the experience COE provides for students in the form of networking and knowledge. This, Mr. Shipley said, “can provide a great deal of benefit beyond school or a company. It’s a unique opportunity because of the knowledge base and access to different companies. You can’t get that kind of face time with industry professionals in any other setting.” This, coupled with knowledge sharing, is invaluable.