Merging Continuous Professional Development into Engineering Education and Practice Nael Barakat, Ph. D. P. Eng. Assistant Professor School of Engineering, Grand Valley State University 301 W Fulton St. KEN 136 Grand Rapids, MI. 49504 616.331.6825 [email protected]
Abstract Life-\long learning and continuous professional development (CPD) are currently among the fundamental survival tools for engineers. This is due to the extremely high speed of engineering and technology advancements, characterized by fiercely competing products, which have become basics of people’s daily life. CPD is currently required for professional engineers’ registration and is an accreditation requirement for engineering programs. For today’s professionals, career continuation has become dependent upon the engineer’s ability to stay away from obsolescence by adapting to the different changes in the profession. In spite of these facts, practicing engineers are still finding many difficulties in managing the CPD concept and incorporating it into their career plans and professional practices. These difficulties range from managing CPD activities and benefiting from them, to adopting CPD as a way of life in the practice. The solution to these problems can start at the preparation and training stage of future engineers by integrating CPD as part of the engineering knowledge and tools of practice. Therefore, engineering educators are always looking for methods to integrate the concept and practices of CPD in a packed curriculum using the appropriate pedagogies. This paper includes a discussion and analysis of the vitality of CPD to the engineering profession, with extra focus on the professional and ethical dimension. This leads to the establishment of a solid and lasting foundation for integrating the concept of CPD in both young and practicing engineers’ method of practice of the profession. In addition, different ideas and areas in the curriculum are discussed for implementing the concept of CPD based on actual experiences. Finally, a flexible approach to manage and integrate CPD in the career plans and professional practices of the engineer is presented. This approach is analogous to the approach followed in managing engineering design and build projects, which is familiar to most engineers. Keywords Continuous professional development Life-long learning Career management plan
Proceedings of the 2009 American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) – North Central Section (NCS) spring conference, Grand Rapids, MI. USA, Copyright © 2009 ASEE – NCS.
Introduction People’s daily life has become highly dependent on engineering and technology products resulting in a fierce market competition to take advantage of this dependency, through improving and selling more of these products. However, marketing and sales are not the only driving forces behind superior engineering products. National economy and a constantly changing global economy formulate the larger context and the deeper reason for this competition. Consequently, explosive rates of engineering and technology developments are being experienced today. The downside to this unprecedented high speed of discovery and knowledge update is that knowledge shelf-life becomes shorter, causing engineers to quickly become obsolete if they do not continuously develop their skills and knowledge base. Continuous learning and knowledge of advances in engineering and technology are very critical to the success and career continuation of an engineer. In addition, professional responsibility and ethical obligations of engineers strongly support continuous professional development (CPD) and life long learning. The national academy of engineering recommends that: “in addition to delivering content, engineering schools must teach engineering students how to learn, and must play a continuing role along with professional organizations in facilitating life long learning, perhaps through offering (executive) technical degrees similar to executive MBAs1.” From a professional ethics angle, practicing engineering based on tools and knowledge acquired only during the first engineering degree at school without any updates for a long time would definitely lead to a breach of the engineering professional codes of ethics and a definite career failure. This is because changes in the knowledge base and advances in the tools of the trade would render the practice to being outside the limits of ones expertise, which is a clear ethical problem. From a career angle, this deficiency would quickly jeopardize the career of an engineer because of degradation in competence. At a time when many engineering jobs seem to move overseas, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the demand for mechanical engineers, for example, will continue to grow. Demand for improved machinery and emerging technologies will be the main reason for this growth2. A continuous professional development attitude and practice would definitely make these mechanical engineers employable at these jobs, most of the time. However, in a publication by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the percentage of the recipients of basic science and engineering degree before 1994, being tracked until 2003, who continued to receive a master’s degree were 12.1%, while those who received a doctoral degree were 3.0%. Even those who decided to get a higher business degree were 11.7%3. These results indicate that a significant amount of effort is still needed to integrate the concept of continuous learning and professional development in the formation of engineers and in their career management plans, as well as their professional practice. Opportunities to upgrade engineering knowledge and skills are ample as reported in the literature4. Professional organizations and educational institutions have established many programs that are ongoing to help engineers continue learning and professional development5, 6. However, CPD activities are usually carried out by professionals on a have-to basis, and in an ad-hoc fashion. For engineers to Proceedings of the 2009 American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) – North Central Section (NCS) spring conference, Grand Rapids, MI. USA, Copyright © 2009 ASEE – NCS.
survive in this century, these activities should be performed as a way of life in the practice with appropriate planning and evaluation. Planning and managing of these activities as a core element in the career path and turning the acquired knowledge into competencies should be part of the practice of engineering. Therefore, significant efforts are needed in the area of integrating the concept CPD in engineering education and to provide practical and flexible models that can be merged with career management plans set by the professionals. CPD activities should not be carried out to make a big list that will satisfy requirements or show proof to employers. Moreover, when engineers require CPD as part of the practice, employers are encouraged to adopt CPD as a standard benefit for their engineers, which will slowly be removed from the list of items subject to cost cutting7. In exchange, employers can enjoy a stable and continuous workforce, competitive advantage in quality and initiation, more benefits and attraction of skills, and more public trust and leadership roles in their products and expertise. This paper provides a discussion and analysis of the vitality of continuous learning and professional development for the engineering profession, with extra focus on the professional and ethical reasons and arguments. This dimension helps in establishing a solid and lasting foundation for integrating the concept of CPD in both young and practicing engineers’ method of practice of the profession. In addition, different ideas and areas in the education and preparation of engineers are discussed for implementing the concept of continuous learning and professional development. Finally, a systematic and practical approach to integrate CPD into the career management plan is proposed and discussed. This approach follows along the general method of managing engineering design and builds projects, which is familiar to most engineers. Professional and Ethical Bases The nature of the engineering profession is changing at an extremely fast pace. These changes have reshaped the profession and forced engineers to accommodate the new shapes to survive. These changes used to be mostly on the technical side of the practice. However, non-technical changes have become as evident and influential on the practice of engineering. Of these changes is globalization of engineering. One of the consequences of globalization is the increasing need to universal professional and technical standards. Having CPD as a built-in component in the practice of the profession would make engineers not only capable and accommodating of these changes, but also competent, and above all, legally safe and correct, when practicing outside their home countries8. Currently in the USA, professional engineering registration requires proof of CPD, using continuing professional competence hours or CPC. The main purpose for engineers’ professional registration is to protect the public safety and welfare, which is directly linked to engineering ethics. The concept of life long learning and CPD is now a solid part of most professional engineering organizations’ codes of ethics. The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) code of ethics, section III: professional obligations, point 9.e. includes the following statement: “Engineers shall continue their professional development throughout their careers and should keep current in their specialty fields by engaging in professional practice, participating in continuing Proceedings of the 2009 American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) – North Central Section (NCS) spring conference, Grand Rapids, MI. USA, Copyright © 2009 ASEE – NCS.
education courses, reading in the technical literature, and attending professional meetings and seminars6.” The codes of ethics for most other engineers’ professional organizations include a statement along these lines4. In fact, a closer look at the code of ethic of the NSPE reveals that four out of six cannons that make up the code directly call for the integration of continuous professional development in the engineering profession. The first fundamental cannon in that code of ethics, which is the same first cannon in most of the other engineering professional organizations codes of ethics, states that: “Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public6.” The relevance of this cannon to continuous professional development can be explained by the example of safety rules and tools improvement. Safety in engineering and technology products is continuously improving, not only at the product and material level, but also in the design and build practices and procedures to produce. However, these new technologies and methods might not have existed during the college education time of the practicing engineers. For professional engineers to fulfill their ethical duty outlined by the previously mentioned cannon, they must acquire the knowledge relevant to these new safety enhancement findings and implement them in the practice. The advantage of this step goes above and beyond fulfilling ethical duties and reaches what is known as “good works4.” In the same code, the second cannon states that: “engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall perform services only in areas of their competence6.” Understanding this, it becomes clear that being obsolete or outdated in knowledge and skills would place an engineer outside of the limits of needed knowledge and expertise. Moreover, it might mount up to exposing the public to dangers that result from that lack of knowledge and skills. Maintaining a meaningful competence is only achieved by continuous learning of the profession from all aspects. The fourth cannon states that: “engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees6.” When engineers continue learning and are up to date in knowledge of the tools and bases of the profession, they significantly help their employers. This help includes gaining competitive advantage and indirectly leading the way for others to follow in the industry. The last cannon of the NSPE codes states that: “engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of the profession.6” In essence, continuous professional development will ultimately result in a better career for the engineer, economical advantage for both the engineer and the employer, less safety issues for the public, and most of all, increased public trust and respect for the profession. The advantages reach as far as better treatment and protection of the environment and the globe. Implementation in Education Professional development and learning can be: On the job and off the job. On the job learning is mainly through gained experience and knowledge of the job at hand. It can also include other types like seminars and short courses. Employers’ awareness of the Proceedings of the 2009 American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) – North Central Section (NCS) spring conference, Grand Rapids, MI. USA, Copyright © 2009 ASEE – NCS.
importance of CPD is a major factor in expanding the opportunities on the job. Off the job learning can be formal (courses and higher degrees) and informal (journals, conferences, shows…etc). The most common types of activities to achieve CPD can be extracted from the NSPE code of ethics. Some of these activities include participating in continuing education courses, reading in the technical literature, and attending professional meetings and seminars6. Off the job learning beyond the basic degree is proportional to the engineers’ awareness of its dimensions and importance to themselves, to their career, to the profession, and to the society. The general view of most engineering societies, according to their respective codes of ethics, is that education of some kind, beyond the minimum formal degree or certification, is required if engineers are to best serve society. In turn, society will continue to trust engineering as a responsible profession. Looking into the future of engineering, a committee was formed by the National Academy of Engineering to investigate issues in reshaping engineering education today, to help better prepare future generations of engineers. The committee provided a suite of recommendations in response to these issues. The first of these recommendations was that the B.S. degree should be considered a pre-engineering degree. The second recommendation was that the M.S. degree in engineering should be accredited and considered the professional engineering degree1. This is in addition to the recommendation that engineers should be trained on how to be life long learners. The latest accreditation criteria by ABET stresses in criterion 3, items i, j, and k, that engineering programs must teach and train students to recognize the need for, and have the ability to engage in life-long learning. In addition, these programs must also ensure that the students attain knowledge of contemporary issues and an ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice9. To ensure that individual engineers continue their professional development as part of their practice, and a way of life, the concept of CPD must be integrated into the educational stage of their life. That stage consists of courses, labs, and other college experiences. Approaches and pedagogies to achieve this goal continue to evolve and experiences are always sought by educators to incorporate them into their own pedagogies. Five of these approaches are discussed here. The first of these methods is problem based learning including open ended problems. This method forces engineering students to go through the process of developing their own transferable skills and competencies. The skills they develop are more on the side of soft skills, like communication, management, interpersonal, team work, organizational, problem solving societal and global dimension skills. Problem based learning or project oriented activities are much better media for these skills to evolve and develop compared to the regular lecture based curriculum model10. Once the students have done it for the first time, and it was emphasized in many courses and labs, it becomes natural, easier, and part of the practice for them to develop new needed skills on the fly and as needed. A second approach is to require the students to implement or use a new device or component in a course that requires some learning and coach them to obtain the sources. This instills in them the habit of learning on the fly and steers them away from knowledge spoon-feeding and recipe-lab-experiments, which they were used to in high Proceedings of the 2009 American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) – North Central Section (NCS) spring conference, Grand Rapids, MI. USA, Copyright © 2009 ASEE – NCS.
school, towards a comfortable level of independence. This approach is currently used in a control systems junior course taught by the author11. Students tend to express a lot of frustration in this course because this approach forces them out of their comfort zone quickly. However, at the end of the course they express a lot of appreciation for the great self confidence that they have gained in their ability to explore and toggle the unknown, as well as their ability to quickly filter information and learn what is necessary to get the job done. A third approach is to merge activities from engineering professional societies in individual courses and in the curriculum in general. These activities include design competitions, poster and presentation competitions, innovation competitions, and student competitions at the senior engineers’ conferences. For this approach, some adjustment is required to make the professional competition fit the educational objectives of the course. The instructor can add requirements to ensure that the project fulfills the course objectives. The main advantage of this approach is that it allows students to travel to the professional activity location and interact with professional engineers and other educators and students. It also provides them the opportunity to explore the numerous resources provided by the professional organization for career management, life long learning, and continuous professional development. At these meetings, the opportunities to observe and learn, with and around professionals, become endless. In addition, most of these meetings include a professional or leadership training session, which is something that these students always appreciate. The fourth approach is to require the students to be involved in their career planning as they go through college, through their active participation in their academic advising. This is done in parallel with a quickly decreasing level of hand-holding from the advisor. This will be the first exercise for these young engineers to practice career management. The focus should be expanded beyond passing required courses and acquiring a degree. The view should include the future in the form of career plans and possible areas of interest. The view should also target courses that help in future endeavors and form building blocks, with other extra curricular professional activities, to fulfill career objectives. The fifth approach is to dedicate a course to professional and soft skills issues. Some schools handle these issues in a dedicated course and others as parts of classic courses. However, this is mostly at the undergraduate level. Very few schools require such a course at the graduate level. At the author’s school a mandatory graduate course is dedicated to soft skills and professional issues. In this course, graduate students are taught issues like life long learning and professional development importance, ethical dimensions, career dimensions, and effects, and technical communications8. Students’ knowledge and recognition of these issues, before and after the course, is usually surveyed in this course. It is surprising to see the huge width of the gap in knowledge and even recognition of these issues, between these two sets of students’ feedback. In general, there is a significant room for improvement in the undergraduate education of these engineers, when it comes to soft skills and professional issues12. Proceedings of the 2009 American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) – North Central Section (NCS) spring conference, Grand Rapids, MI. USA, Copyright © 2009 ASEE – NCS.
These are some of the approaches that can be applied to integrate continuous professional development in the practice of engineering starting at the engineers’ formation stages. The goal of these approaches and others is to help focus on the learning process and not only on the information learned. Teaching engineering students how to learn and extrapolate knowledge is as important as teaching them engineering fundamentals and tools. At this time, this is a survival skill. Managing CPD A healthy and successful career management plan should include CPD as a major activity. To optimize and fully benefit from CPD activities, the concept should be more than just an add-on activity. It should be an integral part of the practice that the engineer has been trained on staring in college. However, even if that training was not fully realized, CPD is so critical to the professional success of an engineer, that it should be integrated and closely managed during practice. To optimize and integrate CPD in the engineering career management plan, an approach analogous to the design project management approach is proposed. This approach consists of four basic stages: planning, execution, integration, and evaluation. The purpose is to manage CPD activities in a well thought plan and achieve maximum benefit to the professional and the clients. In addition, sub-objectives like filling a list or a resume that will satisfy an employer or the satisfying of registration requirements can still be achieved without being the main goal of the activities. The first stage in this approach is planning. In design projects, this is where constraints, specifications, and requirements are identified. This is the part requiring the professional to set goals followed by measurable objectives. Priorities, needs, and ambitions are characterized in these goals. Areas of interest or in need for improvement in the relevant career should be targeted. The main idea is to have a clear and practical plan to improve professionally. It is also important that some alternative paths and flexibility be built in the plan to accommodate any sudden changes in career. Once measurable objectives have been identified, the second pat can start. The second stage is execution. In this part, the objectives are put to work and appropriate learning opportunities and actions are identified, prioritized, timed, and then executed. This might be along the lines of joining a course or even going for a higher degree. Some programs and activities work for one professional but not the other. Any selected combination of choices should fulfill the objectives and the major plan goals. This part is analogous to executing and building in a design project. During this stage, some assessment should be conducted, which is analogous to design iterations. At the end of a CPD activity, an evaluation must be performed to match outcomes of the activity to desired objectives. This should direct any modifications to be implemented in the process. The third stage is integration, where acquired knowledge is implemented and turned into competency. This is the stage where most professionals either face difficulties, or ignore, because it forces them out of the comfort zone of the old ways. This is an extremely critical part because it contains the actual measurable contributions to career Proceedings of the 2009 American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) – North Central Section (NCS) spring conference, Grand Rapids, MI. USA, Copyright © 2009 ASEE – NCS.
advancement through professional development. The results of this part are mostly realistic and clear in the improvements of the practice of the profession. This is analogous to delivering and utilizing the product that was designed, which is the real end user test. However, the cycle does not stop here. Usually information is collected by the designers to improve the next version of the product. That is analogous to the fourth stage where evaluation of the success of the plan is carried out. Professional development and improved competency in the practice as well as career improvement are measured against the original set of goals and objectives in the plan. The results are assessed and modifications are made to the relevant part of the model to accommodate this input and other changes and visions. Then the cycle repeats and the process continues. Figure 1 shows the elements of the model and its interaction as compared to the steps in an engineering general design and build project.
Specifications Constraints Calculations
Testing and Running Evaluation
Figure 1 Flowchart depicting the analogy between the engineering design process (left), and the proposed CPD approach (right). Conclusion CPD is vital to the survival of engineers as well as the national economy. This has made it a requirement that might be mistakenly perceived as a burden by the engineering professionals. CPD is a professional and ethical requirement to practice engineering. Therefore, it should be part of engineering education and training, as well as career plans and practices. Many ideas and pedagogies can be used and combined with existing engineering courses to train students to be life long learners. For engineers that are already in the workforce, CPD should be part of their life and career, to continue and succeed professionally and globally. CPD can be approached as an engineering design project, which is a process that all engineers can understand. Careful planning and evaluation of CPD activities can help in their optimization and can bring maximum benefits to the professional engineer, the employer, and the clients. Proceedings of the 2009 American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) – North Central Section (NCS) spring conference, Grand Rapids, MI. USA, Copyright © 2009 ASEE – NCS.
National Academy of Engineering, "Educating The Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to The New Century,” National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2005. 2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07, Engineers," 2007, http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos027.htm. 3. Regets, M. 2006. July. What Do People Do After Earning a Science and Engineering Bachelor's Degree? National Science Foundation, NSF06-324 http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf06324/nsf06324.pdf, (7 Feb. 2007). 4. Harris, C, Pritchard, M. and Rabins, M., “Engineering Ethics, Concepts and Cases,” Third edition, 2005, Thompson/Wadsworth, USA. 5. American Society of Civil Engineers. 2003. Change Takes Time: The History of Licensure and Continuing Profession Competency. American Academy of Water Resources Engineers (2003) http://www.aawre.org/files/pdf/HistoryLicensureCPC.pdf (11 Apr. 2007). 6. National Society of Professional Engineers, “NSPE code of ethics,” revised in July 2007. http://www.nspe.org/ethics/eh1-code.asp. 7. Kramer, Ari. Continuing education gets continued funding. Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle). April 15th, 2007. http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/stories/2002/08/12/focus.html. 8. Barakat N., Upgrading Engineering Graduates for a World Class Practice,” Proceedings of the ASEE-NCS conference, Charleston, WV, March 2007. 9. ABET (2007-2008), Criteria for Accreditation of Engineering Programs, http://www.ABET.org/criteria.html. 10. Egon Moesby, Curriculum Development for Project-Oriented and Problem-Based Learning (POPBL) with Emphasis on Personal Skills and Abilities, Global J. of Engineering Education, Vol.9, No.2 © 2005 UICEE, Published in Australia. 11. Barakat N., and H. Jack, “A Hands-On Approach in Teaching Dynamic Systems Modeling And Control,” IMECE, ASME – WAM, Nov. 2006, Chicago, IL. 12. Barakat N., Professional and Soft Skills for Engineering Graduate Students, Proceedings of the ASME IMECE conference, Nov. 2007. Seattle, WA.
Proceedings of the 2009 American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) – North Central Section (NCS) spring conference, Grand Rapids, MI. USA, Copyright © 2009 ASEE – NCS.