April 26, 2010 — Vol. 3, Issue 4
Lifelong Learning Imperative in Engineering
Support for lifelong learning opportunities in engineering is a shared responsibility, according to a National Academy of Engineering workshop.
Engineering is a lifelong learning profession. It is about "not fixing something that is wrong, but enhancing and strengthening what is good," wrote a panel that studied lifelong learning for the National Academy of Engineering
. The panel convened to discuss revamping the current outdated framework for the continuing education of engineers.
Obstacles to lifelong learning for engineers include keeping up with the rapid pace of technology development, the conflict between employers and lifelong education providers, and support and leadership of continued education efforts. The report noted several examples of the need for continuous learning: half of what is learned in an undergraduate's first year is outdated by his or her third year; the top jobs in demand in 2010 did not exist in 2004; and engineers change jobs every 4 to 5 years.
Employers are also reluctant to offer and support lifelong learning opportunities for fear of losing the employees after making significant investments in them. According to the panel, this thinking needs to change. As one panelist pointed out, why would an employer choose not to educate his employees to keep them in the company?
The workshop called for a combined effort among academia, industry, government, and professional societies. These four entities must work together to free engineers from the current tensions between employers and education providers. The panel also noted that the engineering field must prepare for an increase in online education opportunities. Ultimately, the panel seeks to redefine what lifelong learning means in terms of bettering the nation’s global competitiveness.
The workshop concluded with the recommendation for continued discussion, and welcomes input
concerning the issues the panel addressed.
Read the report.