The response of higher and technological education to changing patterns of employment

Heywood, J. (2012) The response of higher and technological education to changing patterns of employment. [Conference Proceedings]


Educational policy making is seldom discussed at meetings of engineering educators except in so far as they relate to implementation, as for example the response to ABET 2000 or the Bologna Agreement. It is widely believed among engineering educators that there is a continuing shortage of highly qualified engineers and scientists. Public acceptance of this view ensures continued high levels of funding. Coupled to this axiom is the supply side view that an insufficient number of quality candidates are emerging from the schools as candidates for STEM courses. Such views are not confined to the United States but will be found in other industrialised nations. Relatively little attention is paid to the demand side of the equation. However, the data that is available challenges these axioms and suggests that while there may be specific shortages there is no general shortage. It is noted that there are numbers of middle-aged engineers who are unemployed. It is also noted that technological innovation does not guarantee an increase in employment as in the past, and that in the extreme case technology may create a new technology without reference to the work force. Most complaints from employers about the products of higher education do not focus on their technical knowledge but on their failure to develop what in the UK have been called personal transferable skills. The implications of findings for educational policy makers are (1) that policy making should be undertaken from a systems perspective that embraces elementary education at one end of the spectrum and lifelong (permanent) education at the other: (2) that engineering educators together with industrialists should pay much more attention to lifelong education, and therefore in continuing professional development for engineers in both technical and personal dimensions: (3) that engineering educators should better prepare students with the skills of flexibility and adaptability required to cope with ever changing knowledge, that is personal transferable skills. These axioms are reinforced by a recent report from the National Governors Association in the US that from an evaluation of changing patterns of employment and skill demands, recommends that the states should pay much more attention to the needs of employers. In so doing the authors challenge the states to reduce the traditional emphasis on four-year liberal arts programmes and focus more on job (vocationally) oriented courses. There is a responsibility on those engaged in engineering literacy to consider how it might act as a bridge between these apparently opposing philosophies. © 2012 American Society for Engineering Education.

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