on February 23rd, 2010

Dear Colleagues

A useful chapter on Training with Impact

Get your advance copy of a chapter on Training with Impact from our forthcoming book on Presentation and Instructing Skills for Engineering Professionals – refer to the end of this newsletter.

Engineering Learning Heroes

I am always amazed by the incredible energy put in by especially young tradespeople, technicians and engineers in furthering their studies in their own time. (And I am not referring to the courses that allow them a couple of days away from work, at their employers’ expense). Your jobs today are arduous and challenging; requiring longer hours than ever before. When I see many of you going home after a hard day, spending some time with your family and then launching into two or three hours (often longer) of dedicated study to achieve some qualification, my jaw drops in admiration.

Most of us, in the meantime, get home, lounge around with family and then slump in front of the computer reading some news, watching TV or reading a book. For many people in the past the traditional approach to upgrading skills was via night school attendance. Many famous engineers and managers have gained their skills this way. It was (and can still be), however, quite time-consuming, inflexible and unforgiving.

Today, further study can be considerably more affordable, flexible and interesting – with live instructors and interaction via the internet (directly to your desk) using video and web conferencing techniques. In real time, you study, work and collaborate with colleagues from all over the world. This can range from studying projects to testing software programs – in much the same way that you would in the classroom. The difference these days is that you are at home and the instructor and your colleagues often thousands of kilometres away. The important point is that even here the technology is merely an enabler. You still have to be determined to learn, with the aid of your experienced and capable instructors and to study with supportive and interesting peers.

A recent survey (IChemE), shows that most graduating engineers immediately recommence some form of study or training. And, an associated study showed that further study is good for your bank balance. We are not talking about learning potentially useless theoretical stuff – engineering professionals are unlikely to compromise their time at study learning material that is not relevant to real-world situations. These students do not tolerate substandard instructors and demand the best materials – a 21 yo instructor, studying towards a PhD (as in some prestigious universities), for example, is simply not going to pass muster. Furthermore, all theory has to be tightly linked to best practice.

One of the greatest investments in your life, after all, must surely be the improvement of your expertise and skills. Initially, the commitment to learning does require discipline, but over time a habit is formed which locks it into place. For many students learning is not only a new experience, but potentially painful as it is not passive – requiring an active commitment (like physical exercise, where you have to stretch and constantly challenge yourself – “No pain no gain”, as my coach says). It is all good muscle work for our brains though – keeping us thinking sharper for longer into old age. Further study is a way of refining your knowledge and expertise, ensuring you can bring back new techniques and approaches to your work which improve productivity and safety and make your firm more competitive. It need not be a degree or diploma – it could be a short course or something useful you have designed yourself (based on a book or software package eg. AutoCAD or some other design software you have always wanted to master).

Running an engineering distance learning college (the Engineering Institute of Technology), our team here gets confronted with the daily problems that our hardworking students face. These range from being called out to site unexpectedly, to starting a major project requiring significant travel, to the commitment to continue studying despite retrenchment. A student today, for example, contacted a staff member from his hospital bed, having suffered an accident, requesting an extension to an assignment submission date. Despite the tyrannies of distance (students are located in all corners of the world including; the most northern parts of the UK, the hot deserts of Namibia, off-shore platforms and even one on an island off chilly Antarctica) all are working hard to improve their knowledge and skills and as a consequence generating an incredible level of intellectual activity. They are not merely slumped in classrooms listening to lecturers drone on; they are engineering professionals working hard at the coal face and improving themselves with further study.

We have a surprising number of engineers in their seventies and eighties studying further. They are semi-retired, but wanting to keep abreast of new technologies such as SCADA and data communications. I admire my 83 yo father-in-law, for example, who is still passionately and knowledgeably lecturing on courses at the local university. It keeps him active, inspired and happy and he has to continue to study to ensure he is prepared and remains at the top of his game.

In the quiet of the morning, before works starts, I spend an hour each day on self-improvement type study – going through a program of engineering enhancement according to a program I devised at the beginning of the year. It is not painful, however, quite peaceful actually – it has involved the researching and then the writing of a book – grindingly slowly, I might add – but by June (according to ‘ze master plan’) this task will be completed and I will move onto other study.

A few useful tips on further engineering study: No two people study the same way. So what works for one, won’t work for another – so these suggestions should be seen in this light.

There are no magic formulas, but practice does make for perfection.

* Develop a study schedule. Think through it carefully and then stick to it. Ensure you have plenty of personal time with family and friends outside of this time.

* Study when you are rested and fully charged – not when you are completely out of whack and exhausted.

* Go into a study period with determination and fire and fury. Give it everything for a maximum of 30 to 40 minutes and then take an active break.

* Ensure there are no distractions where you study, but ensure it is not sleep-inducing either.

* Develop good thinking skills. Learn from others who think laterally, creatively and are great at problem solving. Practise these skills.

* Think of the SQ3RP method for study:

* Survey (get an overall picture of what you are about to study)

* Question (what you are learning)

* Read (as you are reading, question and agonize over all the materials including the tables and figures)

* Recite (try and recall each section that you have learnt)

* Review (survey what you have covered and try and gain an overall understanding of what you have covered)

* Problem Solve the assignments related to what you have just covered. This is where the “rubber hits the road” and you test your new found knowledge out and reinforce it – preferably with some classmates.

* Read with purpose. Simply reading a section of notes is no guarantee that you have actually absorbed it. Check that you have understood the section. Test yourself.

* The Main idea is the focus. Try and identify the author’s key thought in each paragraph.

* Cut to the chase by extracting the details of each section and rewording it in your own context and experience

* Engage in keeping legible and logical notes of the work you are studying.

* Use a highlighter when reading your texts to point out the critical stuff (do not underline).

And finally remember – at the risk of sounding mercenary – don’t forget that quality further study is good for your bank balance and it improves your marketability. Finally (and I know this sounds crazy), study can be fun – you are improving yourself with your own efforts. I call everyone who invests in a study program, engineering learning heroes and respectfully salute them.

Training with Impact book chapter

Click http://idc-online.com/papers/Training_with_Impact.pdf  to download your copy of Training with Impact. This chapter (an extract from our handbook on Best Practice in Presentations and Training) will give you some useful suggestions on giving outstanding training.

As the Father of Quality Control, W. Edwards Deming remarked wryly about further study: “Learning is not compulsory…. neither is survival.”

Yours in engineering learning


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