Training Recent Graduates

an Editorial by Milo S. Ketchum, Editor
Structural Engineering Practice - Volume 2, Number 2, 1983

We all seem to agree that the recent graduates we hire for structural offices, are not well trained for our work, and that we do not get our money's worth for a considerable length of time. As I have discussed in an earlier editorial, most of the new graduates available are trained as civil rather than as structural engineers. The exception seems to be the products of those few schools that teach architectural engineering, but many of their graduates go to HVAC firms. Civil graduates do not get the training we need, not just in theory, but also in basic design skills that should be furnished in school. A few examples are given as follows:

  1. Training in graphics. Civil graduates are virtual graphic illiterates. It is not that as engineers they are expected to do extensive drawing, but that they do not have the ability to visualize the details of structural elements or systems. Look at the lettering on the calculations that are prepared by some of the recent graduates.

  2. A thorough understanding of steel and concrete design. There are some Departments of Civil Engineering that may have only a single course in each of these subjects. The potential structural engineers are mixed in with the rest of the civils that have a very low interest in structures and are only taking the course to get it out of the way. The AISC is trying to address this problem but it is so deep?seated that a practical solution will not be obtained without a complete revision of our engineering educational system.

  3. Timber design and prestressed concrete design. Even the rudiments would be helpful.

And so we could go on and on.

Some firms will not hire recent graduates and expect to find trained engineers when they need them. However, there is a catch in this: an engineer trained in another office may not conform to your standards and may have to unlearn much of what he has already learned. If you can do your own training, then you know what to expect from your employees, and you will have more confidence in their performance and judgment.

Would it be economically feasible to put recent graduates through a training course? The question cannot be answered without study and experimentation. This will entail an investment in time of the principals engaged in the study.

What would comprise such training and how long should it take? what should we expect to invest, and what would be the rewards? Would we be alienating employees? There are many questions to be answered. Here are some thoughts:

  1. The training period should be short with the object of identifying the deficiencies of the new graduate. Then you will know his capabilities and he will know what he has to work on to come up to your standards.

  2. An early step would be to have him take a general test to determine his strengths and weaknesses in a number of fields. The examination should not be a pass?fail, and should not be graded. It should not be too detailed but should have many conceptual questions will show how he approaches problems, and should test his knowledge of structural systems as well as structural elements.

  3. His drawing capabilities should also be investigated so they can be brought up to a minimum standard. This might take from several weeks for a poor drafter to immediate qualification for an experienced drafter. Any test should include free hand sketching of structural elements and systems. This period, as a by product, could serve to establish better office standards in drawing and lettering.

  4. After the examination is taken, a series of design problems could be given that are increasing in complexity. As soon as each problem is completed, the results should be compared with an example which is in agreement with office standards and has been prepared by an experienced engineer. The format of these typical calculations should be studied thoroughly so they require the optimum amount of work, result in the maximum readability, and can be checked easily. This exercise has another advantage in that it serves to establish a set of office standards that will improve the calculations for all engineers in the office.

  5. It would be advisable to run these training periods with only one employee at a time so several new employees will not compare notes and so will not compete with each other. This will require that the training should not need constant supervision from the engineering staff. The results should be confidential and be available only to the employee and to his immediate supervisor, and must not be common knowledge in the office. The employee should be competing with himself.

  6. After these sessions, instruction should be given in the use of the computers available to the office by means of a series of simple problems to solve. He should be given a model to follow in how to prepare input and how to interpret the results. There could be some hidden catches in some of the problems to see if he can detect gross errors. It has been my experience that a lot of time is wasted by engineers in learning to use the computer without any real instruction except the documentation for the program. Each program seems to be entirely different in the way it is interpreted. while this training is taking place, the programming skills of the engineers should be evaluated in case they are needed for later use.

  7. Other interests and skills should be identified at this time, such as advanced analysis capabilities and knowledge of construction and construction costs.

This is, perhaps, an ambitious program and will generate management costs in preparation and supervision as well as costs for the otherwise productive time of the new employee. Therefore the time period should not be longer than two or three weeks. This represents about four percent of the employees time during the year. It would seem to me that the efficiency of the new graduate could be raised by at least this percentage for the rest of the year and so should be feasible to undertake. Also the program should help to improve the methods of the entire staff.

Ultimately the decision to embark on this kind of program will depend on the type of office. If you run a tight ship, then such a program may appeal to you.

Milo S. Ketchum

This page has taken   no  hits.