On our way toward the engineer of the future

How to design the engineer of the future was the object of the workshop EF2009, which was held on November 12 at La Salle, in Barcelona.

The two keynotes given by Ms. Lueny Morell, How can engineering education address the challenges of the 21st century?, and Prof. David E. Goldberg, The missing basics: What engineers don’t know and why they don’t know them, were enlightening and inspiring, and an excellent starting point for professors, students, and engineers eager to take part in a new era for engineering. Both told their beautiful and encouraging story about change. Stories that took place in very different lands and under different circumstances, but with a common aim, implementing approaches to train the new generation of engineers, and with a common villain, the education Establishment.

A passionate Lueny Morell made an impressive show and captivated her audience. According to her experience, the change has to come from professors. Their role is to take care of students, teach them how to face problems, stop punishing failure and help them to succeed by using innovative techniques.

Creativity, flexibility, communication, and leadership were mentioned many times along the workshop as the characteristics of the engineer of the future. This set of soft skills should be present in the engineering education program to provide the student with the capacity of questioning, labeling, modeling, decomposing, measuring, ideating, and communicating, skills that have been coined by Prof. Goldberg as “the missing basics”.

Nowadays, current engineers rush to MBAs to acquire these non-technical skills. Taking this kind of courses, however, is not a guarantee to be able to master them. In fact, in the panel debates, the most inspiring ideas came up from “the normal guy with no MBA”, Mr. Miguel Vidal. With fresh and creative comments, he pointed out demotivation as a recurrent trait of the present engineers, feeding the Prof. Goldberg’s proposal for, in his bottom-up change, recovering “the joy of engineering”.

Unfortunately, time run out and capacity of synthesis was not in the agenda. Nobody gave insight into how to teach and assess these skills, and questions such as how to awake these abilities in students and whether or not engineers of the past will be able to build the engineer of the future remained unanswered.