Today, we have advanced tools and technology like CAD software and rapid prototyping that have accelerated how quickly engineers can bring their ideas to life.
Because these technologies are evolving at a rapid pace, the days of “once and done” training is no longer enough to maintain proficiency with the tools - much less stay competitive with increased rates of innovation in product design and development.
Staying current and making the most of the tools and technology available means implementing new ways of learning. The evolution of training is an ongoing skills development program, scheduled into engineers’ work week.
Here is a look at how engineers have learned through the ages and the new paradigm that engineers and educators are working on to make the new normal.
Inventing the Wheel
Inventing the wheel is a good place to begin the practice of engineering. These first engineers were self-taught. No doubt like current practitioners, they were persistent, using trial and error to help them get a working test model into production. Observation and luck also had their place in the process, as they do now.
Learning in the Middle Ages
The next set of engineers learned on the job. Young people who liked to tinker were apprenticed to builders and blacksmiths. During the Middle Ages, they learned while building town walls and cathedrals and making ploughs and hardware.
The word engineer came into use in the 1300s, meaning “one who operates engines.” Back then, this meant war materiel, including siege engines like catapults. One set of engineers built the city walls and another came up with ways to tear them down.
The First Engineering Schools
France started the first formal engineering school in the 1800s, though most still learned by apprenticeship. In the United States the first was at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1802, with the start of the Corps of Engineers.
In the following decades, engineering specialties developed their own curriculums, usually four or five years in length. Advanced degrees became popular. In general, students majored in engineering, got a job and kept up on new advances through trade magazines, networking and occasional workshops.
Dealing with Change
This method of learning worked for hundreds of years, through the 1800s and well into the 1900s. Stunning gains were made throughout World War II by engineers trained in this manner. This type of curriculum produced engineers who put men on the moon.
However, things have changed since then. With the invention and then widespread use of personal computers, software and development tools began developing at an increased pace. The tools used for engineering and design have changed and while these new tools have brought tremendous benefits, they also make keeping on top of new capabilities difficult.
Computer-based learning solutions are now the most effective way to stay on top of today’s modern tools. An ongoing skills development program is essential to staying up-to-date with the latest capabilities and keeping pace with rapidly evolving tools.
Product development and the tools available to create great designs will continue to evolve. To stay competitive and relevant, using the most current tools and technology isn’t enough. Designers also need to be able to utilize the new capabilities that the tools provide, so continuous learning and proficiency methods is key.
Today’s powerful and rapidly improving software tools require online learning to keep pace with each new software release. The Stone Age is over. The products of the future will be created by the designers that keep pace with the new tools and technologies available to them.