What’s Happening to Our Freshout Engineers?


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This presentation describes the results of an exploratory study investigating the work that newly graduated and hired "freshout" engineers perform in the workplace. The study investigates:
* The tasks that freshouts perform successfully and unsuccessfully on the job.
* The consequences of nonperformance.
* The root causes of nonperformance.

This study was funded by the National Science foundation.

Portions of this material are based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1037808.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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  • In 2012, the U.S. graduated 62K engineers from its colleges and universitiesPaid them $62K annually. Industry slang calls these newly graduated and hired engineers “freshouts.”Took them 6 months to 5 years to come up to speed.How decrease rampup time for these freshouts?If you’re an engineer trying to answer a question like this, youSpecify the problemDetermine its root causesTake corrective actionIf you’re a performance improvement person, youConduct an environmental scan, gap analysis, and organizational analysis.Conduct a cause analysisSelect, design, develop solutionsThank you for your interest in our efforts to apply performance improvement to engineer better engineers!
  • Amy, Tony, and I welcome you to this sessionYou can download slides here, SlideShare, and on the conference app.
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) has funded this exploratory work.This is the project team.
  • Spinks conducted interviews and administered a survey. He found that employers in the UK ware “neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with their ability to recruit appropriately skilled engineering graduates from UK universities.2Hoey and Gardner surveyed North Carolina State alumni and their employers. Alums rated their university preparation for the workplace lower than their employers. Better at technical skills than others.Jonassen and colleagues found that the problems that appear in engineering texts have little to do with those that engineers tackle in the workplace.Grant and Dickson worked instigated the preparation of chemical engineers in the UK. Of 26 skills required for the workplace, graduates rated their preparation for 24 as insufficient.Korte, Sheppard and colleagues were part of a big NSF study looking at engineering practice in universities and in the workplace. In this study, they looked at the socialization of freshout engineers, noting that freshouts spent a lot of time coming up to speed on engineering processes in the workplace that differed from those in school. Workplace involved greater complexity, ambiguity, and subjectivity.Trevelyan and colleagues have been investigating novice engineers and their workplace readiness in Australia and Asia. In one study, they investigated a cohort of almost 200 graduating engineers as they made their way into the workplace. Based on interviews, they identified 10 major competencies and 85 corresponding practices. Of them, freshouts spent 60% of time coordinating.ABET is the accrediting body for engineering colleges. Passow looked at the ABET accreditation criteria that graduates found most useful in the workplace. They rated teaming, data analysis, problem solving, and communications between Quite and extremely important.
  • In a UK study, Spinks compared undergraduate education requirements to the needs of the engineering industry. Many graduate engineers are likely to find themselves in roles which do not necessarily involve hands-on specialist engineering.Korte and colleagues found a lot more ambiguity in real-world engineering. What new engineers perceived and learned about engineering work depended their interactions with coworkers in their work groups. Morgan and Gorman reported that engineering firms are hiring for a broader skill set. They note it’s hard to pack business acumen, managerial know-how, communication skills and team-working ability into an already packed curriculum. Anderson and colleagues investigated misalignment between engineering education and professional practice. Report that curricula in high school and college give students an incomplete picture of engineering work and what engineers do and often do not develop the full skill set needed to successfully execute increasingly complex, interdisciplinary, and international projects in the engineering workplace. Effective engineers value communication, problem-solving, teamwork, ethics, life-long learning, and business skills. Many of them note that their undergraduate education did not always prepare them well in these areasDuderstadt: “we are attempting to educate 21st-century engineers with a 2Oth-century curriculum taught in 19th-century institutions.Winters and colleagues looked from freshman past graduation. Over time, communication skills generally increased in importance while teamwork skills decreased.
  • LONG LIVEDIn the past, it was onboarding. A day or a week of boring and often useless stuff. Few useful gems buried in minutiae. That’s changing as organizations want improve recruitment, streamline time to competence, and retain expensive new assets.Dai & De Meuse contend onboarding is about Performance Proficiency, people/relationships, politics, language/communication, organizational vision and values, history/traditions/customs.Bradt & Vonnegut have a book on this topic.Roethle completed a thesis using a meta-analysis to investigate effective onboarding in small engineering companies and then created an onboarding process guideline.Jones describes virtual onboarding.SUPPORTMontesano reported that one-third of employers are not providing formal orientation programs.Korte & Lim claim onboarding, orientation, and socialization are synonymous. It’s about newbies fitting into organizational and organizations adjusting to the newbies. Onboarding is learning about and integrating into the social networks that make up the workplace. Driven by quality of relationships with managers and co-workers.
  • What’s Happening to Our Freshout Engineers?

    1. 1. What’s Happening to Our “Freshout” Engineers? https://sites.googboisestate.edu/faculty/sv illachica.htmle.com/a/boisestate.edu/ieeci/ e2r2p 2  Steven W. Villachica  Anthony W. Marker  Donald Plumlee  Amy Chegash Project Worldwide Out of the Box
    2. 2. Engineering Education Research to Practice (E2R2P) Portions of this material are based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1037808. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The Research Team Don Plumlee, PhD. Steve Villachica, PhD. Tony Marker , PhD. Linda Huglin, PhD. Drew Borreson Shannon Rist Amy Chegash Lorece Stanton Jessica Scheufler 3 Business Plan • Ray Svenson
    3. 3. Agenda Share our exploratory research Ask for your help interpreting the data we’ve collected Dialog, not an information dump Wrap up 4
    4. 4. Why Should You Care? Engineers create a lot of the stuff we use. Universities can’t mint them fast enough. 64% engineering employers are “somewhat satisfied” with quality of new hires. (Spinks, 2006; Trevelyan & Tilli, 2008; Trevelyan, 2010; Blom & Sakei, 2011) Professional skills for the engineering workplace include teamwork, communication, coordination, data analysis and problem solving. (Hoey & Gardner, 1999; Jonassen et al., 2006; Grant & Dickson, 2006; Korte, Sheppard, & Jordan, 2008; Trevelyan, 2007, 2008; Anderson et al., 2011; Passow, 2012; ASEE & NSF, 2013) 5
    5. 5. Research Design What sort of engineers do engineering firms REALLY want to hire? Boundary Crossing Competencies Communication, teamwork, networks, critical thinking, global understanding, perspective, organizational culture, project management, etc. Many Disciplines Many Systems Deepatleastonediscipline Deepatleastonesystem (c.f. Brown, 2005; Spohrer, 2010; ASEE & NSF, 2013) 6 ME
    6. 6. Research Design Decrease Ramp-up Time to Competent Job Performance in the Engineering Workplace Research Questions • What are newly graduated and hired “fresh out” engineers doing/not doing in the workplace that they should? • What are the consequences of performance/non-performance in the workplace? • What are the root causes of workplace nonperformance? Mixed Design: Focus Groups & Surveys • Engineering managers, engineering leads, HR personnel, and technical scientists who work with fresh out engineers • Fresh out engineers • Professional engineering organizations 7
    7. 7. Actual Competency New Task/Project Leave University/Enter Workforce Literature Review 8 Desired Competency Promotion! Performance Time Company Costs $ Training $ Errors $ Mentoring $ Salary $ Opportunity $ Other projects $ Others? {REDUCE CO$T • Improve Starting Skills • Change Performance Curve • Make Boundaries Porous }
    8. 8. Literature Review There is a significant disconnect between engineering education and engineering practice. (Bucciarelli & Kuhn, 1997; NAE, 2005; Jonassen et al., 2006; Spinks et al., 2006; Korte et al., 2008; Trevelyan, 2008, 2010; McCrohon & Gibson, 2009; Sheppard et al., 2009; Morgan & O’Gorman, 2010; Anderson et al., 2009, 2010; Duderstadt, 2010; Stump et al., 2011; ASEE & NSF, 2013; Winters et al., 2013) 9
    9. 9. Literature Review The time for freshout engineers to fit into their jobs and perform them competently is a significant workplace cost. 2 to 5 years ramp-up. (Trevelyan & Tilli, 2008; Jonassen et al., 2006) Socialization and onboarding are long-lived. (Dai & De Meuse, 2007; Bradt & Vonnegut, 2009; Roethle, 2012; Jones, 2013) The engineering workplace supports socialization and onboarding variably well. (Montesano, 2007; Roethle , 2012; Korte & Lin, 2013) Bad onboarding is co$tly. (Ramlall, 2004; Rollag et al., 2005; Snell, 2006; Kowtha, 2008; Lindo, 2010; Roethle, 2012; Korte & Lin, 2013) 10
    10. 10. Literature Review Academics, industry, and government agencies own this shared problem, and it requires a systemic solution. Unfortunately, we know little about Engineering practice for freshout engineers. (Kowtha, 2008; Trevelyan, 2007, 2008; Brunhaver et al., 2010, in press; Winters et al., 2013) What freshout engineers do successfully and unsuccessfully in the workplace. (Trevelyan & Tilli, 2008; Trevelyan ,2008, 2009) Barriers to desired workplace performance. (Korte et al., 2008; Atman et al., 2010; Brunhaver et al., 2010, in press; Anderson et al., 2010) E2R2P is an opportunity to collaborate systemically to decrease ramp-up time to competent performance. 11
    11. 11. Thanks to Our Professional and Industry Sponsors! Practicing engineers at ISPE BSU COEN Advisory Council Focus Groups at local engineering firms 12
    12. 12. Method Practicing Engineer Survey Short survey measuring: Types of work assigned to freshouts. Typical time to competence Costs and risks that organizations incur when freshouts can’t perform to standards Typical project organization for groups of engineers Organizational support for freshouts ISPE (2012), n = 23 13
    13. 13. Time to Competency for "Fresh-Outs" (in months) 2 3 4 4 10 Six to Nine Ten to Twelve Thirteen to Sixteen Seventeen to Twenty-Four More than Twenty-Four 14
    14. 14. Typical Assignment Size 2 2 6 2 Design Analysis Drawing Drafts Project Management Large/Complex Projects 19 14 19 3 Design Analysis Drawing Drafts Project Management Small/Simple Projects 15
    15. 15. Organizational Support 9 8 15 11 20 10 3 Formal Training Formal Mentoring Informal Mentoring Orientation Performance Feedback SOPs Other 16
    16. 16. Method Focus Groups Collect Incidents Generate Categories Negotiate Categories Group Incidents under Categories Select Incidents of Non-performance Group Incidents Under a Root CauseRank Categories 17 Critical Incident Technique (Flanagan, 1954) NominalGroupTechnique (Delpetal.,1975) Cause Analysis
    17. 17. Collect Incidents Critical Incident Technique (Flanagan, 1954) 18
    18. 18. Focus Group Results Performance Categories Category Unsuccessful Successful Communication 9 8 Technical Fundamentals 3 11 Business Systems 5 7 Design 5 6 Motivation 6 5 Problem Solving 6 5 Initiative 2 8 Positive Attitude 3 4 Work Ethic 2 5 Circuit Debug 3 3 Freshout-Defined Categories n = 10 Competency Unsuccessful Successful Design 14 18 Communication 18 10 Analysis 10 14 Motivation 8 10 Technical Fundamentals 3 12 Problem Solving 7 6 Software 3 10 Business Systems 5 7 Initiative 2 8 Leadership 4 5 Process Knowledge 4 3 Positive Attitude 3 4 Manager-Defined Categories n = 20 19
    19. 19. Focus Group Results Consequences Successful Performance Consequences # of Events Met Schedule 19 Freed up Senior Staff 18 Saved Resources 18 Improved Processes 15 Developed New Tool 14 Developed Skill / Knowledge 12 Saved Time 12 Gained Client Confidence 10 Gained Employer Confidence 10 Stayed Within Budget 7 Increased Productivity 6 Unsuccessful Performance Consequences # of Events Lost Time 34 Rework 22 Additional Staff Support 17 Missed Deadline 12 Increased Costs 10 Wasted Budget 8 Lost Employer Confidence 5 Stressed Staff 5 Job Unfinished 4 Lost Client Confidence 4 Exceeded Budget 3 20 Aggregated Freshout and Management Events
    20. 20. Categories, Activities and Consequences Top-Ranked Categories Source Activity Consequence 1. Communication / Teamwork Freshout “The first time I had to write up an engineering report--I struggled doing it. I never had to submit something to IDQ before, and I wasn’t confident” “It just took me a lot of my personal time and a senior had to review it and it wasn’t good.” 2. Skill Develop- ment / Learning Freshout “I observed a lot of nuclear test procedures and started evolutions on board and naval vessels so after you learned we went out to the vessels and basically were like buddy buddy with a qualified test engineer to learn the procedures and observe what was going on…” “I think I was pretty successful. You had to regurgitate what you learned. You had a qualification check off sheet and so you’d have to go back with that test engineer and regurgitate what you saw and how you thought the procedure went then he would sign off your sheet and you’d go on to the next.” 3. Work Ethic Manager “We had a junior engineer. I think he had only been here a couple of weeks. Got him onto a team for ongoing projects and gave him minimal amount of direction…” “…He immediately started contributing more than I think any of us envisioned…within a few days he was coordinating with several other staff inside and outside our company.” 4. Business Systems / Processes Freshout “I didn’t consider that activity [resolving drawing issues] successful because I was not aware or did not have enough knowledge about manufacturing processes in general to really be effective and resolve those issues in a short time span. It took me a lot longer than it could have...” “As a result it there were a lot of late deliveries to those revisions and caused us to do multiple rework and multiple parts…” 21
    21. 21. Categories, Activities and Consequences (con’t) 22 Top-Ranked Categories Source Activity Consequence 5. Problem Solving Manager “There was an issue that was found on the floor and it was in the CAB. The CAB group lead came to this person [the new engineer] and asked him to go figure out what the problem was.” “That person went out there, they figured it out, they investigated it…found out that it was in fact a design error, and they went and took care of it…ended up fixing the design error correctly…It allowed production to keep going and we had minimal down time” 6. Analysis Freshout “The engineer that was doing it [analysis] had a lot going on. Field work and stuff so [he]… passed it off to me. “ The biggest impact was probably time and cost for doing it slower than he was or would’ve and … a couple hours of coaching…So there was a learning curve to it..” 7. Technical Fundamentals Manager “…basically he [the new engineer] didn’t know how to use the software and didn’t have the general, multiple CAD system-type training. “He was focused all on one CAD software when he was in school and so although he could model in 3-D, he couldn't psych out how this software thought and how it behaved and that it was different than what he had done before…” 8. Design Manager “I had a young engineer who was tasked with developing a draw bar for semi trailers.” “He [the new engineer] was able to, in about a four-month period, generate a single CAD model that could then be driven through a family table to automatically generate new designs and drawings. He took a typically 8 hour to 12-hour project down to 30 minutes. The impact was huge.”
    22. 22. Categories, Activities and Consequences (con’t) 23 Top-Ranked Categories Source Activity Consequence 9. Software Freshout “We had switched over to this other software and for 9 months I don’t think we produced any usable products. “ “.Literally everything we did in the software for six months was never used. It was never useable. Had to be trashed. It was an extremely frustrating part of my career. “ 11. Leadership [When I joined the design team] “I was immediately put in charge of an entire CAB design for one of our contracts. Essentially what that entails is facilitating the whole design process.” “I don’t feel like I was ill prepared to do that.”
    23. 23. Root Cause Analysis Instrumentation • Data • Expectations • Feedback • Standard Operating Procedures • Resources • Software • Tools • Support • Incentives • Rewards • Consequences • Knowledge • Skills • Physical Capacity • Mental Capacity • Flexibility • Resilience • Motives • Affect • Work Habits • Drive ENVIRONMENTPERSON INFORMATION TOOLS MOTIVATION 24
    24. 24. Root Cause Analysis Results 10 20 24 8 11 Managers Information Tools Incentives Knolwedge Capacity Motivation 6 7 0 22 1 2 Freshouts 25
    25. 25. Root Cause Analysis Results 16 9 0 46 8 13 Combined Information Tools Incentives Knolwedge Capacity Motivation 35% 29% 11% 11% 8% 6% Dean (1997) 26
    26. 26. Limitations Validity and reliability of the Practicing Engineer Survey is unknown. Small exploratory study using a convenience sample of local engineering firms. No post-focus group data checking with participants and their company sponsors (managers). 27
    27. 27. Conclusions Decreasing time to engineering workplace competency is a shared problem. Freshout engineers are variably prepared to enter the workplace. The engineering workplace supports freshout performance variably well. Socialization and onboarding involves a lot of self-reported learning. We don’t know about the extent to which fixing the workplace environment and introducing it to students sooner would decrease ramp-up time. 28
    28. 28. Next Steps Seek funding to expand research. – Include other engineering populations. – Regional, national, or international sample. – Scale up and automate processes. Investigate research questions about: – Blurring traditional academic and industry boundaries. – The extent to which a smarter workplace environment introduced in academics could decrease ramp-up time. Create a collaborative venue to decrease ramp-up time. 29
    29. 29. Summary Research questions and importance Literature review Method Results Limitations Conclusions 30 What are your lessons learned? How might you apply them back on the job?
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