How to cultivate new hires

I often think about the tools and tips I am using to encourage the technical and professuinal growth of the young engineers we hire. I have found and used many (often with the help of great folks like yourselves!)

Over the past few interns, I am accepting the reality that the resources I think are relevant are obviously NOT as relevant than I thought. You can point fingers at me and shout white male privilege at me and I will Agree, but we have to move past that, to solutions. The engineering discipline will falter if a generation enters having no mechanical skill.

They read few books. They have not spent time in workshops. My introductions to “common” shop tools is their first exposure to them at 23 years old. Last month I had to explain what a relay is to a guy with a Masters in ME.

When I was 14 years old I was soldering relays and CMOS logic modules to PCBs. I can’t relate to these people I am supposed to teach.

I am crying for help here, to begin working on a new approach to cultivating new recruits, hired out of university.

  • how to frame the problem, fairly
  • what skills I should start with
  • where to back off my expectations
  • where to stand firm on things they should know

Maybe the university is the problem. I see undergraduates building projects in Lego.

Nobody in my year expected labs to be FUN. (they were, but often only in some masochistic fashion).

Is your problem finding recruits, keeping them, or teaching them everything they should have learned at university?

I’m with @GregLocock. The problem is likely the university. If you line up a dozen interns, I could easily pick out which ones went to which (state) university. I’ll hire interns from one of the universities, but I won’t convert them to a full-time employee. They are generally useless when it comes to real-world problem solving, design, or engineering.

Universities have brought on the “fun” approach to try to recruit more people into the profession. The problem is, the people with the fun mindset that are only there because it is fun, don’t have the right stuff to handle all the other aspects of engineering. It’s not always fun. While universities are doing a great job increasing the number of diverse people entering the field, they are doing a disservice by not washing out the ones that shouldn’t be in it - leaving the employers to do it instead.

What a waste of time for the student who could have spent those 4 years and all that money on a more fulfilling career.

To some degree I could point at the university, for enrolling students not having a specific interest in Eng and rather just fitting them to a profile based on high school marks.

There are many other differences that seem to eliminate any hands on work from peoples’ lives, whatever their origin. No interest, no reason to take an interest. But I just can’t see how engineering can be fulfilling without those interests.

Beyond that I want to disavow any resposibility. I would but it is still part of my job description. And I can’t help thinking that part of my frustration is that I haven’t hit on the right approach yet.

Pretty sure Lego Mindstorms is a side issue, or at most a symptom of the problem. Whether Lego, or tinkertoy, or wooden blocks, if Technology, seen as an important element of culture, is not part of the world you want to master, then engineering is not for you. If you are not so engaged by Technology that by 20 years old you havent read a trade journal, parts catalog, or car service manual, let alone DO these things, then what hope should you have for doing this as a career?

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I was picking on Cambridge because I went there. The nearest we had to a kit for labs was putting together, and adjusting until calibrated, an analog multimeter. That was a lot of blood sweat and tears for the people who had never soldered before, and also many more hours than the lab time allowed (we nominally had 16 hours a week of labs, in practice every afternoon and a bit of the evening was not unusual). I also had a machine shop and metal fab shop to play with.

The one thing I’ve noticed about generational disparity is the positive reinforcement. Younger generations need that dopamine hit after everything they do. They also over share (blame social media).

I don’t over praise the younger generation, but I subdivide their tasks into smaller bites. That way they can feel like they are accomplishing something useful and get that “hit” more often. I also set up easy ways for them to communicate: MS Teams, WhatsApp, text, Slack, etc. Whatever you can implement within your company to add additional lines of communication will help them. (Notice that email is not on that list.)

Like anyone, they don’t want to feel stupid and they don’t want to admit to being stupid by asking questions. It’s rare to find a recent grad willing to ask questions in a public setting. They prefer to find the answer themselves on YouTube. But if you create communication paths that are less formal - more conversational or self help - they’ll often use them and ask the right questions.

We know that Universities are not preparing engineering grads for the rigors of the real world. We have to train them on things they should have been taught. The trick is the method of training. Short videos, Wiki’s, self-help (aka internal Google), are all things that will bring them up to speed faster.

It’s not their capabilities or your expectations. It’s a different approach to training & mentoring.

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Thank you swertel, that is the perspective I am looking for.

In fact I have a few “how-to notes” for my own personal use, but maybe polishing them would be of service.

The comm channels exist, but the opportunity to use them may need encouragement.

Will consider this more…

Have you talked to the interns asked them for their thoughts on this matter? Do you have anyone younger than you that has experience mentoring (even if it’s outside the office) to ask for their thoughts?

Very few options in regard to other people with mentoring experience. Relevant mentoring, that is… most I know will always stay away, or are a generation farther than me.

I do speak to our interns about what they need. They too may be locked into certain expectations, like me. They each have different goals, so these answers and contexts turn out differently each time - I am not a master at drawing the line through these points to spot the trend.