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Lifelong Learning Imperative in Engineering CONCLUSIONS The future of US competitiveness and growth can be enhanced by a robust lifelong learning system for engineers. Such a system would likely have many moving parts involving universities, industry, professional societies, and others and could be facilitated by appropriate government policy. New lifelong learning content and structure should take account of the needs of a diverse workforce (i.e., managerial and nonmanagerial, ethnic minorities and whites, men and women). At the 2011 workshop, more than 50 thought leaders from different engineer- ing fields and stakeholder groups considered possible steps to advance the goal of creating a robust lifelong learning infrastructure. The feedback and our analysis indicate that individual engineers must accept lifelong learning in many different forms as a natural part of their professional life and personal advancement. But, given the importance of lifelong learning to America’s future competitiveness, we also believe it is the responsibility of the leaders of the engineering world—in business, professional societies, higher education, and government—to begin the process of reshaping lifelong learning opportunities for engineers in the United States. Based on our assessment of the survey results and the intense discussions at the workshop, we suggest the following recommendations and urgent action items (in italics) for key stakeholders—businesses, professional engineering societies, educational institutions, and policymakers—to begin improving the quantity and quality of lifelong learning for engineers in the United States. FOR BUSINESSES Develop a learning culture. Engineers expect businesses (including SMEs) to play the leading role in developing a lifelong learning culture and providing lifelong learning oppor- tunities. Therefore, businesses should develop lifelong learning resources for engineering employees and incorporate lifelong learning metrics into employee performance reviews. Companies should recognize and support lifelong learning activities offered by professional societies and universities, and professional societies can in turn give special recognition to businesses that support and promote lifelong learning for their employees. Invest in lifelong learning for employees. Engineers should be expected to pursue lifelong learning opportunities, and businesses should do everything they can to make such a pursuit possible. In 12
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Lifelong Learning Imperative in Engineering particular, businesses should invest money and time in lifelong learning for their engineers as a regular expense, and partner with academic institutions and pro- fessional societies to develop lifelong learning programs for their engineers. In addition, businesses should promote Section 127 of the federal tax code, which allows employees to deduct up to $5,250 of their income for educational pur- poses each year. F O R P R O F E S S I O N A L E N G I N E E R I N G S O C I ET I E S Emphasize the urgency of the need to change the culture of lifelong learning among engineers in the United States. The National Academy of Engineering (NAE), in partnership with professional societies with broad national reach such as IEEE, ASCE, and ASME, should instigate and support efforts to develop new lifelong learning paradigms and possibilities. For example, they can provide forums for collaboration among businesses, educational institutions, and professional societies in identifying life- long learning goals and best practices. Furthermore, because addressing lifelong learning is an important aspect of restructuring engineering education for the 21st century, NAE needs to play a major leadership role in moving this agenda forward. Communicate the value of lifelong learning. Professional societies should lead the effort to make a clear, concise, and com- pelling case for the value of lifelong learning. In particular, they should develop a set of core messages that will form the basis of all communications about lifelong learning to engineers at all levels of education, experience, and expertise. They should also encourage all engineers to continually identify gaps in their skills and knowledge and devise personal educational plans. Develop cost-effective ways to disseminate lifelong learning programs. Professional engineering societies should be thought leaders of and advocates for lifelong learning for engineers. To fulfill this role, they should form local part- nerships with businesses and educators to develop lifelong learning opportunities for local engineers. Furthermore, as central organizations with large member- ships, professional societies can help develop and deliver lifelong learning con- tent that reflects the highest industry standards. Develop means of evaluating lifelong learning programs. As thought leaders of the profession, professional societies are well qualified to produce reliable evaluations of lifelong learning programs and should therefore develop criteria for measuring the content and outcomes of lifelong learning 13
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Lifelong Learning Imperative in Engineering programs. These criteria could then be used to guide the development and evaluation of all lifelong learning modules in a particular field. The Accred- itation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) should expand its role and, in collaboration with education institutions and businesses, develop mechanisms to accredit lifelong learning programs. FOR EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS Teach engineers that learning is a lifelong endeavor that is not limited to the classroom. Engineering professors must be at the forefront for setting the expectation that learning is not confined to courses related to obtaining a degree. They should . John Hennessey include messages about the importance and necessity of lifelong learning in every President undergraduate and graduate engineering course. To emphasize that formal Stanford University learning can take place beyond what is taught in classes, they should include a hands-on training component in every graduate and undergraduate engineering Academic degrees course. ABET accreditation of engineering programs should include their contri- should be only one bution to lifelong learning experiences for practicing engineers. part of engineering Develop a variety of lifelong learning programs. education. There should be dozens of In addition to traditional degree-oriented courses, engineering departments at ways to grow and educational institutions must develop different kinds of classes, seminars, and workshops with different time demands and delivery methods. To achieve this increase one’s goal, engineering deans should create academic committees devoted to develop- engineering ing a variety of courses for practicing engineers. Normal teaching responsibilities knowledge and skill. of engineering faculty should include such courses. Also, graduate deans and continuing education units should collaborate with engineering faculty to re- imagine postbaccalaureate knowledge acquisition needs and opportunities. FOR POLICYMAKERS Enact policies that encourage financial support for lifelong learning. High-level politicians in both political parties have stated their commitment to keeping the United States at the front of the global technology curve. The following actions can encourage engineers to engage in lifelong learning in support of that goal: (1) Extend Section 127 of the federal tax code, (2) Grant tax credits to engineers to help cover the cost of memberships in professional societies,15 and (3) Grant tax credits to businesses—especially SMEs—that sponsor lifelong learning for their engineering employees. 15 The current tax code allows these to be deducted only as a business expense. 14
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Lifelong Learning Imperative in Engineering Enact policies that provide regulatory support for lifelong learning. Federal policymakers should encourage agencies such as NSF, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense to work together to create programs for the support of lifelong learning. State governments should consider policies that facilitate lifelong learning for practicing engineers and work with community colleges and universities to develop lifelong learning modules that are not tied to earning a degree. ONE FINAL NOTE: It is not yet any organization’s role to initiate cooperation and/or coordinate efforts among stakeholders to improve the lifelong learning infrastructure for engineers. But this is not a task to be put off in hopes that some other stakeholder will address it. We hope that the engineering societies, with the strong backing of the NAE, will take action to “get the ball rolling,” because doing nothing could have serious consequences for the United States’ capacity to stay at the forefront of innovation and remain globally competitive. 15