Author:
Wendy Attwell (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Balancing personal values and professional conduct in the climate emergency. 

Engineering disciplines: Civil engineering; Energy and Environmental engineering; Energy. 

Ethical issues: Respect for the environment; Justice; Accountability; Social responsibility; Risk; Sustainability; Health; Public good; Respect for the law; Future generations; Societal impact. 

Professional situations: Public health and safety; Communication; Law / Policy; Integrity; Legal implications; Personal/professional reputation. 

Educational level: Intermediate. 

Educational aim: Practicing Ethical Reasoning: the application of critical analysis to specific events in order to evaluate and respond to problems in a fair and responsible way. 

 

Learning and teaching notes:  

This case study involves an engineer who has to weigh personal values against professional codes of conduct when acting in the wake of the climate crisis. This case study allows students to explore motivations and justifications for courses of action that could be considered morally right but legally wrong.  

This case study addresses two of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4  here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

The dilemma in this case is presented in three parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Parts two and three develop and complicate the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case study allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities, as desired. 

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 

 

Learning and teaching resources: 

Professional organisations: 

Educational institutions: 

Education and campaign groups: 

 News articles:  

 

Summary: 

Kelechi is a civil engineer in a stable job, working on the infrastructure team of a County Council that focuses on regeneration and public realm improvements. Kelechi grew up in an environment where climate change and its real impacts on people was discussed frequently. She was raised with the belief that she should live as ethically as possible, and encourage others to consider their impact on the world. These beliefs were instrumental in leading Kelechi into a career as a civil engineer, in the hope that she could use her skills and training to create a better world. In one of her engineering modules at university, Kelechi met Amanda, who encouraged her to join a student group pushing for sustainability within education and the workplace. Kelechi has had some success with this within her own job, as her employer has been willing to participate in ongoing discussions on carbon and resilience, and is open to implementing creative solutions.  

But Kelechi is becoming frustrated at the lack of larger scale change in the wake of the climate emergency. Over the years she has signed petitions and written to her representatives, then watched in dismay as each campaign failed to deliver real world carbon reduction, and as the government continued to issue new licenses for fossil fuel projects. Even her own employers have failed to engage with climate advocates pushing for further changes in local policy, changes that Kelechi believes are both achievable and necessary. Kelechi wonders what else she can do to set the UK – if not the world – on a path to net zero. 

 

Dilemma – Part one: 

Scrolling through a news website, Kelechi is surprised to see a photo of her friend and ex-colleague Amanda, in a report about climate protesters being arrested. Kelechi messages Amanda to check that she’s ok, and they get into a conversation about the protests. Amanda is part of a climate protest group of STEM professionals that engages in non-violent civil disobedience. The group believes that by staging direct action protests they can raise awareness of the climate emergency and ultimately effect systemic change.  

Amanda tries to convince Kelechi to join the group and protest with them. Amanda references the second principle of the Statement of Ethical Principles published by the Engineering Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering: “Respect for life, law, the environment and public good.” Amanda believes that it is ok to ignore the tenet about respect for the law in an effort to safeguard the other three, and says that there have been plenty of unjust laws throughout history that have needed to be protested in order for them to be changed for the public good. She also references another part of the Statement: that engineers should ”maximise the public good and minimise both actual and potential adverse effects for their own and succeeding generations”. Amanda believes that by protesting she is actually fulfilling her duty to uphold these principles.  

Kelechi isn’t sure. She has never knowingly broken the law before, and is worried about being arrested. Kelechi consults her friend Max, who is a director of a professional engineering institution, of which Kelechi is a member. Max, whilst she has some sympathies for the aims of the group, immediately warns Kelechi away from the protests. “Forget about being arrested; you could lose your job and end your career.”  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: What personal values will Kelechi have to weigh in order to decide whether or not to take part in a civil disobedience protest? 

2. Discussion: Consider the tenet of the Statement of Ethical Principles “Respect for life, law, the environment and public good.” To what extent (if at all) do the four tenets of this ethical principle come into conflict with one another in this situation? Can you think of other professional situations in which they might conflict? 

3. Discussion: Is breaking the law always unethical? Are there circumstances when breaking the law might be the ethical thing to do in the context of engineering practice? What might these circumstances be? 

4. Discussion: To what extent (if at all) does the content of the Statement of Ethical Principles make a case for or against being part of a protest where the law is broken?  

5. Discussion: Following on from the previous question – does it make a difference what is being protested, if a law is broken? For example, is protesting fossil fuels that lead to climate change different from protesting unsafe but legal building practices, such as cladding that causes a fire risk? Why? 

6. Activity: Research other professional codes of engineering: do these have clear guidelines for this situation? Assemble a bibliography of other professional codes or standards that might be relevant to this scenario. 

7. Discussion: What are the potential personal and professional risks or benefits for Kelechi if she takes part in a protest where the law is broken? 

8. Discussion: From a professional viewpoint, should Kelechi take part in the protest? What about from a personal viewpoint? 

 

Dilemma – Part two: 

After much deliberation, Kelechi decides to join the STEM protest group. Her first protest is part of a direct action to blockade a busy London bridge. To her own surprise, she finds herself volunteering to be one of two protesters who will climb the cables of the bridge. She is reassured by the risk assessment undertaken by the group before selecting her. She has climbing experience (although only from her local leisure centre), and safety equipment is provided.  

On the day of the protest, Kelechi scales the bridge. The police are called and the press arrive. Kelechi stays suspended from the bridge for 36 hours, during which time all traffic waiting to cross the bridge is halted or diverted. Eventually, Kelechi is convinced that she should climb down, and the police arrest all of the protesters.  

Later on, Kelechi is contacted by members of the press, asking for a statement about her reason for taking part in the protest. Kelechi has seen that press coverage of the protest is so far overwhelmingly negative, and poll results suggest that the majority of the public see the protesters’ actions as selfish, inconvenient, and potentially dangerous, although some have sympathy for their cause. “What if someone died because an ambulance couldn’t use the bridge?” asks someone via social media. “What about the five million deaths a year already caused by climate change?” asks another, citing a recent news article 

Kelechi would like to take the opportunity to make her voice heard – after all, that’s why she joined the protest group – but she isn’t sure whether she should mention her profession. Would it add credibility to her views? Or would she be lambasted because of it? 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: What professional principles or codes is Kelechi breaking or upholding by scaling the bridge?  

2. Activity: Compare the professional and ethical codes for civil engineers in the UK and elsewhere. How might they differ in their guidance for an engineer in this situation?  

3. Activity: Conduct a risk assessment for a) the protesters who have chosen to be part of this scenario, and b) members of the public who are incidentally part of this scenario. 

4. Discussion: Who would be responsible if, as a direct or indirect result of the protesters blocking the bridge, a) a member of the public died, or b) a protester died? Who is responsible for the excess deaths caused directly or indirectly by climate change? 

5. Discussion: How can Kelechi best convey to the press and public the quantitative difference between the short-term disruption caused by protests and the long-term disruption caused by climate change? 

6. Discussion: Should Kelechi give a statement to the press? If so, should she discuss her profession? What would you do in her situation? 

7. Activity: Write a statement for Kelechi to release to the press. 

8. Discussion: Suggest alternative ways of protesting that would have as much impact in the news but potentially cause less disruption to the public. 

 

Dilemma – Part three: 

Kelechi decides to speak to the press. She talks about the STEM protest group, and she specifically cites the Statement of Ethical Principles as her reason for taking part in the protest: “As a professional civil engineer, I have committed to acting within our code of ethics, which requires that I have respect for life, the environment and public good. I will not just watch lives be destroyed if I can make a difference with my actions.”  

Whilst her statement gets lots of press coverage, Kelechi is called out by the media and the public because of her profession. The professional engineering institution of which Kelechi is a member receives several complaints about her actions, some from members of the public and some from other members of the institution. “She’s bringing the civil engineering profession into disrepute,” says one complaint. “She’s endangering the public,” says another. 

It’s clear that the institution must issue a press release on the situation, and it falls to Kelechi’s friend Max, as a director of the institution, to decide what kind of statement to put out, and to recommend whether Kelechi’s membership of the institution could – or should – be revoked. Max looks closely at the institution’s Code of Professional Conduct. One part of the Code says that “Members should do nothing that in any way could diminish the high standing of the profession. This includes any aspect of a member’s personal conduct which could have a negative impact upon the profession.” Another part of the Code says: “All members shall have full regard for the public interest, particularly in relation to matters of health and safety, and in relation to the well-being of future generations.” 

As well as the institution’s Code of Conduct, Max considers the historic impact of civil resistance in achieving change, and how those engaging in such protests – such as the suffragettes in the early 1900s – could be viewed negatively at the time, whilst later being lauded for their efforts. Max wonders at what point the tide of public opinion begins to turn, and what causes this change. She knows that she has to consider the potential impacts of the statement that she puts out in the press release; how it might affect not just her friend, but the institution’s members, other potential protesters, and also her own career.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Historically, has civil resistance been instrumental or incidental in achieving systemic change? Research to find out if and when engineers have been involved in civil resistance in the past. 

2. Discussion: Could Kelechi’s actions, and the results of her actions, be interpreted as having “a negative impact on the profession”? 

3. Discussion: Looking at Kelechi’s actions, and the institution’s code of conduct, should Max recommend that Kelechi’s membership be revoked? 

4. Discussion: Which parts of the quoted code of conduct could Max emphasise or omit in her press release, and how might this affect the tone of her statement and how it could be interpreted? 

5. Activity: Debate which position Max should take in her press release: condemning the actions of the protesters as being against the institution’s code of conduct; condoning the actions as being within the code of conduct; remaining as neutral as possible in her statement. 

6. Discussion: What are the wider impacts of Max’s decision to either remain neutral, or to stand with or against Kelechi in her actions?  

7. Activity: Write a press release for the institution, taking one of the above positions. 

8. Discussion: Which other authorities or professional bodies might be impacted by Max’s decision? 

9. Discussion: What are the potential impacts of Max’s press release on the following stakeholders, and what decisions or actions might they take because of it? Kelechi; Kelechi’s employer; members of the STEM protest group; the institution; institution members; government policymakers; the media; the public; the police; fossil fuel businesses; Max’s employers; Max herself. 

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning

Authors: Prof Lucy Rogers (RAEng Visiting Professor at Brunel University, London and freelance engineering consultant) and Petra Gratton (Associate Dean of Professional Development and Graduate Outcomes in the College of Engineering, Design and Physical Science at Brunel University London, and Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering)

Keywords: Industry, Interview, Video, Real Life, Engineers

Abstract: A number of short videos that can be re-used in teaching undergraduate modules in Engineering Business, instead of inviting guest presentations. The interview technique got each individual to talk about their life experiences and topics in engineering business that are often considered mundane (or challenging) for engineers, such as ethics, risks and regulation, project management, innovation, intellectual property, life-cycle assessment, finance and creativity. They also drew attention to their professional development.

 

Project outcomes

The outcomes of this project are a number of short videos that were used, and can be re-used, in teaching delivery of an undergraduate module in Engineering Business in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Brunel University London instead of having guest presentations from invited speakers.  Lucy’s interview technique got the individuals featured in each film to talk about their life experiences and topics in engineering business that are often considered mundane (or challenging) for engineers, such as ethics, risks and regulation, project management, innovation, intellectual property, life-cycle assessment and finance; and drew attention to their professional development. 

The shorter videos were inspirational for students to make videos of themselves as part of the assessment of the module, which required them to carry out a personal professional reflection exercise and report upon what they had learned from the exercise in a simple 90-second video using their smartphone or laptop. 

Having used the videos with Brunel students, Lucy has made them available on her YouTube channel: Dr Lucy Rogers – YouTube. Each of the videos are listed in the following table:

 

Topic Who Video Link
Creativity in Engineering: Your CV Reid Derby https://youtu.be/qQILO4uXJ24
Creativity in Engineering: Your CV Leigh-Ann Russell https://youtu.be/LJLG2SH0CwM
Creativity in Engineering: Your CV Richard Hopkins https://youtu.be/tLQ7lZ3nlvg
Corporate Social Responsibility Alexandra Knight
(Amey Strategic Consulting)
https://youtu.be/N7ojL6id_BI
Ethics and Diversity Alexandra Knight
(Amey Strategic Consulting)
https://youtu.be/Q4MhkLQqWuI
Project Management and Engineers Fiona Neads (Rolls Royce) https://youtu.be/-TZlwk6HuUI
Project Management – Life Cycle Paul Kahn
(Aerospace and Defence Industry)
https://youtu.be/1Z4ZXMLRPt4
Ethics at Work Emily Harford (UKAEA) https://youtu.be/gmBq9FIX6ek
Communication Skills at Work Emily Harford (UKAEA) https://youtu.be/kmgAlyz7OhI
Client Brief Andy Stanford-Clark (IBM) https://youtu.be/WNYhDA317wE
Intellectual Property from Artist’s Point of View Dave Corney
(Artist and Designer)
https://youtu.be/t4pLkletXIs
Intellectual Property Andy Stanford-Clark (IBM) https://youtu.be/L5bO0IdxKyI
Project Management Fiona Neads – Rolls Royce https://youtu.be/XzgS5SJhiA0

 

Lessons learned and reflections

We learned that students generally engaged with the videos that were used.  Depending which virtual learning environment (VLE) was being used, using pre-recorded videos in synchronous online lectures presents various challenges.  To avoid any unplanned glitches, in future we know to use the pre-recorded videos as part of the teaching-delivery preparation (e.g. in a flipped classroom mode). 

As part of her legacy, Lucy is going to prepare a set of simple instructions on producing video interviews that can be carried out by both staff and students in future.

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning, Graduate employability and recruitment

Author: James Ford (University College London)

Keywords: Civil Engineering Design, Timber Design, Industry, Collaboration

Abstract: A project, developed jointly by UCL and engineers from ARUP, allowed students to work on redesigning the fire damaged roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Industry expertise complemented academic experience in civil engineering design to create a topical, relevant and creative project for students. The project combined technical learning in timber design with broader considerations such as costs, health and safety, buildability and environmental impacts. Final presentations being made to engineering teams at ARUP offices also developed wider professional skills.

 

Background

Following the 2019 fire in the Notre Dame Cathedral, Civil Engineering Students at University College London (UCL) were tasked with designing a replacement. The project was delivered, in collaboration with engineers from ARUP, within a Design module in Year 2 of the programme. The project was run as a design competition with teams competing against one another. The project built on learning and design project experience built up during years 1 and 2 of the course.

The collaboration with ARUP is a long-standing partnership. UCL academics and ARUP engineers have worked on several design projects for students across all years of the Civil Engineering Programme.

The Brief

Instead of designing a direct replacement for the roof the client wanted to create a modern, eye-catching roof extension which houses a tourist space that overlooks the city. The roof had to be constructed on the existing piers so loading limits were provided. The brief recognised the climate emergency and a key criterion for evaluation was the sustainability aspects of the overall scheme. For this reason, it also stipulated that the primary roof and extension structure be, as far as practicable, made of engineered timber.

 

Figure 1. Image from the project brief indicating the potential building envelopes for the roof design

 

Given the location all entries had to produce schemes that were quick to build, cause minimal disruption to the local population, not negatively impact on tourism and, most importantly, be safe to construct.

Requirements

Teams (of 6) were required to propose a minimum of 2 initial concept designs with an appraisal of each and recommendation for 1 design to be taken forward.

The chosen design was developed to include:

Teams had to provide a 10xA3 page report, a set of structural calculations, 2xA3 drawings and a 10-minute presentation.

Figure 2. Connection detail drawing by group 9

 

Delivery

Course material was delivered over 4 sessions with a final session for presentations:

Session 1: Project introduction and scheme designing

Session 2: Timber design

Session 3: Construction and constructability

Session 4: Fire Engineering and sustainability

Session 5: Student Presentations

Sessions were co-designed and delivered by a UCL academic and engineers from ARUP. The sessions involved a mixture of elements incl. taught, tutorial and workshop time. ARUP engineers also created an optional evening workshop at their (nearby) office were groups or individuals could meet with a practicing engineer for some advice on their design.

These sessions built on learning from previous modules and projects.

Learning / Skills Development

The project aimed to develop skills and learning in the following areas:

Visiting the ARUP office and working with practicing engineers also enhanced student understanding of professional practice and standards.

Benefits of Collaborating

The biggest benefit to the collaboration was the reinforcement of design approaches and principles, already taught by academics, by practicing engineers. This adds further legitimacy to the approaches in the minds of the students and is evidenced through the application of these principles in student outputs.

 

Figure 3. Development of design concepts by group 12

 

The increased range in technical expertise that such a collaboration brings provides obvious benefit and the increased resource means more staff / student interaction time (there were workshops where it was possible to have one staff member working with every group at the same time).

Working with an aspirational partner (i.e. somewhere the students want to work as graduates) provides extra motivation to improve designs, to communicate them professionally and impress the team. Working and presenting in the offices of ARUP also helped to develop an understanding of professional behaviour.

Reflections and Feedback

Reflections and feedback from all staff involved was that the work produced was of a high quality. It was pleasing to see the level of creativity that the students applied in their designs. Feedback from students gathered through end of module review forms suggested that this was due to the level of support available which allowed them to develop more complex and creative designs fully.

Wider feedback from students in the module review was very positive about the project. They could see that it built on previous experiences from the course and enjoyed that the project was challenging and relevant to the real world. They also valued the experiences of working in a practicing design office and working with practicing engineers from ARUP. Several students posted positively about the project on their LinkedIn profiles, possibly suggesting a link between the project and employability in the minds of the students.

 

Figure 4. Winning design summary diagram by group 12

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning, Graduate employability and recruitment

Author: James Ford (University College London)

Keywords: Civil Engineering Design, Building Information Modelling, BIM, Digital Engineering, Industry, Collaboration

Abstract: This project, developed jointly with industry partners at Multiplex, allowed Civil Engineering students at UCL to develop their understanding and technical skills around the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) on civil engineering projects and related software. Students worked on a model of an emergency shelter (designed by UCL alumnus) and were required to consider the relevant parties involved (technical and non-technical), the information they require and how to utilise the model to organise and communicate this information effectively.

 

Background

Digital engineering tools and Building Information Modelling (BIM) are increasingly becoming important features of modern construction projects. The design teaching team in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (CEGE) at University College London (UCL) recognised the need to embed this practice into parts of the design teaching delivery for students on the Civil Engineering undergraduate programmes.

UCL and Mulitplex (civil engineering contractor) had been partnering on school outreach activities for several years. A discussion at such an event led to a realisation that there was good alignment on how these topics should be taught, with a focus on information and communication rather than modelling. Staff at UCL had already started developing a project that would involve using elements of BIM in the design development of an emergency shelter for humanitarian relief and that the project should encourage students to think about the information and communication aspects of this. The digital engineering team at Multiplex then agreed to join the project and provide technical assistance, to develop and deliver teaching materials and to provide real life examples and case studies to supplement the project.

The Brief

Students were provided with a pre-developed REVIT® model of an emergency shelter design made, predominantly, from timber. The shelter had been designed by a UCL alumnus during their time as a UCL student and agreement was granted to use it for this project. Students were presented with an imagined scenario that they were working for a charity that was planning to build 10 of these shelters in Haiti to assist with humanitarian relief effort following an earthquake. The students needed to consider which parties would need to be communicated with, what information they would need, how this information could be communicated with them and how the digital model could assist with this process.

 

Figure 1. Image of Emergency Shelter model in REVIT®

 

Students were encouraged to consider (but not limited to) included:

Students were required to research the relevant information and populate the REVIT® model appropriately and professionally.

Requirements

Teams (of 6) were required to provide a 10xA3 page report that would run through each of the potential parties to communicated with, what information they would need and how the model would be used to enable this communication. They also needed to describe any assumptions that were made and how information was selected during the research phase. They needed to highlight the critical thinking that had been carried out in relation to sources of information and its suitability and reliability.

 

Figure 2. Use of model to explain construction sequence

 

Teams also needed to submit their completed REVIT® model files for inspection as well as an 8 min video presentation that would:

 

Emergency Shelter Digital Design Project, A UCL / Multiplex Collaboration

Figure 3. External view of model

 

Delivery

Course material was delivered over 4 sessions with a final session for presentations:

Session 1: Project introduction and software introduction

Session 2: (i) Information and exporting in REVIT®. (ii) Commercial overview

Session 3: (i) Construction and Logistics. (ii) Health, safety and environmental factors

Session 4: (i) Handover requirements. (ii) Maintainable assets. (iii) Building management

Session 5: Student presentations

Sessions were co-designed and delivered by a UCL academic and a digital manager from Multiplex. The sessions involved a mixture of elements incl. taught, tutorial and workshop time that allowed students to work in their groups.

Learning / Skills Development

The project aimed to develop skills and learning in the following areas:

Benefits of Collaborating

The first benefit was the inspirational aspect of working on a shelter design that had been produced by a former UCL student. This Alumnus contributed to the introduction session by running through their design and this helped students understand just how much had been achieved by someone in their position.

The collaboration with Multiplex’s digital team brought obvious benefits to the technical skills development but also benefitted student understanding by showing how these skills are being used on live construction sites. The process of learning from and presenting to practicing construction professionals also allowed students to develop key professional behavioural skills that help develop and enhance employability.

Reflections and Feedback

Reflections and feedback from all staff involved was that the work produced was of a high quality and that this demonstrated an understanding of the project objectives from the student perspective. It was also apparent that students were becoming adept at using REVIT® software effectively and appropriately.

Wider feedback from students in the module review was very positive about the project and that it had improved their understanding of the role of digital technologies in the construction industry. Students said in feedback “BIM has helped us to look at all aspects of the design and to figure out more stuff in the same amount of time,” and, “Doing it this way [REVIT model] means you can see what you think might be a risk to the workers more easily.”

Several students posted positively about the project on their LinkedIn profiles, possibly suggesting a link between the project and employability in the minds of the students.

2 of the students successfully applied for summer internships with Multiplex’s digital team immediately following the project and were able to build on their digital engineering skills further.

The project was featured by trade magazine BIMPlus which ran an article on the project showcasing the relative novelty and uniqueness of the approach taken.

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning

Authors: Ian Hobson (Senior Lecturer and Academic Mentor for Engineering Leadership Management at Swansea University and former Manufacturing Director at Tata Steel) and Dr Vasilios Samaras (Senior Lecturer and Programme Director for Engineering Leadership Management at Swansea University)

Keywords: Academia, Industry

Abstract: Throughout the MSc Engineering Leadership Management program, the students at Swansea University develop theoretical knowledge and capability around leadership in organisations. Working alongside our industry partner Tata Steel, they deploy this knowledge to help understand and provide potential solutions to specific organisational issues that are current and of strategic importance to the business. The output of this work is presented to the Tata Steel board of directors along with a detailed report.

 

Aims of the program

In today’s world, our responsibility as academics is to ensure that we provide an enabling learning environment for our students and deliver a first-class education to them. This has been our mantra for many years. But what about our responsibility to the employing organisations? It’s all well and good providing well educated graduates but if they are not aligned to the requirements of those organisations then we are missing the point. This may be an extreme scenario, but there is a real danger that as academics we can lose touch with the needs of those organisations and as time moves on the gap between what they want and what we deliver widens.

In today’s world this relationship with the employment market and understanding the requirement of it is essential. We need to be agile in our approach to meet those requirements and deliver quality employees to the market.

How did we set this collaborative approach?

In reality the only way to do this is by adopting a collaborative approach to our program designs. Our aim with the MSc Engineering Leadership Management (ELM) at Swansea University is to ensure that we collaborate fully with the employment market by integrating industry professionals into our program design and delivery processes. In this way we learn to understand the challenges that organisations face and how they need strength in the organisation to meet those challenges. This of course not an easy task to accomplish.

In our experience professionals within organisations are often overrun with workload and trying to manage the challenges that they face. A university knocking the door with an offer of collaboration is not always top of their priority list, so how do we make this happen? You need to have a balance of academics and experienced industry leaders working within the program who understand the pressures that business faces. They also often have networks within the external market who are willing to support such programs as the ELM. The power of collaboration is often overlooked. It’s often a piece of research, dealing with a specific technical issue, it is rarely a continuum of organisational alignment. If the collaboration is designed for the long-term benefit of improving employability, then organisations will see this as a way to help solve the increasing challenge of finding “good” employees in a market that is tightening. So overall this becomes a win-win situation.

How was the need for the program identified?

Our program was developed following feedback to the university from the market that graduates were joining organisations with good academic qualifications but lacked an understanding of how organisations work. More importantly how to integrate into the organisation and develop their competencies. This did come with time and support, but the graduates fell behind the expected development curve and needed significant support to meet their aspirations.

Swansea University developed the ELM to provide education on organisations and how they work and develop the skills that are required to operate in them as an employee. These tend to be the softer skills, but also developing the student’s competence in using them. Examples include working as teams and providing honest feedback via 1-1s and 360s and team reviews.

In our experience the ability to challenge in a constructive way is a competency that the students don’t possess. All our work is anchored in theory which provides reference for the content. The assignments that we set involve our industry partners and provide potential solutions to real issues that organisations face.  The outcome of their projects is presented to senior management within the host organisation. This is often the high point of the year for the students. This way the students get exposure to the organisations which extends their comfort zones preparing them for the future challenges.

What are the program outcomes?

September 2022 will be our fifth year. The program is accredited by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). Our numbers have increased year on year, and we are running cohorts of up to 20 students. It’s a mix of UK and international students. The program requires collaboration between the university faculties which has brought significant benefits and provided many learning opportunities. The collaboration between the engineering and business schools has made us realise that working together we provide a rounded program that is broad in content, but also deep in areas that are identified as specific learning objectives.

The feedback from the University is that students on the ELM program perform well and they have a more mature approach to learning and have confidence in themselves and are proactive in lectures. From our industry partners they feed back that the ELM students are ahead of the curve and are promoted into positions ahead of their peers.

What have we learned from the program?

As lecturers, over the years it has become very clear that the content that we deliver must change year on year. We cannot deliver the same content as it quickly becomes out of date. The theory changes very little, but the application changes significantly, in line with the general market challenges. It is almost impossible to predict and if we sit back and look at the past 4 years this pattern is clear. We also need to refresh our knowledge and we have as much to learn from our students as they do from us. We treat them as equals and have a very good learning relationships and have open and honest debates. We always build feedback into our programs and discus how we can improve the content and delivery of the program. Without exception feedback from a year’s cohort will modify the program for the following year.

Looking ahead

We are being approached by organisations interested in the University delivering a similar program to their future leaders on a part time basis which is something we are considering. We do however recognise that this program is successful because of the experience and knowledge of the lecturers and the ability to work with small cohorts which enables a tailored approach to the program content.

We believe that collaboration with the market keeps the ELM aligned with its requirements. Equally as importantly is the collaboration with our students. They are the leaders of the future and if the market loses sight of the expectations of these future leaders, then they will fail.

The ELM not only aligns its programs with the market, it keeps the market aligned with future leaders.

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

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