By Dr. Tom Murad, Head of the Siemens Canada Engineering and Technology Academy (SCETA)
With the rapid pace of technological change, how can we ensure that future college and university graduates will have the skills needed for a career in today’s advanced manufacturing environment when they graduate?
That’s the question that I have dedicated the last several years of my career to addressing.
One of the biggest challenges that many Canadian manufacturing and technology companies face is a lack of practically trained engineers. As a professional engineer with more than 35 years’ experience in many different industries and positions, this is a concern that has become increasingly evident in the past decade.
Despite increasing numbers of engineering and engineering technology students graduating from colleges and universities across Canada, many companies struggle to find potential employees with the skills and knowledge necessary to hit the ground running. Although most modern engineering graduates have a wealth of academic knowledge, most lack the leadership, business, communications, strategy and practical skills required for current job requirements.
Existing co-operative education (or co-op) programs designed to remedy this situation can be helpful but, in my experience, students are often assigned menial tasks during these work placements. Employers view these short-term employees as nothing more than cheap labour and few spend the time, effort and resources required to help students acquire the skills that engineers need to become successful members of the profession.
The real concern is that Canada risks falling behind countries that excel at providing their engineering students with a wide variety of skills; countries like Germany, England, India, Singapore and China.
It was with these concerns in mind that the Siemens Canada Engineering and Technology Academy (SCETA) was established in October 2014. Located in Oakville, Ontario – just west of Toronto — a relatively limited number of students from five partner schools in Ontario and Alberta are admitted into this Work Integrated Learning program each year. Conducted during students’ co-op terms, typically after their second full year of studies, students are hired as full-time employees and are paid a salary for their final two years of university. (School tuition for their last two years of education is also covered by Siemens and, upon graduation, select students are offered full-time positions at Siemens Canada.)
During this two-year period, students complete at least two school terms and attend two SCETA Academy training placements at Siemens Where, in addition to various applied and system Engineering and Technology sessions, they acquire skills in leadership, business, communications, and strategy. Learning takes place in the classroom, through e-learning programs, and with mentorship rotations across various Siemens business units, as well as through hands-on experience.
SCETA recently welcomed its third cohort of students, but one company cannot resolve every issue for the entire industry. Universities need to better collaborate with industry and should be more pragmatic, practical and realistic when designing curricula for modern engineering students.
Dr. Tom Murad will expand on this topic as a panelist in the session “Automation & Beyond: Closing the Manufacturing Skills Gap” at CMTS on Tuesday, September 26 at 2:00 p.m. For more information, and to register, visit cmts.ca.