EDUCATION LINKS CASE STUDY
Defining engineering roles by qualification
What skills can your engineering employees offer? It’s important to have a sense of the skills your employees with different qualifications bring to your organisation. That way you can offer your workers the best experience, get the best out of them, and the best out of your workforce as a whole. We talked to Chris Flynn, Senior Designer at Beca, about how his company recruits, makes use of and promotes its engineering staff.
What skills can your engineering employees offer? This article sets out to differentiate the roles of engineers with a New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE), Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEngTech) or Bachelor of Engineering (BE(Hons)). As we discovered, things aren’t quite that simple. Rather than well-defined roles according to qualification, in practice there appears to be a lot of ‘blurring’ between the lines. Opportunities for advancement are often based on individual strengths and drive.
Despite this, it’s important to have a sense of the skills your employees with different qualifications bring to your organisation. That way you can offer your workers the best experience, get the best out of them, and the best out of your workforce as a whole. We talked to Chris Flynn, Senior Designer at Beca, about how his company recruits, makes use of and promotes its engineering staff.
What’s in a name?
Ask a group of engineers what an NZDE, BEngTech or BE(Hons) should be called and the discussion can go on for a long time! Some believe it’s time to drop qualification-related titles and concentrate on the role a particular engineer fulfils. After a large in-house debate – some staff preferred the one title ‘engineer’, while others wanted recognition of the extra study involved in gaining a BEngTech or BE(Hons). Engineering e2e has published a Quick Guide to Engineering Qualifications.
Employing NZDE, BEngTech and BE(Hons) engineers
Beca employs NZDE, BEngTech and BE(Hons)qualified engineers across the Civil, Mechanical, Electrical & Electronic and Computer Systems disciplines. A generalised explanation might be: a BE(Hons) does the calculations and theoretical work on a project, while a NZDE or BEngTech works on the more practical or ‘buildability’ side of things – with the BEngTech having more technical knowledge. Overall, however, things aren’t clear cut and the lines blur even more as an engineer gains experience.
NZDEs and BEngTechs are more problem-solving than technically-focused, so they are often more capable of moving into other disciplines. In contrast, a BE(Hons) dedicated to Structures, for example, might find moving into a civil, power or water engineering role a harder transition. A number of Beca staff have completed a NZDE or BEngTech then gone on to do a BE(Hons). “They often make the best engineers,” says Chris, “because they have a very practical, hands-on application sense and also a very technical and mathematical understanding of the problems – and that’s the combination that makes a good design team.”
A difference in roles is more common in the structural engineering area, with NZDEs and BEngTechs often working on draughting and BE(Hons)s on calculations. A BE(Hons) is likely to work on a project which is purely a technical report, whereas reporting on field work might be done by a NZDE. The BEngTech is increasingly being looked to for site observation roles. People aren’t necessarily slotted into these roles, however, and can move direction within the company.
Civil and Building Services engineering
There is very little differentiation in the Civil engineering section. Where there is a difference, Chris says, it’s often directly related to the visual design, 3D modelling and calculation design – a role the NZDE and BEngTech staff fulfil very well, which means the BE(Hons)s are likely to work in a technical advisory role.
It’s a similar story in the Building Services area, where often a project involves designing spatially to understand where a pipe or cable run fits into a building, which then defines the calculations. The differentiation is more blurred, especially over time. Chris notes, “Depending on the opportunities they’ve had in their career, a BE(Hons) with four, maybe three years’ experience, will be on about the same level as a technically-qualified person with five years’.”
Inclusive graduate programme
All of Beca’s graduates attend the Graduate Conference, and their induction includes a buddy system and mentoring. Graduates have six monthly catch-ups and a performance appraisal every 12 months, during which they set their own goals. “Some graduates are really driven,” Chris says, “We say ‘here’s the framework’ and they love it. Others are happy working in the particular job they have, and that’s good too; we can use both sorts of people for a project.”
Junior engineers are buddied up with a senior and mentored in their role. Eventually they, in turn, will share their experience and mentor young graduates. And learning isn’t always handed down from the top. Chris points out that a young engineer fresh out of polytech or university sometimes has a greater understanding of the technicalities of the industry. “It helps senior staff keep in touch with industry practices. Where they might look at new developments or methodologies and consider how to apply them to their experience, the younger staff have a different perspective. For them, it isn’t new or just seems the normal course of action.”
“It’s all about opportunities”
An individual’s career progression, Chris notes, “…is all about opportunities, rather than qualification.” Chris himself entered the industry with a (now superseded) New Zealand Certificate of Engineering and now, after 19 years in the workforce, spends about 60% of his time on project management. “My technical ability is limited compared with a BE(Hons) graduate, but my ability to run a project and manage people has been recognised.”
All Beca staff learn in-house how to manage a project, and people’s personalities, specialisations, additional skills and ambitions are taken into account when a project team is being put together. Someone who communicates well, for example, might liaise with clients, regardless of which qualification they hold. While an engineer in a small firm might be involved in every aspect of a project, roles are a lot more specified in larger companies such as Beca.
Pairing up on projects
Managers consider knowledge, experience and personal characteristics when assigning staff to a particular project. Often, a BE(Hons) is partnered with an NZDE. “If you can find the right two people with those two skill sets who can work together successfully, you can often get the best engineering solution,” Chris says, “although occasionally you might find them in one person. Someone who has a real technical focus but less understanding of the graphical nature of how things fit together will be paired with a strong graphical thinker to deliver a successful project.”
The numbers of NZDE/BEngTechs/BE(Hons) being recruited depends on business planning. Beca will look for staff with a particular qualification based on upcoming projects, anticipated growth areas in the industry or a need for certain skill sets.
The graduate recruitment process has, up to now, focussed on BE(Hons) candidates. A campaign to recruit NZDE/BEngTech-qualified engineers is being launched in 2015, and will run in parallel with the BE(Hons) recruitment process. On visits to ITPs, staff with NZDE/BEngTech qualifications will discuss their backgrounds, what they do at Beca and the career opportunities open to them.
Thinking about employing NZDE or BEngTech engineers?
Employers thinking about expanding their workforce to include NZDE and BEngTech engineers should, says Chris, create a relationship with their local ITP. The Beca graduate recruitment programme will continue the company’s ongoing relationship with the ITPs, along with an advertising campaign.