Continuing Education for Technical Staff

by Colin M. Stephens, President, Technology Training, Inc.

Colin Stephens

Some time ago, estimates were made to determine how long it would take for half of an engineer’s technical knowledge to become obsolete: the half-life of an engineer’s technical skills. The half-life for mechanical engineers was about seven years; for electrical engineers five years; and for software engineers two years.

Technical staff employed in today’s high-tech industries must update half of everything they know every couple of years, while continuing to work full-time. Even in the older established industries, engineers must reinvent themselves every so often.

Historically, a technical employee could carve out a niche in one well-defined area and expect to remain there for a lifetime. As we know, this is no longer the case. As technology changes and/or as organizations are combined, sold, etc., individuals can expect to change jobs more often, even if they manage to remain with the same organization.

Technical personnel need to recognize that career-long continuing education is a necessity, and it is important that they treat their knowledge base as a dynamic entity that needs continuous upgrading.

Some of the more successful organizations recognize that the effort and expense of training their technical staff is necessary to remain competitive so that they can continue to produce quality products at a competitive price. Their investment will be paid back many times in improved quality and productivity.

Unfortunately, organizations have limited budget for training, which shrinks even more when cost cutting is implemented across the board. Another obstacle to training is the need for management to meet deadlines with fewer staff so there is a reluctance to release staff for three or five day training courses.

Organizations need to establish a culture whereby its employees are encouraged to keep abreast of changes in the technology affecting their product. This will result in a better and more reliable product produced within budget restraints.

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