I recently wrote an article for AUGIWorld (https://www.augi.com/augiworld/issue/december-2019), that I hadn’treally put a lot of planning to but instead tried to speak from the heart, andfrom what I’ve learned in the 59 years I’ve been here. The response has been overwhelming,and I’m humbled by all the attention and feedback. I didn’t realize what anerve it would touch, and how many people from different aspects of the designindustry would even be intrigued enough to read it. It’s interesting howdifferent emotions drive what and how we do the things we do, and what spursimagination and thought.
As I returned to work on this follow up, I’m struck by howquickly our perspectives can change. We are currently in the midst of a societalupheaval, with uneasiness and fear striking out from a virus that we knowlittle about. Playing the “what if” game drives everyone crazy, and if you owna business or manage one, you’re having to make a lot of tough decisions.
And in the midst of all of this, narrow eyes can’t see thelearning experience we are all waist deep in…how we work, where we work and thebenefits to so many things that can be had, if we simply look beyond thesefears. I can’t express enough how happy I am to be working for Gannett Fleming –the response we’ve had from our IT services group, and the support fromeveryone on the board of directors down to the core staff that makes our firm go,has been amazing.
We’ve pulled off something I never thought would happen –take thousands of workers, and shift them to a remote access, work from home businessmodel, where we can continue to do what we need to and serve our clients. I’lladmit – I was nervous, and so were a lot of us that are responsible for makingthis happen. But I also have strong faith, that guides us and provides thedirection and vision we need. It’s amazing what we were able to pull off – but itwas the team approach and commitment that made it work, with minimal issues.
Back to the original article - there were a couple ofresponses that questioned the premise of the article, and a couple more thatpointed out phrases that struck home. All were great points, but one responsemade me think about the one paragraph that no one said anything about – thepersonal responsibility of your own growth. As we now sit in our homes, and learnnew ways to work, you’re gaining a little time – time not spent commuting,traveling or getting to wherever you think you need to be. You’ve been giventhis gift of time, so how do you best spend it?
The role of college education in a technical society
With our eyes forward, it’s time for a little prognostication.As I sit here and review what our users need to learn in order to help us adaptto this type of change, it’s time to start being honest with ourselves. Basedon my own personal experience (and yea, this is my own opinion – I expecteveryone’s experience to be different), I’ve gotten far more use of mytechnical degree than the 5 years I spent wandering through the colleges. Thisis not a criticism of the schools, but more of my own responsibility.
We need to be realistic that even with all of the criticalitems an engineer, architect or scientist needs to know, not everyone needs tobe in that role. We’re all in a desperate search for that unicorn, as it’s sooften referred when searching for that BIM designer, or design technologiststhat can effectively use today’s tools. We need that design-oriented individualthat can create custom structural shapes, form new types of wall assemblies, definethe target and source relationship between engineering systems and coordinatethe myriad of infrastructure that lies below the dirt. That can do it with aminimal amount of supervision, but with the faith and trust needed to letthem get the job done. They’re the ones that can pull the miracle out on aproject and get it out the door on time, under budget and with a happy client. Faceit – our issues with getting more people into STEM fields are not so muchgetting younger individuals into the four-year college programs but become thetechnology experts that can still assemble the building, the structure and thesite.
So what does this have to do with the typical four yearschool? It’s easy – incorporate what we’ve been doing as part of the two-yearassociate type degree program as the core for the advanced career fields. Weget far too many architects and engineers that don’t have the technicalcapabilities of today’s design platforms. While some colleges are adding BIM,PIM and horizontal design to their curriculum, it’s not nearly enough. This hasled to a shortage of technically capable designers that can get 3D models,systems and more assembled in the most efficient way possible.
We’ve also tuned our path for architects and engineers tomove almost exclusively towards higher management type positions, such as theproject manager, project principal and general business manager. Where is thetechnical career path that leads this generation towards the deeper thoughtprocess needed for simulation, creativity and expression through the tools wecontinue to improve? Generative design ought to scare the he-double hockey sticksout of every old school professional. The fact that design automation, which caneliminate the redundant CAD and document tasks that continue to control our budgetsand schedule, can create its own concepts of how a wheel, chair or building tobe designed, should be enough for the design world to stop. We need to start evaluatingand altering both technical and professional college programs to move us to leadconcepts like generative design and AI – to shape it and make it so we cancreate the changes to our world that we need.
Make your OWN path
With all of this being said, there’s only one person who canmake the choice about the direction for your life and career. In order to breakfree of the traditional roles and constraints we place on ourselves in the STEMfields as well as our professions, we need to be able to make an honestassessment about our own career paths. But it’s a choice that we as individualsmust make. You must be able to challenge yourself…
One great pointy-eared science officer once asked…“Is thisall I am? Is there nothing more?”
This past year, as part of my new role, I’m taking theresponsibility of redefining our technical training curriculum and programs. Thelogic I’m using is simple…where do you want to go? We are obligated to maintainour skills in the roles we take. For example, the architect still has to be thegreat aggregator, pulling all of the different pieces of the built environmentinto a cohesive structure. We have the job requirements clearly defined…theclasses created…the expectations and goals needed to fulfill the job’s obligationsclearly enumerated.
The hard part is getting outside of the role and looking atthe right kind of “what if” scenario. Not a negative consequence, but apersonal growth, desire or ambition. Let’s say I give you the opportunity todefine the role in your own image. What would you do different? What do youneed in order to be able to make this kind of a change?
OWN can become a simple acronym…opportunity,wants, needs.
How do you take advantage of the opportunity todefine your own path?
How do you clarify what you want to accomplish?
What will be needed to make it to this goal?
By taking some of the gift of time we’re being given to do alittle self-assessment, you’d be surprised what you may come up with. With the helpof our online training providers at Eagle Point, I’m setting up OWNLearning paths, that each employee in the company can fill out. We’re going toprovide them access to all of the training materials we have in our system. Nolimits. No restrictions. But a chance for them to challenge themselves;document it; and pursue it. The system can hold them accountable for reachingthis goal – but it’s still up to them to take the steps. The employee has to bewilling to make the commitment to themselves and make an investment of theirown time.
The Rule and Conclusion of a Happy Business Life
Knowing the difference between the company’s obligation andyour own personal responsibility…that’s a tough one for us to take. If you listento today’s politicians, which in most cases can’t even be honest withthemselves and much less us, one side would have you believe that a “corporation”is nothing but pure evil. But the other side knows that corporations arepeople. And in some cases, allows them to take advantage of their staff,driving them towards unrealistic conditions that make it impossible to have asatisfying career.
So where does training and career development fit in? Where’sthat fine line, the tune that strikes the right note, the right pitch, and makeseveryone go…ahhh?
It’s a trade off. It always has been.
So here’s some comments that as an employee, youshould never make.
“I’m entitled to free training.”
“If I’m not getting paid for it, I’m not going totraining.”
“It’s not my responsibility to learn how to do that.”
“I don’t have time.”
“My clients don’t want it, so I’m not going to do it.”
And my personal favorite…”I’ve always done it this way,and don’t see a need to change it.”
At the same time, the employer can’t carry these rationalizationsforward:
“There’s no money in the budget for training.”
“Learn on your own time.”
“I expect you to do this, and I don’t care how you figureit out – just get it done.”
“You should already know how to do this.”
“My way or the highway.”
And of course, my personal favorite…”We’ve always done itthis way, and don’t see a need to change it.”
Here’s the big takeaway – in order for a business to have asuccessful relationship with their employees, it has to be sold and deliveredas a partnership. Training, learning, education…should all be part ofthe employment experience. Great managers know that their role has always beenone of service – so from the business standpoint, we have an obligation – andthe employee does NOT have a right – to train. I always loved the quote that it’sbetter to train someone and have them leave, than not train them and have themstay. The greatest way to cripple a business is to become a static point intime, where they no longer see the need or benefit for improving and changingwhat they do. Ask anyone who still has a boom box or eight track player if they’vereached the pinnacle of life…if you can still find them.
But at the same time, the employee needs to approach thebusiness as an owner. You have to take the responsibility of owning yourskill set.
Of not settling for the static point in time.
Of challenging yourself.
Of taking your own time to learn.
It’s tough to do. Life is busy. It takes. It also gives backwhat you invest in it.
We blind ourselves to what others need because it’s easy. Wecripple ourselves, because we allow others to dictate to us what we’re capable of.But this biggest shame is when we don’t try. When you get to a point in yourcareer when you think you learned all you can, you let yourself down.
But with your eyes forward, the objective is to get past previousmistakes, missed opportunities and failures, where you can stop looking at what’sholding you back, and get to where we all want to be.
I’ve been in it myself now for approaching four decades. Andwith all that life is throwing at us, the last thing we need to be doingis giving up on ourselves and our potential for what you – and we – can be. I’mnot quitting on being a learner…are you?