About a third of engineers will
end up in management during their careers. When they get there,
will they know what they're doing?
BY GEORGE LEE
A little more than three years after its resurrection, the
University of Alberta Engineering Management Program continues
on its successful track. That's because the master's program,
designed to help engineers adjust and excel when they progress
into management, meets an important career development need,
says Dr. Peter Flynn, P.Eng., who oversees the program.
"Engineers frequently move into management. More engineers
go into management than any other profession. About a third,
in fact, end up in a managerial role, which is more than accountants,
more than lawyers," says Dr. Flynn, the Poole Chair in
Management Studies. "This program gives them some formal
training to supplement what they've learned on the job, as
well as their own intuition."
The program has matured to 60 students, about evenly split
between full- and part-time. A number of students have graduated,
too, since engineering management's return in 2000-2001. It
first came along 10 or 15 years ago, but fell victim to a
lacklustre economy and was cancelled. Bringing the program
back proved to be a wise move.
Students appreciate not only the course selection but also
the program's flexibility, which allows them to tailor classes
around their work and personal schedules. "We get lots
of positive comments," says Dr. Flynn.
Students must pick one course from each of four core areas
- managing people; operations or project management, which
includes quality control; simulation and modeling, which addresses
reliability and other issues; and financial management. They're
free to match the rest of the program with their own goals.
"It's really designed with a high degree of flexibility.
It presumes that engineers are in different management situations,
so we give them some significant freedom to follow their own
particular interest and focus."
Many engineers get by in the management world without the
engineering management program, of course. Yet there are definite
advantages to learning the base of knowledge that comes from
a range of corporate and academic cultures.
"Often people learn the management approaches of one
particular company and they do very well. However, one of
the merits of going into some kind of program is you get a
broader perspective on management. You're exposed to more
ways to think about things, and that makes you more reflective
in your managerial role."
U of A's engineering management program also addresses the
requirements of a changing world. A course taught by Dr. Ted
Heidrick, P.Eng., for example, focuses on commercializing
technology. It's an area of industry many engineers, not long
ago, could afford to ignore, and in any case didn't take much
That's not necessarily so, today. "When I went to university,
the presumption was that you were going to work for a large
employer," says Dr. Flynn. "That was just what engineers
did. What we've seen in the last 20 years, is engineers get
good ideas, start up their own businesses and do quite well
Adds Dr. Heidrick: "When I ask my class who wants to
eventually own a business, one third to one half of them say
they do. If you asked that 20 years ago, you might get one
or two people all together."
His students produce business plans and are exposed to actual
practitioners. They learn to evaluate their technology ideas,
and find out whether they're worth pursuing and what further
steps are needed.
Dr. Heidrick says the course dispels a common misconception
about commercializing technology: that, as the cliché
says, if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat
a path to your door. It doesn't work that way.
"I try to show students that succeeding is a complicated
function of technology, management, financing and, most importantly,
market," he says.
Says Dr. Flynn: "It's a complex process, there's lots
of road-kill." Dr. Heidrick's course is designed to "favour
the odds that you'll come out on the other side," says
Dr. Flynn. Or not start across the road in the first place.
Better odds, really, is what the whole program is about. "There
are lots of people who've managed and never done a master's
degree, and I don't want to say you can't do it. But the program
sure helps," says Dr. Flynn.
Dr. Peter Flynn, P.Eng.
Tel. (780) 492-6438