Helping overloaded engineers, attracting talent a growing concern

  • 24-Oct-2014 08:18 EDT

IBM's Bret Greenstein (left) noted  that children look at engineers in a new light because of movie heroes like Batman and Iron Man. At right is Stefan Jockusch of Siemens PLM Software.

Though hardware and software were front and center at SAE 2014 Convergence, panels also explored broader issues facing the auto industry. A Wednesday panel focused on ways to better utilize overloaded engineers as well as offering techniques for attracting new talent.

Panelists from a range of industries provided ideas for optimizing the workforce during a session on the "Future of Technology Delivery." Finding ways to help engineers be creative and efficient was a hot topic.

“Engineers are overloaded with information,” said Bret Greenstein of IBM Corp. “Connectedness means that data volume will grow, creating a real challenge for analytics. Being able to design for feedback is a big challenge for engineers.”

Connectivity and autonomy involve factors beyond the vehicle, making design challenges more complex. Engineers will have to explore more options given the vast number of variables.

“Every solution can create a new problem,” said Sharafat Khan of Deloitte Consulting. “You have to consider what can possibly go wrong when you’re designing anything.”

That’s going to require some changes in the way design teams work together. Collaboration is becoming more important. One way to foster more interactions between hardware, software, and manufacturing engineers is to move to an open-office format.

“We found the physical environment had a huge psychological effect on engineers,” said Janaki Kumar of SAP America. “If you tear down the walls in an office, you remove the feeling that people have to ask whether they should collaborate. Designers can’t take advantage of all aspects if they don’t talk to other groups.”

Finding enough talent to address the complexities of advanced designs is a big challenge. Panelists agreed that global design teams will be an important element in design programs.

“You expect people to be in different locations,” said Stefan Jockusch of Siemens PLM Software. “Companies need an environment that lets them all work together.”

Globalization brings a number of different challenges. Once the technical issues of virtual environments are resolved, managers need to focus on human factors. Engineers in different countries will have diverse ideas and ways of communicating.

“Language is an issue, but understanding cultural differences is a huge factor,” Greenstein said. “Every country has its own rules. For example, how people communicate about honesty in the U.S. and China is totally different.”

Whether companies are hiring people in their home country or abroad, they need to find new ways to attract and retain employees. Techniques for managing human resources are changing as Baby Boomers retire and Millennials become a greater percentage of the workforce.

“You have to provide incentive, and the working environment has to be cool,” Khan said. “Automakers are learning from Silicon Valley, doing things like letting engineers bring their dogs to work. Companies need to think about the culture they want to have.”

Panelists noted that the quest to find talent has to include education, which begins in grade school. They agreed that companies and individual engineers need to help create interest in science, technology, engineering, and math.

“Getting kids excited about this is absolutely imperative,” Khan said. “It’s the key to getting a pipeline of skilled workers.”

That effort even includes pointing out the link between engineering and popular culture. Greenstein noted that children look at engineers in a new light because of movie heroes like Batman and Iron Man. They are normal men who have well-engineered tools that make them super heroes, he said.

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