A University of Canterbury researcher is leading a new longitudinal study that will track thousands of engineers across New Zealand and Australia to better understand the work they do and how the profession changes over time.
Associate Professor Enda Crossin is heading up The BeLongEng project, which came to life after he was involved in developing a new engineering degree at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia.
“We wanted to design the degree to be responsive to the changing nature of engineering work,” Crossin says. “We identified that not only is engineering practice not well understood, but no one had ever tracked engineers over a really long period of time. Most longitudinal studies on engineers focus on the transition from study to work and those early years after graduation, so the evidence basis for what engineers do and how that changes is really lacking.”
Crossin and his project team plan to recruit thousands of engineers across New Zealand and Australia, who will complete a survey every one to two years about the work they are doing and their work environment.
“We also recognise that work is shaped by a range of factors and to capture this, we’re also measuring psychometric factors - things like the feeling of belonging in the profession and wellbeing.
“If we hit our target, it will be the biggest study of its type ever done globally, which is really exciting.”
Participants will be able to opt in to the BeLongEng Club, which will give them access to exclusive events and insights from each data collection wave.
The findings will then be shared with tertiary education providers and engineering peak bodies to help shape engineering programmes.
“There are always question marks about what engineers do and what engineering educators should be teaching. Through this project, we’ll be able to provide strong evidence of what engineers do, including at different career stages. Educators can then use this to improve the preparedness of engineering graduates for work.”
Crossin says they would like to use the research to influence the competency standards that are used for engineering education programmes, such as the Washington, Sydney and Dublin Accords.
“We’ll be able to provide engineering peak bodies with evidence, not just speculation, on how engineering work is changing. In doing so, we can support these peak bodies in making sure that these standards are responsive to the future of engineering work. That's the ultimate end goal.”
Engineering companies will also benefit from the findings, Crossin says.
“We’ll be collecting data on factors related to employment, work satisfaction and performance, and we plan to share insights with engineering companies on how they can support engineers in their careers.
Engineers wanted now for pilot study
Crossin and his team have launched a pilot study and are currently recruiting engineers, or people with engineering qualifications, from New Zealand or Australia to test the design of the survey.
The first big call for participants will happen in February or March next year.
“For next year, we’ll be recruiting even more engineers from New Zealand and Australia. We’re also keen to recruit people with engineering qualifications who are working in other industries. For example, we know quite a few engineering graduates go on to work in the finance industry, but we don't know where they go, why they go there or what engineering skills they're applying. We’ll be able to answer these questions with this study.”
How to get involved
If you’re an engineer and you’re keen to be involved, you can find out more information and join the pilot study via the BeLongEng website.
BeLongEng and ACE New Zealand
ACE New Zealand is a peak-body supporter of the project, helping to spread the word and recruit participants. Chief Executive Helen Davidson is also on the project Advisory Board.
Crossin is the BeLongEng project lead and his team includes Professor Katharina Naswall (University of Canterbury), Dr Fleur Pawsey (University of Canterbury), Jessica Richards (University of Canterbury, Professor Gerard Rowe (University of Auckland), Dr Sarah Dart (Queensland University of Technology), Professor Les Dawes (Queensland University of Technology), Associate Professor Anne Gardner (University of Technology Sydney) and Professor Sally Male (University of Melbourne). Read more about the BeLongEng project team.