A couple of weeks ago, I attended a recruitment symposium for final year students of the engineering programme offered by University of Malawiâ€™s Polytechnic. It was a very energising and inspiring day for students as well as for practising engineers through the exchange of ideas and concepts. Students showcased some products of the knowledge that they have gained over the five years they have spent at Polytechnic.
One of the things that struck me a lot was a sharp question from one of the students, challenging all the practising engineers from the industry (there were about 20 engineers from the industry). This student asked: â€œTell us what you are doing, as practising engineers, to develop young engineers as they learn in college â€“ not just when you have employed them?â€
The student challenged practising engineers that if they want graduates to have particular characteristics in addition to what they learn from their lecturers in lecture theatres, then the practising engineers had a corresponding duty to help in imparting that extra knowledge and in helping the students to develop those other competences.
This question took me personally back. In responding, I was able to cite a few examples of what I have done in this area but evidently it was not enough for the younger engineers in the making. I concluded by admitting that more needs to be done. Indeed, many young people are hungry not for condemnation of how older people think things were a lot better in their younger days or claims that current young people are not as hard working and so forth. Young people are hungry for positive messages on how they can develop into good professionals and good citizens capable of making significant contribution to the development of our country. And they know, too, that in that way, their aspirations for a good job, good income and comfortable life would be realised.
The question then remains: â€œWhat are we the older generations, doing in developing others?â€
But I want to resist the temptation of restricting this question on the scale of age. We know from basic physics taught in primary and secondary education that heat does not transfer from a bigger or older body to a smaller or newer body. Rather, heat transfer from a warmer body (one with more heat) to a cold one. Similarly, knowledge should not necessarily transfers from older people to younger people, but rather from those who have more knowledge to those who have less on that particular body of knowledge. This means that while on average, we expect older people to transfer knowledge to younger ones, there will always be instances where younger people must also teach older ones.
Have you identified areas where you know more or better than those around you? Let us focus on the workplace scenario. You may be an accountant, salesman, marketer, surveyor, secretary or indeed project coordinator that has worked for some 10 or 15 or more years and a new person joins your team with very limited experience. Do you recognise that you have an unwritten duty to train that member of the team? Remember the time you got your first job, would you have developed the skills that you have if those above you did not volunteer to train you?
Look at the appraisal forms. Most human resources (HR) managers include a section on training or developing others among the key attributes that staff get measured for their performance at work at the end of each quarter or end of the year. This means that HR managers do realise that developing others is a common duty for all. HR managers recognise that if no one trains someone else, the company is on the terminal illness course. Let us all play our role and let us all contribute to the development of the competences of others as we discharge our portion of the common duty of building others. Good luck!