Surprisingly, this appears to be the case according to research recently released.
An interdisciplinary team involving researchers with backgrounds in engineering, intercultural communication, and applied linguistics from universities in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Australia, and Japan conducted the research.
They analysed written materials with intercultural communication as the subject, as used in engineering education.
They concluded that education in this area is not just lacking. It’s also behind the times.
What is intercultural training, and why should we care?
Put simply, intercultural training (which can also be called cross-cultural or multicultural training) educates employees on the cultural differences between countries or world regions, with the goal of preparing them for smooth, successful communication in international business settings.
In today’s world, Engineers need to be multi-faceted, not just technically adept “nerds”. This is because it’s increasingly acknowledged that they require more than technical excellence given the complex global contexts in which they work.
They’re required to have high levels of public health, safety, welfare, environmental, social, environmental and cultural appreciation. This led to concerns that engineering programs at Universities don’t adequately prepare students for the professional world.
For example, previous study conducted by researchers from eight leading engineering schools in Brazil, China, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and the United States concluded:
Despite their diverse histories, cultures, economies, and engineering infrastructures, it is apparent that all six countries recognize the need for a dramatically different kind of engineer and, remarkably, they agree substantially on their desired traits. The highly‐analytical, technically‐focused engineering “nerd” is a person of the past. They seek engineers who are technically adept, culturally aware, and broadly knowledgeable… . What they seek is a global engineer. (Global Engineering Excellence Initiative, 2006 , p. 32)
For this reason, the researchers asked the very academic question “How is culture conceptualised in engineering education?” But, this seems weird right?
We probably feel that we’re a well-connected discipline that collaborates well globally. So how could Engineering training be so off the mark?
Culture can simplistically be defined in two arguably mutually exclusive ways; either using a ‘culture‐as‐a-given’ or a ‘culture‐as‐a-construct’ approach.
Culture-as-a-given. Where you are born defines you.
The culture‐as‐a-given approach focuses on describing the cultures of predefined groups, often based on nationality, as a way of providing footholds for cross‐cultural interaction. The researchers found a tendency for educational programs in engineering to favour a culture‐as-a-given approach, with nationality as the defining difference.
Put simply, this approach describes a culture with characteristics that are assumed to apply to all members of a particular group. It assumes a person will possess certain beliefs, uphold certain values, or act in certain ways because of the group they are assumed to represent. Hence, the culture‐as‐a-given approach could in some cases reinforce stereotyping.
Culture-as-a-construct. You may identify more with an Engineer from another country vs. someone from another discipline in New Zealand.
The culture‐as‐a-construct approach views culture as something “liquid” that can’t be reduced to a unitary, homogeneous identity, even if it may sometimes appear solidified in social, legal, or other structures. Such cultures, change, intermingle, and are not defined by national boundaries.
An example, would be communities of practice in which people with shared concerns and aims gather and learn to improve their practices through interaction. This is something probably very familiar to practicing engineers but seemingly not so familiar in training programs.
The researchers recommend that education and training should go beyond training on how to deal with people of different nationalitities and ethnic groups. Students should be directed to reflect on and to discuss the cultures of small groups and institutions that they belong to, and try to better understand from where their own worldviews originate.
Have you thought of better ways to engage students in your own small culture and area of practice?
At HERA, we’ve been thinking about intercultural communication a lot. It’s why we are establishing our tribe of metalheads and have created a student category of membership. We recognise that heavy engineering is somewhat of a culture that we can all identify with.
If you’d like to read the full journal paper to get your own thinking going around it, click here.
I’d also like to call for support for any of our student members, as we’re looking to assist them to access paid internships, networking opportunities, site visits, mentoring and more. We’d also be keen for you to link us with students within your workforce who might be eligible for this membership tier. It’s a great resource you can tap into to build a professional development scheme for them without financial outlay. It tells them you want to invest in their growth, that they’re important to your business and that you’re providing a work environment they want to stay in.
To find out more, please contact our Manager Membership Services and Support, Brian Low.