Preparing New Generations to Meet Future NeedsThu, 12/01/2016 - 17:27
Academic programs must adapt to the increasingly quick transformation of global industries while also meeting the demand for humanized and holistic professionals, Victor Rivera, Chief of the Continuing Education Division at the School of Engineering, UNAM, told the Mexico Talent Forum 2016 in Mexico City on Thursday.
“At UNAM, we strive to train engineers that are prepared to face the challenges of the world with a social conscience,” he said during his presentation “Preparing New Generations for Future Needs” at the Sheraton Maria Isabel hotel. “We hope to break stereotypes by pushing our engineers to have a wider spectrum of abilities.”
Emerging technologies are pushing industries toward a massive revolution in every field, Rivera said. For example, a cognitive system from IBM and the program behind Apple’s Siri, Watson, will cause companies to drastically reduce the numbers of employees they need. It can recognize and communicate with human beings and can continuously learn to respond thanks to its database, he said.
UBER is another example. The company is revolutionizing the transportation industry with its self-driving cars that are already being tested in a few cities.
Considering the context of the century’s industries, institutions like UNAM must adapt. “UNAM is preparing itself to combat the massive changes of the future as new sectors are popping up with each generation,” Rivera said.
But keeping students enrolled in highly technical fields is not easy. UNAM is known for its engineering department and Rivera used that as an example. “One in three engineering students in any university in the world, not only in Mexico, tends to not go past the first filter of the career, which is basic science. The majority then tend to change to another career at this point.”
The engineering department at UNAM differentiates itself by offering an educational model that increases the percentage of human development each student receives to 30 percent from the traditional 10 percent.
“We also monitor the companies that employ our students. A large percentage of studies show that our students are well prepared when it comes to technical skills but lag on administrative disciplines.” The department also struggles with the fact that only 13 percent of its engineering students speak English.
Future technological advances are equally one of the largest challenges it faces. “Many studies show that 3-5 percent of a person’s time should be dedicated to education and improving skills,” he said. “It can help close the gap between employees and the changes of the industry,” Rivera said.
Fracking and deepwater exploration will be important future careers in Mexico along with mechanical design of biomedical systems, which few schools offer, he said.
To stay one step ahead of the game, in 2017 UNAM will open a higher education institution in Queretaro to offer studies in the design and operation of satellites.
Research and analysis also help keep the school in line with changes by helping to fill gaps in its programs. Rivera said that engineers who specialize in mining, for example, are the last to be hired to operate mines. Civil engineers are more likely to fill these vacancies.
“Higher education institutes that offer technical programs need to be willing to humanize engineers and recognize that the professional development of an individual is not only marked by technological development but a person’s ability to incorporate a wide range of tools in their work,” Rivera said to end his presentation. “It is for the good of technological development and the overall position of the country.”