Economic activity in different industrial sectors is cyclical. For sectors with long cycle times, downturns in economic activity can result in significant losses of local, national and international engineering capacity as individuals retrain and migrate into other sectors. For engineering sectors faced with demographic challenges, where many world-leading experts are near or past retirement age, this problem can be particularly acute since down cycles eliminate opportunities for mentorship and knowledge transfer between seasoned experts and younger generations of engineers. Such engagement opportunities are particularly crucial in the transfer of tacit knowledge. Traditional approaches for capturing and codifying methods and best practices, such as the development of standards, publishing books and peer-reviewed articles are typically able to capture only certain aspects of the knowledge of a segment of the population of practicing engineers. In the context of economic cycles, academic institutions serve a special function in society as, amongst other things, they help capture and disseminate knowledge and develop skills needed to train future generations of experts and they serve to maintain continuity of a core knowledge base, even during economic down cycles. In doing so, they help accelerate economic recovery in a given sector by ensuring knowledge captured in the “institutional memory” during past periods of high activity are transferred to new, highly qualified personnel during future upturns. This paper discusses ongoing work at Memorial to identify mechanisms for increasing engagement with industry practitioners to better understand what knowledge and skills are crucial to a given sector, and assessing approaches and technologies that can be used to enhance and accelerate knowledge capture from industry practitioners and transfer this to teaching and learning environments in academic institutions which train next generation experts. The highly specialized engineering field of Ice Engineering is explored as an example.
Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science
Memorial University of Newfoundland