A new study ‘BeLongEng’ led by Associate Professor and Director of the Master of Engineering in Management programme at the University of Canterbury, Enda Crossin, aims to shed light on how and why the engineering profession is evolving.
BeLongEng Project is a collaboration between the University of Canterbury, The University of Auckland, Queensland University of Technology, University of Technology Sydney and The University of Western Australia. Academics involved in the study will track thousands of Engineers in Australia and New Zealand over an extended period to find out more about their background, education, career progression and work environment.
We chat with Assoc. Prof. Enda Crossin to find out more about this ground-breaking study.
What is BeLongEng?
The BeLongEng Project is a trans-Tasman longitudinal research project that will study the work of engineers over time. The “BeLongEng” name reflects some of the nature of the research; what does it mean to Be an engineer, the Longitudinal approach, and of course Engineering.
Why is it important to track how engineering work is changing?
Very little is known about how engineering work is changing. There are anecdotes of this change (e.g. the rising use of machine learning), but the evidence is very limited. We need to study this change to provide evidence for engineering education providers, peak bodies and the broader engineering community so that they can prepare for the ever-changing nature of engineering.
What is the aim of the study and when and how will we find out the results?
The aim of the project is to provide evidence for policy and change in engineering practice and education. Results will be published on our website through summary reports. We’ll also be running presentations with our Peak Body Supporters (e.g. Engineers Australia and Engineering NZ), as well as publishing the results in academic journals.
How is this study different from previous studies carried out?
Similar studies are cross-sectional in nature; they are a snapshot in time which examine differences in engineers’ practice based on experience. There are also some studies which examine the study to work transition of early-career engineers. This study is different because we will track engineers, irrespective of their career stage, over a long period of time. This approach allows us to truly understand change, not just differences. This will be the biggest study of its type globally.
Who can participate in the BeLongEng Project?
We have detailed criteria, but these are best summarised as follows:
The first criteria is that you need to be an engineer from Australia or New Zealand; either with a 2-,3-,4-year or postgraduate engineering qualification, or be recognised as an engineer by Engineers Australia or Engineering New Zealand.
The second criteria is that you need to expect that you will be working for at least for the next 10 years.
You don’t need to be working as an engineer. We know that a lot of qualified engineers move to other fields of work, and we would like to understand their careers to provide insights into what engineering skills they use.
What will be expected of BeLongEng participants? What sort of questions will Engineers need to answer?
Participants will be asked to complete a survey, which takes about 40 minutes. We have worked hard to reduce the size of the survey, and will be working on reducing it further. The 2022 survey has just started, and we’ll run follow up surveys in 2023, 2025, 2027, 2029, 2032, 2037, and 2042.
The survey is best described as an engineering census. There are three parts to the survey. The first one is a set of demographic questions, which includes details of your qualifications, background, job and so on. The second set of questions focusses on work factors, like people’s sense of standing in the profession. Some of these questions in this second set might seem similar, but they are measuring different things. The final part of the survey asks about the activities that participants do in their work.
Do you think the study might help to increase diversity in the profession?
Certainly, that is one of the aspects that we would like to make an impact on. We have designed the research to allow us to study the engineering workforce more broadly. This includes capturing people’s background, their experiences at work, and their sense of belonging to the profession.
We expect that we will be able to provide some unique insights into how organisations can improve and maintain a diverse workforce. We will look at this from a strength-based approach, rather than a deficit approach; for example, if we identify a particular industry that manages to recruit and retain under-represented groups in engineering, we’ll be able to share this with the broader engineering community.
How will participants’ privacy be protected?
Great question, and a really important one; building trust with the participants is really critical for us. We have strict protocols in place to make sure that we protect participants’ identity and privacy. Some of these measures include only using people’s names and contact details for the purpose of this project and removing these details from the dataset before analysing the data.
The project has been subject to a rigorous review process through the University of Canterbury’s Human Research Ethics Committee. Further details of the measures that we have in place are provided to participants before they start the survey so that they can make an informed decision if they want to participate or not. Participants can opt out at any time too.
Why should Engineers get involved in the project?
Each engineer has a unique career story. We would like to know about this story so that we can provide a rich picture of what the engineering profession looks like. If you want to help shape the future of engineering, then we encourage you to take part!
How can Engineers register to participate in the study?
To join the study, please visit www.BeLongEng.org/join. If you sign-up and need to come back to the survey, just remember that you’ll need to do this on the same browser and device that you used to start.
Can other organizations or companies get involved too?
If other organisations think that this project is a good idea, we would encourage you to ask your engineers to take part in the study.