Zen and the Art of Engineering Education
Attracting the next generation to consider the electricity industry as their career choice is something that has long been discussed. The ‘Smart People for a Sustainable Future’ session at the 2013 EEA conference brought this topic into view and highlighted the scale of industry concern. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a noticeable void of young engineers in the industry to acquire knowledge from experienced senior professionals and smoothly transition into senior roles. The title of this paper is a play on the book title “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig . It parallels the concept of ‘flight from science’ coined by the Japanese with the two approaches to life, and indeed understanding and maintenance of their motor cycles, by the narrator’s friend and the narrator. The Japanese have observed an increasing use of technology by younger generations coupled with an increasing reluctance to ‘lift the bonnet’ and understand how the technology actually works. Is the world moving to the ‘romantic’ philosophical approach of the narrator’s friend, where he relies on his expensive motorcycle to run smoothly and entrusts it to expensive professionals to maintain? And therefore is the world turning its back on the ‘classical’ philosophy of the narrator, of diagnosing and repairing problems oneself? Or is it simply too difficult to maintain a modern machine? Having posed this question the paper analyses enrolment trends in Mathematics and Physics at high-school level, and looks for trends that might shed some light on these questions. Using this information the paper attempts to answer the question of serious concern to the industry: what is an indication of future New Zealand engineering graduate numbers. Preliminary findings from EPECentre focus groups with high-school teachers is also summarised to give the perspective of teachers in the ‘system’.