Helping new hires succeed

In this Big Picture Interview, Anne Lucietto saw a skills gap in new hires, so she went back to school to address it.

By Christine LaFave Grace, managing editor

Anne Lucietto, a mechanical engineer by training, worked in industry for the likes of Caterpillar and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory before starting her “second career” as an assistant professor at Purdue University in 2014. She obtained a Ph.D. in engineering education from Purdue and has spent the past several years working to ensure that today’s engineering students are sufficiently prepared for their careers. A 2018 Influential Women in Manufacturing honoree, Lucietto also is Plant Services’ newest blogger: Check out her blog, “School’s in Session.”

PS: You had already been teaching at a community college on top of your full-time work in industry. What prompted you to return to school to earn your Ph.D. and teach engineering full-time?

AL: As I would hire young engineers, I realized that many of them didn’t have the skills they needed to actually land and successfully work in the jobs we had hired them for. A lot of it had to do with some of the skills they pick up during the time that they’re working on their degrees, and I felt that I could go back and offer that to the students. So that’s when I quit my job in industry and went back and got a Ph.D., because you need it to teach in a four-year institution, and now I work with seniors almost exclusively.

PS: What skills specifically did you see lacking in young people new to the industry?

AL: Lack of confidence. Lack of ability to articulate their thoughts, especially in a technical way. Sometimes, that’s in interaction with others who aren’t necessarily their peers.

PS: You received this feedback from one of your former students: “Prof. Lucietto is real-world. That’s a refreshing thing because a lot of other teachers are obsessed with grades, books and school. She’s obsessed with helping us learn what to expect post-grad.” How is that reflected in your teaching style? What’s your approach to equipping students with the skills and confidence that will help them succeed on the job?

AL: I try to take them out of the very formal learning environment and make it much more informal, even though we’re still in the classroom. I have a very informal classroom setting, and we discuss current topics that are related to material we’re studying; we work on problems, real-life problems, together in class, and I have them present different things regarding various aspects of the projects they’re working on. And I try to incorporate the humanities – like if they’re working on a project tied to power-plant service, then I have them go back and get the history of turbines and actually write a paper and present it to their class. They’ve found that really helpful.

PS: What are the courses you’re teaching right now?

AL: I teach an applied fluid mechanics course, and I teach a power conversion course where they work to understand power plant and renewable energy efficiency.

PS: From the other side of things, how can manufacturers better help their new hires be successful?

AL: I think they need to provide them with mentors, at least initially. And someone who understands them and maybe has some similarities in their background. Because without that, there’s no common talking place and they just feel kind of uncomfortable and stiff with talking to the person. They really need someone that they can go to and say, “Hey, what do I do in this situation? I have no clue.”

I have a reputation for over-mentoring. I have three young ladies I’m mentoring right now; one’s a sophomore, one’s a junior, and one’s a senior. They’ve actually gotten to know each other, and not only do I mentor them, but they peer-mentor each other. It’s kind of cool. I also mentor a dorm floor of all female engineers. We have a program called Faculty Fellows at Purdue, and we get assigned to a floor; we work with the RA; we go to events with them. It’s part of the retention effort.

Be sure to join Anne Lucietto, Rockwell Automation’s Linda Freeman, and Gorton’s Inc.’s Lisa Webb for the Oct. 24 webinar “Strategies to Retain and Advance Women in Industry,” moderated by Plant Services managing editor Christine LaFave Grace. Register at https://plnt.sv/1810-IWIM.

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