Body of knowledge for engineers, automation professionals and for all

Wouldn't it be great if an organization like the AIChE could turn its attention to defining the body of knowledge required for competence in government?

By Paul Studebaker, editor in chief, Control

Recent reminders that the only prerequisites to be president of the United States are natural-born citizenship, 14 years in the country and a 35th birthday make me wonder what anyone really needs to know to get the job.

Back in the 1980s, the foundry superintendent in our little magnet factory liked to tell jokes as parables. One was a story about a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, plying his trade on the dusty back roads of rural Indiana. A farmer's wife replies to his knock on the door, and after listening to his pitch, she says, "Sounds interesting, but my husband makes those decisions. He's out yonder on the tractor. You can go talk to him."

So the salesman trudges across the field with an armload of books, hails the farmer and starts his spiel. The farmer cuts him off with, "We're just simple folks; we don't have much use for all that information."

The salesman says, "But these books also have everything you need to know to be a better farmer—look, here are the best ways to prepare soil, when to plant different kinds of seeds, how to fertilize, and what to do about water. You could double your production with these articles!"

The farmer shook his head and said, "Look, I already don't farm half as well as I know how. Reading those books would just make it worse."

Fortunately, it's now 2015, we have the Internet, and engineers have access to all the knowledge they might need to achieve their professional goals. So much, in fact, that they might need guidance on which information is needed to attain their particular set of objectives.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) is stepping up to help solve that problem with a new set of metrics that will help chart the changing skill-development and educational needs of chemical engineers across industries and career stages. The new Body of Knowledge (BOK) for Chemical Engineers is aimed at providers of chemical engineering professional training—the AIChE Academy, other educators and industries—that prepare the chemical engineering workforce of the future. Engineers may also use the BOK as a reference for their own career skills development.

According to AIChE, the BOK will offer a series of knowledge, skills and abilities matrices cross referenced with metrics in key developmental domains (affective, cognitive and psychomotor). These variables relate to the attributes associated with effective performance in 10 areas of chemical engineering practice: academia, chemical processing, foods, drugs, consumer products, high-tech industries, emerging markets, materials science, nuclear energy and regulatory fields.

Numeric rankings are applied to the various categories, denoting the recommended skill level or aptitudes needed for a spectrum of professional roles in the given field. Metrics assess the competencies expected of chemical engineers at four discrete career stages: recent graduate, some experience, mature technical competence and technical expertise or mastery.

AIChE says the Body of Knowledge for Chemical Engineers is now being used by its Education Committee to develop courses offered through the AIChE Academy. The resource will be available online at where individual engineers may use it for self-assessment and personal skills-development planning.

We don't know yet whether or not it addresses instrumentation and control. Let's hope the AIChE sees process automation as more than information that chemical engineers don't need to do their jobs half as well as they know how.

Wouldn't it be great if an organization like the AIChE could turn its attention to defining the body of knowledge required for competence in government?

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