Knowledge is light! If not — put on an orange builders' vest at first light

Knowledge is light! If not — put on an orange builders' vest at first light
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Aiming to talk about the training of young specialists, we have visited Omsk, the city where a famous talent foundry for the road building industry is located — Siberian State Automobile and Highway Academy or SibADI. The dean of the Faculty of Highway Transportation Facilities and Bridges, Maxim Perfiliev, readily agreed to speak about the current state of industry-specific education.

Knowledge is light! If not — put on an orange builders' vest at first lightMaxim Sergeevich, how would you assess the current state of education for road builders?

Modern technical education is based on the Soviet engineering education, which provides a set of basic competencies for the graduate. However, the quality is adversely affected by the reduction of the apprenticeship period, changes in the number of lectures and practical studies, as well as the reduction of hours for work experience internship. In addition, the inflow of young cadres into education is very limited, while material resources often don’t allow learning new technologies and materials that are already applied in modern enterprises.

The work of the University staff is aimed at fulfilling the efficiency criteria established by the Education Ministry. In my opinion, they haven’t taken fully into account the quality of education and the employer’s interests. According to employers, most of our faculty graduates have a sufficient level of training to perform the initial labor functions.

How would you assess the effectiveness of road building training within the Bologna system?

Unfortunately, the qualification of a bachelor poorly goes together with engineering professions. The major reduction in hours during the transition from 5-year to 4-year education systems accounted for work practices, design projects and construction-related disciplines (such as “Construction Mechanics” and “Theory of Strength of Materials”). Whereas this kind of knowledge is crucial for tech workers. In this connection, employers restrict a career advancement for bachelors within the positions of engineering staff workers. In order to keep climbing a career ladder, one will need to get a Master's degree.

At present, the Master's degree for builders is generally not clear for me, though. When pursuing the classical Western scheme, students should continue their studies at the master’s level if they intend to engage in research or teaching. However, scientists and teachers are a rarity while the number of holders of a Master's degree amounts to hundreds. As a rule, students try to work and study by correspondence, and after graduating they go to work in construction or production. In fact, they do not need academic and scientific knowledge but rather a diploma for continuing their careers.

One more interesting point is that one may enter the magistracy, enrolling in any specialty, regardless of the previous education. This leads to the situation where economists, managers, and even athletes study in the field of construction, whereas it isn’t possible to obtain new technical occupational skills over the course of two years. In my opinion, without a basic training, a Master's degree is a sheer imitation.

Ideally, a Master's degree holder is more in demand on the labor market because he or she receives more profound knowledge needed for the selected profession. Nevertheless, a graduated bachelor will be savvier in the field and will be valuable for the employer than a graduated Master degree holder, who has not previously received a relevant education.

Knowledge is light! If not — put on an orange builders' vest at first light

Could you please tell us about the way the educational process is organized at the faculty?

Within the past two years, the number of applicants for Bachelor's and Specialist’s programmes amounts to about 80 people. Approximately 70% of the students successfully complete their studies. They study the following areas: bridges and tunnels, highways, construction engineering, environmental protection, the safety of technological and industrial processes. Applicants are more willing to enroll in the bridge and tunnel programme.

At present, applicants generally come from Omsk and the Omsk region. Earlier, the ratio of Omsk resident and nonresident was about 50/50. Reducing the number of applicants from other regions is due to the opening of road building educational programmes in almost all construction universities. With the introduction of the Unified State Examination, many applicants have got an opportunity to enter Moscow universities without leaving the region. Earlier, the faculty was considered “male” but now the ratio between boys and girls is almost equal to one. A separate institute has been established for Master’s degree holders and postgraduate students. The number of applicants for the Master's program in our specialties amounts to approximately 70 people.

What about state-financed openings?

This is a sore subject for our specialty. At the beginning of the 2000s, the number of state-financed openings at our faculty was over 200 places. Today, their number has fallen down to 70. The minimum cost of education is determined by the Ministry of Education and amounts to about 100,000 annually. The university has the right to establish tuition costs exceeding this amount, but normally the cost does not increase due to low incomes of citizens and a complex demographic situation in general.

In addition to studying at the university, there is also an externship programme. Where do your students undergo work experience?

Traditionally, after end-of-semester exams are over, students come to sites of an actual road construction. In the old days, the geography of externship extended to the northern regions of Tyumen, the territories of Altai and Krasnoyarsk as well as the Novosibirsk region. In the last 10 years, our students have started to travel to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, etc. Students work in production in various positions: the road worker, backup roadmaster, roadmaster, laboratory assistant, member of department or project organization. The problem is associated today primarily with the reduction in externship period (1 month against 2,5 — 3 months before). The employer is not willing to hire a student for this period since such length of time is actually enough just for coming to know the working process.  

How are things going with the graduate employability?

The demand for young professionals in the Omsk region is quite large. At the same time, due to regional peculiarities, the level of wages is still low. In this context, about 30% of graduates settle in Omsk and the region, with some of them working in the specialty they have not been trained in. The rest go to different regions, where large-scale construction is currently underway. The main directions are the Crimea, Moscow, Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District, Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District, Tyumen Region, and St. Petersburg. In general, anybody who wants to, find a job in their degree field. And yet, part of them change their area of competence with the view of staying in Omsk or take a job in highly paid areas, such as oil, gas, banking and even IT sectors.

Thank you for an interesting conversation. So the last question is whether you have something to add?

Based on my answers, you might have understood that education at large and in our country in particular has quite a lot of problems. Meanwhile, for all that, I see a potential for growth in our specialties. First of all, these are associated with the fact that the employer and the state customer have come to the understanding that the level of training of personnel is reducing and there is the need for making things better.

Consequently, the faculty, together with its partner companies, is looking for new ways to improve the quality of education. We work in the following areas: creating joint educational programs, recruiting target groups for these programs, whose education is financed from the funds of these organizations (for instance, Mostostroy-11), establishing basic departments at enterprises, where students will be able to study practices on modern materials and technologies used in the road construction sector. Also, negotiations are conducted on the establishment of a training center based on SibADI — to study modern materials. We are counting on the support of Rosavtodor (The Federal Road Transport Agency of Russia) and its regional offices in the area of promoting of the field-specific education, as well as turning our university into a platform for the introduction of innovations in the territory of Siberia, the Extreme North, and the Far East.

Interviewed by Stanislav Donin