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A "knowledge profile" of an engineering occupation: temporal patterns in the use of engineering knowledge

Each engineering occupation is distinguished by the body of specific knowledge it has built up over time. Some scholars argue that the instrumentality of this historically established knowledge in the solution of everyday design problems renders formal education more important than experience. Other scholars counter that engineering work primarily demands practice-generated knowledge that individuals construct in the course of everyday activities. We address this argument by documenting the frequency with which engineers apply different types of knowledge, with different derivations. Adopting a behavioral perspective, we isolated 1072 episodes of knowledge use in our field observations of structural engineers. From these episodes, we constructed a ‘knowledge profile’ that indicated that two-thirds of the knowledge engineers employed was practice generated. The profile also revealed temporal patterns in the frequency with which the engineers used each knowledge type. Knowledge profiles like the one we constructed should help differentiate among engineering occupations, thereby serving as the foundation for conceptualizing occupations in a world of ‘knowledge work’. In addition, knowledge profiles can help university engineering education programs better target and mirror the knowledge demands of the profession.

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