Cummins is Engineering Bench Strength

Aug. 9, 2011
Cummins' Engineering Development Program develops talented pool of technical leaders.

The topic of engineering talent is grabbing its fair share of media headlines lately, be it about finding the right talent, developing the right talent and even providing the kinds of opportunities that encourage the best talent to stay.

While the conversation and concern surrounding engineering talent is a more recent one for many manufacturers, others have been addressing it for years. Their responses may not work for all manufacturers, but they do offer ideas to consider.

Take Cummins Inc., for example. It was 17 years ago that this Columbus, Ind.-based manufacturer asked the question: What does it take to be a really good chief engineer? The answer to that question launched the Cummins Engineering Development Program in 1994.

The program's goal, says Wayne Eckerle, Cummins vice president of research and technology, is to create "bench strength to fill that position."

The successful chief engineer not only has strong, broad-based technical skills but also strong leadership skills, explains Eckerle, who also is sponsor of the Engineering Development Program.

It is not the type of talent that is developed overnight, which the program illustrates by its very length. It takes five years to complete, but on the other end emerge the strong technical leaders Cummins desires.

Participants in the Engineering Development Program are a select crew. The program invites only new college graduates, and its maximum size at any given time is 10.

"We are pretty selective about who gets into the program," Eckerle says. "As we go through our interview process, what we look for are [students] who are smart and successful in technical areas but who also have demonstrated leadership skills." So when the company recruits, not only does it examine a student's extracurricular activities at college, but it looks to see if that potential recruit was a leader in those activities.

The five-year program consists of four job rotations. The first two are each 18 months and focus on fundamental skills development in such areas as performance and combustion, design for applied mechanics and electronics. The third rotation, which lasts 12 months, addresses customer familiarization in such areas as customer engineering, service engineering, and manufacturing and quality engineering. The final rotation -- also 12 months -- focuses on product development. Each rotation has specific training plans attached and mechanisms to assure program participants have acquired the required tools and skills.

Significant Commitment for a Good Cause

"It is a pretty significant commitment," Eckerle admits, and not only for the new recruits. Each recruit is assigned a mentor, (a senior leader) who also takes on the five-year commitment and works with his recruit to develop a good program experience. Additionally, Cummins holds quarterly informational events that invite senior leadership from all Cummins' areas to share their career experiences with the program participants.

"We are trying to get the most-well-rounded employee at the end," says Greg Buikema, technical human resources manager.

Cummins is pleased with its Engineering Development Program. Appropriate due diligence by the company in the recruiting phase has been important to assuring the program meets both its goals and students' expectations. Internal demand for the program's recruits is significant, Eckerle says.

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About the Author

Jill Jusko

Bio: Jill Jusko is executive editor for IndustryWeek. She has been writing about manufacturing operations leadership for more than 20 years. Her coverage spotlights companies that are in pursuit of world-class results in quality, productivity, cost and other benchmarks by implementing the latest continuous improvement and lean/Six-Sigma strategies. Jill also coordinates IndustryWeek’s Best Plants Awards Program, which annually salutes the leading manufacturing facilities in North America.

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