Assistant Engineer Role Explained (by Kung Fu the TV Series)

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In the pilot episode of Kung Fu, the blind Master Po (played by Keye Luke) teaches his young student Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine) an important lesson every Assistant Engineer should heed:

Master Po: Close your eyes. What do you hear?

Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.

Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?

Caine: No.

Po: Do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?

Caine: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?

Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

Master Po is of course admonishing Caine to be aware and alert. The training would be rigorous. To attain the wisdom and skill of the master would require full engagement.

Under the supervision of a senior engineer, an assistant engineer acquires skills and experience by being fully engaged helps in the various engineering projects.

Projects that would require the use of an assistant engineer tend to be large-scale. However, assistant engineers can be found working on small projects and may even be put in leadership roles to manage small teams. Specialty engineering fields where assistant engineers are used include mechanical, environmental and civil.

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Tools of the Master

Like Caine who was sent on a mission with a 400 year old scroll in the episode “Alethea”, an assistant engineer’s job involves using maps, blueprints and modern engineering tools. He may use these tools to not only help a senior engineer to complete a task but also to provide technical support to on-site labourers who aren’t qualified to use the tools.

Assistant engineers work with tools using industry-standard techniques. He must be careful to use these tools and techniques in accordance with industry codes and regulations created by the authorities. For this reason he may spend some time liaising with the authorities to make sure that he and his co-workers are complying with the various regulations.

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The Wisdom of Planning

The assistant engineer helps his (or in many cases her, so assume both genders) superior to plan the design of whatever it is that’s going to be constructed by the engineers, as well as the design of the equipment that’s going to be used in the construction process. The assistant will also exercise wisdom in the planning of assessment practices.

An assistant engineer may be asked to buy new materials, tools or machinery for a project, so he must also be able to plan what he’s going to buy, where he’s going to buy it from and how much he’s going to spend.

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Beginning and End

When Master Po said “each journey begins and also ends” he may have been speaking about the office. An assistant engineer’s work isn’t always on construction sites. It begins and ends and the office. Sometimes the work involves documenting engineering projects, compiling data to do with those projects and helping his office-based co-workers with managing operations and creating statistical and budget reports.

While in the office, he will also estimate project costs by working out how much the labor costs and the total price of the materials used. He may also file contracts and invoices.

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Communication and Respect

Caine: Other men not knowing me, will find me hard to understand

Master Po: Accept the ways of others. Respect first your own.

Master Po was right again. An assistant engineer has to communicate with a number of people, not just his senior engineer. Once a project is underway, the assistant engineer will regularly communicate with all types of people on the construction site, conducting field research and overseeing the project’s progress. Being able to interact with others and accept their input while staying focused on your duties will put your social skills to the test.

Away from the site, he will need to be able to communicate with potential clients in order to bid on new engineering contracts and negotiate the terms of any contracts he wins.

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As Master Khan once wisely said: “Recognize that all words are part false and part true, limited by our imperfect understanding. But strive always for honesty within yourself.

And that may be the best advice of all.


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