June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Educational Research and Methods
13.94.1 - 13.94.18
A Qualitative Study of the Early Work Experiences of Recent Graduates in Engineering. Abstract
After several years of demanding study, new engineers graduate from higher education as professionals eager to apply their expertise to solving “real world” problems. Yet, the transition from school to the workplace involves a socialization process through which new graduates attempt to learn the specific tasks and expectations of their job and begin to integrate into the social context of the organization. Research indicates that this socialization process is important for framing new employees’ experiences and forming their perceptions of work and the organization. These socialization experiences have immediate effects on job satisfaction and learning, and potentially long-term effects on turnover and commitment to the organization and profession1, 2, 3.
This paper reports the findings of a study investigating the socialization experiences of newly hired engineers in a large U.S.-based, global manufacturing company. In this organization, new engineers encountered engineering processes of a different nature than they learned in school. The social and organizational contexts within which they worked influenced the problems and processes they experienced—often introducing greater complexity, ambiguity, and subjectivity than expected. How the new engineers in this study perceived and learned about engineering work in this organization depended to a large extent on their interactions with coworkers in their work groups. These findings provide greater description and clarification of these socialization experiences, along with the relationship of these experiences to their education.
Many in industry and academia judge the preparation of new engineers for work to be less than adequate. Efforts to improve the curricula and practices of engineering education include more collaborative and socially based pedagogies (e.g., design thinking, problem-based learning, and cooperative learning), as well as more experiences based in the workplace, e.g., ABET’s professional skills and the attributes of the Engineer of 20204, 5, 6.These efforts have recommended significant revisions to engineering curricula by expanding the content of engineering from its traditional focus on the application of math and science to broader, socially and design-based curricula. These discussions tend to focus on generalized conceptions of practicing engineers and how best to prepare students in engineering programs to acquire these competencies.
This paper focuses on an important process in the preparation of new engineers for work in organizations—specifically the socialization process through which new engineers make the transition from school to the workplace. Although socialization into practice primarily occurs in the workplace, the link between school and the workplace is arguably strongest during this transition. It is during this process that graduates in engineering learn the more about the practice of engineering in the workplace and form their perceptions of the profession and the job. Identifying the characteristics of this unique experience and its relationship to engineering education is the focus of this paper.
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