June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
Educational Research and Methods
15.149.1 - 15.149.9
An Examination of Industry’s Desired Traits for Engineering Graduates and Gender Differences Abstract
The National Academy of Engineering, among other organizations, regards hands-on ability as an important trait of engineering graduates. However, it is unclear how faculty, students, and industry prioritize hands-on ability relative to other desirable traits. Surveys were given to industrial representatives, faculty, and students asking them to rate hands-on ability among eight other traits. Analysis found that hands-on ability ranked third. Understanding the importance of hands-on ability would better allow engineering curricula to reflect its prioritization. Hands-on ability also has gender associations. Better understanding how industry views this could allow curriculum to prepare its students to meet this obstacle. It would also allow academia to realize the gender association and address it within the institution. These changes could allow better engineering experiences for female engineers as well as males.
An important consideration for curriculum change and improvement is to identify the desirable attributes of a graduating engineer. While calling for significant reforms in engineering education, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) recommends the Engineer of 2020 have: strong analytical skills; practical ingenuity; creativity; communication; business and management knowledge; leadership; high ethical standards and professionalism; dynamism, agility, resilience, and flexibility; and the habit of lifelong learning1. Other organizations have developed similar lists. For example, in a study pertaining to computer science majors, employers and teaching staff rated the following attributes as highly important: analysis skills, application of knowledge, communication, capacity to learn, information management skills, team competency, ability to work in interdisciplinary teams, ability to work autonomously, and concern for quality as highly important2. The European higher education places emphasis on employability, learner-oriented learning outcomes, and subject-specific and generic competences3, 4. Employability is an overarching trait that is deemed important in graduating engineers5, 6.
Besides academies like the National Academy of Engineering, surveys of engineering industrial representatives and graduates have determined hands-on ability to be important. Duy Nguyen surveyed nearly a hundred individuals from industry and asked them to rate (out of a hundred) the generic qualities and attributes necessary for the development of a professional engineer. The highest ranking category, with a value of 92.30, included hands-on skills7. Although engineers today are not typically hired to tear apart engines, they are still expected to have the hands-on skills. There seems to be a connection between engineering and the ability to perform hands-on tasks. In support of this, when 420 industrial representatives were surveyed in 1999, they identified the ability to connect the theoretical and practical as the highest engineering trait8. McIlwee and Robinson surveyed over four hundred graduates who graduated between 1976 and 1985 in southern California. The surveys revealed that hands-on ability is important in the workplace. Whether the graduate uses hands-on ability on the job or not, “they need to be able to present themselves as someone who is capable of doing so9.”
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