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Development of Employability Skills in Engineering Disciplines through Co-op

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Cooperative and Experiential Education Division Technical Session 1 - Skill and Competency Development through the Co-op Experience

Tagged Division

Cooperative and Experiential Education

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Paper Authors


Haaniyah Ali York University

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Haaniyah Ali is a Mechanical Engineering undergraduate student from York University, class of 2020. She has worked on engineering co-op education research projects since September 2018 and presented her first paper at a conference in June 2019. She is passionate about understanding the co-op education system, to provide the best experience for students. She is also very involved in her school community and works with students and faculty alike to improve community engagement.

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Jeffrey Harris York University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Jeffrey Harris is an assistant professor (teaching stream) in mechanical engineering at York University in Toronto, Canada. He currently serves at the Director of Common Engineering and Science within the Lassonde School of Engineering. He has a PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Toronto and is completing a M.Ed. from York University.

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This work-in-progress paper aims to highlight the development of employability skills vital to the success of a cooperative experience, as they differ across 3 different engineering programs at one institution. Through this study, a preliminary list of skills will be generated, the most and least developed by each discipline specified. This information can be adapted for further use, such as for co-op programs to create workshops and provide resources to their students to maximize effectiveness and a student’s experience. Due to the nature of each engineering program, specific skills will have a more keen focus than others. This keen focus will not be the same for every discipline [1]. When looking from the lens of cooperative education, this can pose as a barrier for success. Employers expect the development of certain employability skills- technical and general skills applicable for one to get employed [1]. Despite recognition of the importance of employability skills in co-op programs, how they are developed is not systematically measured and there does not yet exist a method to compare competency of different students in different programs. This study aims to propose a list of underdeveloped skills, per each discipline, by developing and using a skills-based model to assess employability skill development as students enter the workforce. According to literature, the most relevant employability skills are teamwork, critical thinking, lifelong learning, communication, initiative, problem-solving, organization and ethical thinking. This literature was selected by searching various databases using keywords skills, co-op, employability and engineering. A model was created to fully understand the scope of each of these skills, assigning measurable actions where applicable. The is adapted from previous models and framed by the competency list provided by the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board. Once the model was developed, the undergraduate program directors of individual departments were contacted and asked which skills they found their program focused on, and what these skills looked like. These meetings, along with the model, will be used to guide the discussion of the focus groups. A total of 6 focus groups were conducted, 2 for each program being analyzed. Each focus group included 4-7 students who have worked during their post-secondary education in the field of their major. The students were asked questions about their experience and the development of certain employability skills in school, prior to their work experience. This includes questions regarding the skills highlighted by their respective faculty members. Finally, the students were asked to reflect on the relevance of each skill in the model. The insights from these focus groups generated a preliminary list of skills that need to be developed by each program. This can be used for improving the co-op experience. It can also be used to analyze and improve individual engineering programs.

[1] M. M. G. V. Shyamalee, et al. “Comparative Study on Employability Skills of Engineering Graduates of Different Disciplines” International Journal of Education and Information Technologies, iss. 4, vol. 7 pp. 170-177, 2013.

Ali, H., & Harris, J. (2020, June), Development of Employability Skills in Engineering Disciplines through Co-op Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34458

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