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Technology and globalization have created a world of complex problems that require complex solutions. Consequently, engineering students are inheriting a future that will require them to work on teams with engineers from different disciplines, scientists, and other non-engineers. Undergraduate engineering programs have long recognized the importance of preparing students with teamwork skills, and many schools have begun offering courses and programs designed specifically to engage engineering students in interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary teamwork experiences.
While much has been written about the importance of preparing engineering students to work effectively on multidisciplinary teams, very little has been published identifying the skills needed to do so from the perspective of engineers currently practicing within industry and others who work with or supervise them.
Our research explores whether, in addition to traditional teamwork skills, there are skills specific to working effectively on multidisciplinary engineering teams that can better prepare students to enter the modern workforce and accelerate their ability to deliver meaningful impacts.
To determine whether there are skills specific to working effectively on multidisciplinary engineering teams, we employed three stages of research: a literature review, stakeholder interviews, and a survey. The literature review produced questions used to conduct interviews of working engineers. In turn, the interviews provided content for a survey that was completed by 156 industry professionals to answer three primary research questions:
1. Are there skills specific to working effectively on multidisciplinary teams? 2. How competent are newly hired engineering employees (i.e. entry-level hires) with these skills? 3. How long does it take a newly hired engineering employee unequipped in these skills to become proficient in their execution?
Through this work we have identified seven key skills specific to working on effective multidisciplinary engineering teams. The importance of these skills was confirmed by the survey, which further revealed that respondents believe that the majority of entry-level engineering hires are not proficient in these core multidisciplinary skills at the date of hire.
The results suggest several opportunities for future research, including analyzing the findings in light of key demographics, skill development, and hiring practices. As engineering educators, we hope to uncover and design approaches that will better prepare our students to enter the modern workforce and develop meaningful solutions through multidisciplinary collaboration.
Izenberg, I., & Marra, S., & Mackesey, T., & Kendrick, L., & Bernstein, J. (2022, August), Industry Assessment of Multidisciplinary Teamwork Skills Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. https://peer.asee.org/40388
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