Asee peer logo

Preparing Today’s Engineering Graduate: An Empirical Study of Professional Skills Required by Employers

Download Paper |


2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Learning Outcomes and Pedagogical Strategies: Problems of Alignment

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Robert Graham Johns Hopkins University

visit author page

Robert Graham is a Lecturer in the Center for Leadership Education in the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering, where he has taught business communication courses since 2014. Graham, who has a Master’s degree in communications from The American University, has co-authored several articles in non-technical skills and has taught English, journalism and business communications courses at Towson University and Towson University. After a successful career in journalism and marketing, Graham launched Bigger Pie Strategies, a marketing company formed in 2010, and co-founded Serious Soft Skills, an education and training company, in 2017.

visit author page


Tobin Porterfield Towson University

visit author page

Dr. Tobin Porterfield is an active business educator and researcher. While he has an extensive professional career in supply chain management, in 2007 he earned his Ph.D. in Supply Chain Logistics from the R.H. Smith School at the University of Maryland. Since earning his Ph.D. he has focused on teaching and research. He has taught around the world and presented his research at regional, national, and global conferences. His work has been published in journals including Team Performance Management, the Journal of Computer Information Systems, the International Journal of Project Organization & Management, Transportation Journal, the International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management and the International Journal of Production Economics. His practical professional experience and research training are great assets as we work to understand the profound impact of soft skills and professional skills in the workplace.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Ensuring engineering program graduates possess the skillset sought by employers is critical to the success of colleges and universities offering these degrees. Accrediting bodies are demanding that engineering programs better integrate professional skills in their curriculum. The IET Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes (AHEP) requires academic programs to include non-technical competencies such as working with information ambiguity, communication, innovation, project management, teamwork, and ethics (AHEP, 2014). The American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) want graduates from engineering programs to possess both technical and non-technical skills (Dukhan and Rayess, 2014). A study of engineering graduates’ perspectives on the importance of various ABET technical and non-technical competencies, found the non-technical skills of working in teams, data analysis, problem solving, and communication were critical to graduates’ professional success (Passow, 2012).

Missing from extant literature is a comprehensive understanding of which competencies make up the broad classification generically known as “professional” or “non-technical skills.” To address this gap, the authors undertake a rigorous literature review to develop a complete list of the competencies that comprise professional skills (e.g. Ahn et al., 2014; Borrego et al., 2013; Colby & Sullivan, 2008; Johnson et al., 2015; Ling, 2002).

The 51 competencies identified from the literature are then validated using a database of online employment advertisements seeking engineers. The dataset of job advertisements includes professional opportunities across engineering disciplines. The rigorous methodology of Software-Assisted Content Analysis is used to identify professional skills required of engineering job applicants.

Results affirm that employers want engineering graduates to possess a portfolio of professional skills. Job advertisements predominantly required multiple professional skills. Furthermore, results show a positive relationship between the years of experience and number of professional skills required. Results also validate the literature-based list of professional skills, with 65% of those professional skills found in the job advertisements.

This study supports that employers seeking to fill engineering positions are requiring a wide range of professional skills, suggesting that the breadth of professional skills needed by engineering program graduates is much greater than what is currently required by accrediting bodies and addressed in most engineering curriculum.


AHEP, Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes, third edition (2014), The Institute of Engineering and Technology. Retrieved 28 March, 2016, from

Ahn, B., Cox, M. F., London, J., Cekic, O., and Zhu, J. (2014), “Creating an instrument to measure leadership, change, and synthesis in engineering undergraduates”, Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 103 No. 1, pp. 115-136.

Borrego, M. Karlin, J., McNair, L., and Beddoes, K. (2013), “Team effectiveness theory from industrial and organizational psychology applied to engineering student project teams: a research review”, Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 102 No. 4, pp. 472-512.

Colby, A. and Sullivan, W. (2008). “Ethics teaching in undergraduate engineering education”, Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 97 No. 3, pp. 327-338.

Dukhan, N., and Rayess, N. (2014, July). “On teaching non-technical skills for the engineers of 2020”, In QScience Proceedings (World Congress on Engineering Education 2013) (p. 9). Qatar: Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Journals.

Johnson, E. C., Robbins, B. A., & Loui, M. C. (2015). “What Do Students Experience as Peer Leaders of Learning Teams?”, Advances in Engineering Education, Vol. 4 No. 4, n4.

Ling, Y. (2002), “Model for predicting performance of architects and engineers”, Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, Vol. 128 No. 5, pp. 446-455.

Passow, H. (2012), “Which ABET competencies do engineering graduates find most important in their work?”, Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 101 No. 1, pp. 95-118.

Graham, R., & Porterfield, T. (2018, June), Preparing Today’s Engineering Graduate: An Empirical Study of Professional Skills Required by Employers Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30887

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2018 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015