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Why Industry Says That Engineering Graduates Have Poor Communication Skills: What the Literature Says

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Why Industry Says that our Engineering Students Cannot Write

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1687.1 - 22.1687.13



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Paper Authors


Jeffrey A. Donnell Georgia Institute of Technology

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Jeffrey Donnell coordinates the Frank K. Webb Program in Professional Communication at Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering

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Betsy M. Aller Western Michigan University

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Betsy M. Aller is an associate professor in industrial and manufacturing engineering at Western Michigan University, where she teaches and coordinates the capstone design project sequence. She also teaches first-year engineering, manufacturing for sustainability, and graduate-level project management courses.

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Michael Alley Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Michael Alley is an associate professor of engineering communication at Pennsylvania State University. He works in the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education and is the author of The Craft of Scientific Writing (Springer, 1996).

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April A. Kedrowicz University of Utah

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April A. Kedrowicz is the Director of the CLEAR Program at the University of Utah, an interdisciplinary collaboration between Humanities and Engineering. This college-wide program integrates communication and teamwork instruction into the core, undergraduate engineering curriculum. Dr. Kedrowicz received her Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Utah and is the founding director of this innovative program.

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  Why Industry Says That Engineering Graduates Have Poor Communication Skills: What the Literature Says  In a recent survey completed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), 52percent of ME department heads considered the written and oral communication skills of theirME graduates to be strong, while only 20 percent considered these skills to be weak.Unexpectedly, a parallel survey of industry representatives found almost opposite results, withonly 9 percent considering the skills of recent ME graduates to be strong and 52 percentconsidering those same skills to be weak. Given these results were gathered from 68 MEdepartment heads and more than 1000 engineers and managers, a disconnect clearly existsbetween what communication skills we are teaching to engineering students and what industryexpects our students to know.Why does this disconnect exist? Why does such a large percentage of industry leaders considerthe communication skills of engineering graduates to be weak while many leaders of engineeringdepartments believe their graduates are well prepared to communicate in the workplace? Also,what particular aspects of writing and oral presentation skills does industry consider to be weakin engineering graduates? Which communication aspects are valued in industry?This paper addresses these questions through a review of studies that have assessed thecommunication skills of recent engineering graduates. This review will shed light on the seemingdisconnect between academic and industrial needs, lay the groundwork for further investigations,and will support a discussion of ways to address and repair the gap.

Donnell, J. A., & Aller, B. M., & Alley, M., & Kedrowicz, A. A. (2011, June), Why Industry Says That Engineering Graduates Have Poor Communication Skills: What the Literature Says Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18809

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