Are Graduate Engineers being Effectively Educated for Today’s Workplace?


Peter Rodgers, Acting Editor-in-Chief, September 2015

Continuing the June Editorial [1] theme, which discussed the societal aspects of enticing today’s youth into pursuing a career in the engineering profession, this editorial explores if the capabilities of today’s young engineering graduate are being effectively harnessed upon graduation. Otherwise said, is the educational experiences of today’s engineering graduates in sync with employer and industry expectations.

As a university professor, my greatest time sink is neither teaching nor research, but undertaking departmental duties for its baccalaureate program accreditation. Using a Shakespearean quote, to convey how I may feel at times about this task, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” The time and efforts invested towards accreditation should be ultimately rewarded when a young graduate finds the opportunity to apply his/her acquired knowledge, skills and competences upon employment. To achieve this, a structured and ever-evolving engineering education is required. The effectiveness of engineering education is typically continuously assessed and improved through external accreditation by bodies such as ABET [2], a widely recognized U.S. and international accreditor of engineering university programs. For an ABET-accredited engineering program, eight general criteria (Criterion 1 to 8) that encompass assessment of the student, faculty, program, and institution are required to be met. Criterion 3, student learning outcomes (SLOs), assesses what students are expected to know and be able to do by the time of graduation. The level of achievement of eleven sub-criteria, SLOs 3(a) to 3(k), is monitored to achieve Criterion 3. Accreditation provides confidence to students, employers, and society that the engineering program meets a high quality standard to produce graduates prepared to enter a global workforce.

One of the most effective venues to assess SLOs 3(a) to 3(k) is through a Senior-level “Capstone Design” course. In this course, engineering students work in teams to design, build, and test prototypes having real world applications, incorporating engineering standards and multiple realistic constraints. Typically at the end of this course, students showcase their efforts at a “Senior Design Expo,” which in many instances doubles as a job fair for employers to meet with prospective job seekers.

In the context of the above educational approach, are our young graduates getting the opportunity to fully apply the knowledge, skills, and competences acquired through education in today’s engineering workplace? Rather than approaching this concern as a rhetorical question, let’s explore a concerning answer.

Firstly, rather than the majority of graduates being feted, a recent U.S. employer survey [3] judge them to be ill-prepared for today’s workplace. Only 25% of employers felt that recent graduates are well prepared in critical thinking and analytic reasoning, written and oral communication, complex problem solving, innovation and creativity, and applying knowledge and skills to real world settings. On the other hand, students were found to feel far more prepared (i.e., above 60%) in these key areas. Based on the same survey, employers strongly endorsed broad and project-based learning as the best preparation for career opportunity and long-term success. How can the above disconnect between the employer’s and graduate’s perception of his/her capabilities be addressed? Is the Capstone Design experience, which develops and assesses the level of achievement of most key educational criteria, inadequately conceived or utilized?

For the electronics thermal management community, employers should realize that opportunities exist to contribute to undergraduate education through involvement in Capstone Design activities. In the long term, this could assist to better sync young graduates’ and employers’ expectations.

[1] Guenin, B., 2015, “Editorial: The Joy of Engineering,” ElectronicsCooing, June, pp. 1.
[2] ABET,, last retrieved August 26, 2015.
[3] Hart Research Associates, 2015, “Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success,”, last retrieved August 26, 2015.

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Hey, I'm a health nut who spends a lot of my time finding out about the latest and oldest ways to be healthy. I share on my blog all kinds of stuff about women's health, skin care, holistic healing, aging, and all sorts of other stuff.

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