S7-PRO7-1 - Engineering Graduates Perceived Preparedness for the First Three-Months of Work in Industry

3. Research Full Paper
Jessica R Deters1 , Marie C Paretti1, Robin Ott1
1 Virginia Tech

Engineering education is, in large part, focused on training engineers for the workplace. Several studies investigate what skills and competencies industry desires from graduates, as well as what competencies graduates commonly lack [1]–[3]. However, most of these studies focus on the perspective of industry professionals [4]–[6]. Moreover, studies in this realm that focus on new engineers tend to focus on barriers that graduates face when entering the workplace or what competencies students perceive as important to their work [7], [8]. Across all of these studies, the tendency is to focus on the competency gap between school and work – that is, to adopt a deficit model when analyzing the school to work transition. But, as recent research suggests, many new graduates do consider themselves prepared for work [9]. This perception raises important questions about what these new graduates mean by preparedness, how they see themselves in the transition from student to professional engineer, and what aspects of engineering education prepared them for work.

Toward this goal, this study explores graduates’ perceptions of preparedness during their first twelve weeks on the job after graduation. Drawing on data from a multi-site, longitudinal, U.S.-based study, this study analyzes quantitative survey data collected weekly from two cohorts of participants during their first three months of work; an average of 83 participants provided survey responses each week, for a total of 998 responses and an average of 8.9 surveys per participant. Participants were asked to rate, on a scale of one to seven, how prepared they felt for given list of activities (e.g. CAD, technical calculations, report writing); the list of activities was derived from common activities in capstone design courses explicitly intended to mirror workplace tasks. Participants completed one survey per week for the first twelve weeks of work.

This study builds on previous analyses of the first cohort of participants [9]. Because of the larger sample size, this study includes comparisons across site and gender. We find that participants generally feel well-prepared for their work in industry, with participants reporting an average preparedness of 5.89 across the first three months of work. Perceived preparedness increases over the first three months of work as participants spend more time on the job from an average of 5.76 to 6.01. There are no significant differences in perceived preparedness by site and women report significantly lower levels of preparedness (p<0.05) than men across all months.

The findings suggest that in their transition to work, the participants in this study, while clearly recognizing their need to learn a great deal, also identified significant ways in which their education, and particularly their capstone design courses, prepared them for first full-time engineering jobs. While one interpretation of these results could be that new engineers are not well positioned to self-evaluate their preparedness, an alternate possibility is that the definition of and expectations around preparedness may vary widely based on perspective and context, and more work is needed to understand what the term means to the various constituents involved.