S4-DISC3-1 - Undergraduate Civil Engineering Students’ Perspectives on Skills for Future Success

3. Research Full Paper
Madeline Polmear1 , Denise R. Simmons1
1 University of Florida

This full research paper explores undergraduate civil engineering students’ perspectives on the skills they need to be successful in their future careers. Previous research has identified important outcomes and attributes for engineering students to inform curriculum development. However, discrepancies between skills emphasized in the curriculum and those valued in industry have been reported. This potential disconnection raises questions regarding what students are trained to prioritize through their formal education and professional socialization, which has implications for their workforce development. This study explores what skills students believe they need and how/where they learned the importance of these skills. This work aims to connect these perspectives with those expressed by industry. The theoretical framework underpinning this research is a set of competencies that recent graduates need when entering the workforce, as identified by experienced professionals in civil and construction engineering. This framework outlines the 19 skills and attributes that industry leaders believe are most important for practice. The current study aims to identify points of alignment and misalignment between industry and student perspectives in terms of what civil engineers need to be successful.

This study employed a qualitative approach to explore student perceptions through semi-structured interviews. In 2019, 13 undergraduate students in civil and construction engineering at four U.S. institutions completed an interview. The transcripts were analyzed with a combination of inductive and deductive coding. A priori codes were developed based on the competencies included in the theoretical framework and additional codes for novel skills emerged in the data.

Students described competencies such as communication, professionalism, critical thinking/problem solving, ambition/drive, teamwork, leadership, time management, adaptability, and computer skills that were also identified by industry experts. Students did not articulate approximately half of the competencies included in the industry framework but additionally expressed the importance of resilience and willingness to learn. Students expressed that they primarily learned the importance of these skills and practiced them in co-curricular activities and internships. Although a few participants mentioned the classroom, the results indicate an opportunity for engineering educators to better emphasize these competencies in their courses and provide opportunities to foster their development. This research contributes an understanding of where expectations of students already align with industry perspectives, what gaps still need to be closed, and how engineering educators can help prepare students for the realties of the workforce.