Preparing engineers for the future by raising awareness of professional roles

Sofie Craps
KU Leuven - Faculty of Engineering Technology

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Maarten Pinxten
KU Leuven - Faculty of Engineering Technology

Heidi Knipprath
KU Leuven - Research Institute for Work and Society

Greet Langie
KU Leuven - Faculty of Engineering Technology

A better understanding of the professional future has positive outcomes for student learning and job satisfaction. However, engineering students are often unaware of what kind of engineer they want to be and what professional competences it requires. It is generally agreed that different types of jobs require different competences. To support engineering students to become more aware of their future possibilities and requirements, a Professional Roles Model for Future Engineers was developed and validated by industry. Three professional roles were defined and competency profiles were developed in close cooperation with engineers and HR-representatives from different sectors. This study aims to investigate how students perceive the model and to what extent they could identify themselves with the professional roles.

Focus groups were organised comprising 32 second year Bachelors’ and 35 final year Masters’ students at the Faculty of Engineering Technology of KU Leuven, Belgium. First, the career perspective was discussed which supported earlier findings that, even when graduating, students find it difficult to describe their career aspirations. Secondly, the Professional Role Model was presented. Both Bachelors’ and Masters’ students found the model rather intuitive and could easily link the roles with previous experiences. Most students could also easily align with one or more roles. How-ever, we noticed for the Masters’ students a discrepancy between the preferred role and the choice for a vacancy aligned with a role. The same result appeared when we compared their strengths and interests with the preferred role. Students appealed most strongly to the roles of operational excellence (focused on optimization) and product leadership (focused on innovation) as they recognised these roles the most from the curriculum. Although they felt least prepared for the role of customer intimacy (focus on tailored client solutions), almost 40% indicated they prefer to work in this role (single role or combined with another role).

Finally, students were asked about their perception of the educational value of the model. Students were eager to be supported in increasing career awareness. They saw several possibilities to implement the model on the premise that it was made more concrete. They suggested enriching the description of the roles with testimonies or job vacancies and integrating the model in several ways, from elective courses, to a tool or a project week. Further research is recommended investigating which educational approaches would be most effective, how teachers perceive to integrate the model and how the work field can participate in the process of professional roles awareness.