Soft Skills Unleashing the Engineering Potential - Bridging the Skills Gap by University-Industry Collaboration

Hanna-Greta Puurtinen
Tampere University of Applied Sciences

Petri Pohjola
Tampere University of Applied Sciences

Digital transformation accompanied with complex and distributed global value chains requires a novel set of new skills and competences. The policies supporting the leverage of the competitiveness of European businesses and industries, e.g. EU's Skills Agenda for Europe as well as Digitising European Industry cannot be effectively implemented without investing to holistic improvement of skilled and talented labour force. This demand was also strongly addressed in the plenary talks during the ICT Conference organised by EC in Vienna in December 2018. Furthermore, several initiatives set by the EC, such as the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, boost the required upgrading and reskilling of the workforce. (COM(2016) 0381 final)

This skill gap often derives from the fact that current teaching methods fail to provide younger generation with the combination of hard and soft skills [Upskilling European industry: New operational tools wanted p.4]. One characteristic often associated with engineering and especially Finnish engineering talents are the lack soft skills. Part of this problem is caused from the current curricula where hard and soft skills are taught as separate subjects in universities. Therefore, new methods are needed where Finnish engineering capability can be unleashed to its full potential by integrated soft skills learning.

The goal of the approach is to develop soft skills of engineers to boost the engineering creativity and innovation to leverage the competitiveness of Finnish machine industry. TAMK has created Creative Growth Revival process (CGR) as the competence charter for soft skills and professional hard engineering skills teaching method bringing novel added value to companies.

The objectives of the approach are:
- To learn soft skills integrated together with the substance specific hard engineering skills
- To provide opportunity for participants to learn about their own behaviour and soft skills in intergenerational and interprofessional learning environments
- To increase participants’ entrepreneurial mindset with genuine industrial and commercial cases
- To help stakeholder companies to renew their professional situational thinking and to support their understanding of the importance of soft skills, while simultaneously also introduce new ways of idea processing at the organisation level.

This poster introduces the foundations of this approach and presents some early implications and participant experiences of implemented CGR process cases.

The Digital Competences 4.0 required to leverage the competitiveness of several industrial sectors essential for European economies are composed by both hard engineering skills and soft skills [Puurtinen&Pohjola, 2018]. The essence of engineering expertise lies in the understanding of natural sciences and the engineering sciences building on those fundaments, a fact that has been repeatedly emphasised by our company partner experts.

During the CGR process, the participants learn and utilize, along with their professional engineering skills, also soft skills such as collaboration, creativity, and entrepreneurship in real life human encounters solving real industry challenges. The facilitated groups consist of equal members with different professional expertise and experience.

TAMK has conceptualised and implemented a set of CGR driven cases during autumn 2018. As a summary, three main observations can be stated:
- Growth of enthusiastic participation and genuine collaboration, regardless of the participants’ expertise and experience, leading to empowerment and positive self-esteem.
- Creation of innovative and feasible solutions to companies’ real engineering challenges in terms of technology and business.
- Increase in teachers’ inspiration to facilitate and coach, indicating that the CGR approach successfully also contributes to competence development for university teaching staff.

Especially in machine industry, where engineering and product creation is a sum of distributed competences in a global production network, hard and soft skills cannot be treated as separated requirements for new recruitments and current employees. Companies need focus on innovation, be open to risks, proactive in relations and sure that required competence characteristics can be acquired by recruitments. Furthermore, the workforce needs to be constantly upskilled and reskilled.

TAMK’s CGR approach integrating soft skills and technical competence utilization initiated within a national project “Kasvun pajat” funded by ESF. The integrative approach presented here is a further development of the method, and it has shown its usefulness as skills development charter providing also boost for motivation and self-esteems to participants. On the other hand, the process cases have also produced concrete innovative solutions to real-life problems of the companies.

Creative Growth Revival process (CGR) presented here constitute an effective way to enhance university-industry collaboration. It enables students as well as workforce in labour market to continuously upgrade and train their technical competences and soft skills required in complex global operating environment.