Since the early 1990s, engineering education has seen a significant paradigm shift from what was previously an input, content and process orientation towards a system based on educational outcomes. Prominent examples for this development in the context of the drastic social, economic and technological changes are both the 1994 ASEE report "Engineering Education for a Changing World" (ASEE, 1994) and Engineers Australia's 1996 review "Changing the Culture: Engineering Education into the Future" (Engineers Australia, 1996). These reports led to the development of ABET's Program Outcomes (ABET, 1995; 2004) in the US and the Australian Graduate Attributes (Engineers Australia, 2005), respectively. Both systems of educational outcomes brought two fundamental changes in engineering education. Firstly, this development changed the underlying instructional principle of engineering education. More specifically, the aspirational attributes postulated in the respective reports were turned into binding outcomes of the educational process. In the paradigm of outcomes-based education, the teacher selects and delivers specific learning activities which can be mapped to the achievement of defined attributes or competencies--we call this targeted instruction (Walther et al, 2006b). Secondly, the scope of education was extended to encompass the broader aspects of engineering practice, such as cultural and social awareness (eg. Graduate Attribute vii in Engineers Australia, 2005), and an explicit commitment to the preparation of students for current professional practice (Engineers Australia, 1996). This trend of reclaiming the preparation of students for professional practice was recently confirmed in an editorial for the
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European Journal of Engineering Education. In this article, Denis Lemaitre (2006) expresses the view that the preparation "of students for professional competence has always been the ultimate goal of engineering curricula" (pp. 45).
However, several authors indicate that engineering education still falls short of the goal of preparing students adequately for professional practice. A recent report of the Business Council of Australia (BCA, 2006), an organisation representing the leading 100 corporations in Australia, claims that engineering graduates have deficiencies with respect to crucial job skills such as "problem-solving, communication or entrepreneurship" (pp. 14). With respect to the situation in the US, Wulff (2002) observes that "many of the students who make it to graduation enter the workforce ill-equipped for the complex interactions ... of real world engineering systems" (pp. 35). These are indications that industry requires a more adequate preparation of graduates for the job tasks of real-world engineering. Conversely, "much of the energy in teaching and learning in universities is still focused on developing the observable skills and knowledge dimension" (Radcliffe, 2005), rather than the less easily observable attributes required by industry. This disconnectedness shows that the concept of outcomes-based education in today's application to engineering education has not been able to fully prepare students for the changing demands of professional practice and also that broader aspects of competence have not found their way into the wider practice of education.
This problem is not simply an issue of the quality of instructional design and teaching delivery. This paper shows that the roots of the problem lie at a more fundamental level, which we call the competency dilemma in engineering education. On the basis of a theoretical analysis, results of research into alternative forms of competency acquisition suggest a more holistic view of competence. As a result of the empirical study, a multi-scale systems model of engineering competence is proposed. Finally the usefulness of this systems model of learning and competence in overcoming the described dilemma is discussed.
2 THE COMPETENCY GAP BETWEEN ENGINEERING UNIVERSITIES AND INDUSTRY
The disconnectedness described above manifests itself in a competency gap between university and industry. Figure 1 illustrates the various dimensions of the competency gap.
Industry expects graduates to have the skills and knowledge specified in the learning outcomes (ABET, 1995; Engineers Australia, 2005). Accordingly, teaching at universities largely focuses on developing skills and knowledge in students. Even the broader social dimensions of the Graduate Attributes are traditionally approached through course content or even isolated in one particular course (Radcliffe, 2005). This focus on the domain of knowledge and skills does not take into account the competency dimension of traits, motives and self-concept. However, this dimension of the personality is seen as crucial in current competency research (Spencer et al, 1993; McClelland, 1998). Competence is conceptualised as an iceberg where the skill and knowledge domain form the tip, visible above the waterline, and traits, self-conception and motives make up the base of human competence (Spencer et al, 1993). More specifically, this means that these person variables were identified as a far more reliable predictors of long-term job performance (McClelland, 1973; Spencer et al, 1993; McClelland, 1998).
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Accordingly, companies tend to focus on the person variables when recruiting graduate engineers. This method of behaviour-based competency assessment with a predominant focus on the parts of the "competency iceberg below the water line" differs significantly from assessment methods employed in education. At university, students generally experience a range of traditional academic aptitude tests, such as exams, which focus on knowledge and skills. Radcliffe (2005) identifies this "Graduate Attribute Paradox" as the reason why the attempt of "developing graduates with those attributes stated by industry may not result in the type of engineer that industry requires" (pp. 197).…