Work Readiness of Final-Year Civil Engineering Students at Victoria University: A Survey

Article excerpt

1 INTRODUCTION

Civil engineering is a broad-based discipline involving the planning, design, construction and management of a wide range of essential community infrastructure including, commercial and industrial buildings, water supply and wastewater systems, irrigation, drainage and flood protection systems, bridges, roads, highways and transportation systems, and port harbour and airport facilities. At Victoria University, the Bachelor of Engineering (Civil Engineering} course philosophy is based on a recognition of society's need for well-rounded engineers who have sound technical and communication skills and a firm understanding of the environmental, economic, social and political environment in which they must operate. Science and engineering fundamentals provide the foundation in the first two years of the course, with emphasis then given in the final two years to applied discipline-specific topics, design and project work. Substantial emphasis is given in a range of units to professionalism, ethics and community responsibility, team assignments, broad problem solving and communication skills, and the concepts of sustainability and sustainable engineering practices. A focus on work-integrated learning (WIL), local engineering examples, and significant input from external industry-based lecturers, provides students with exposure to real world problems. The course curriculum has recently received reaccreditation from Engineers Australia. As part of the quality review cycle of courses, it is important to understand how successful courses are in preparing students for the workforce. If students are not well prepared, transition into the workforce may be less successful and more stressful to individuals, and the needs of employers may not be satisfied.

In the field of engineering, considerable effort has been spent identifying the key capabilities or competencies required of graduate engineers. These are used to guide curricula in universities that are increasingly focused on graduate capabilities and/or outcomes (Martin et al, 2005). There are several ways in which competencies have been sub categorised including the broad categories: technical and non-technical. Non-technical competences are now recognised as equally important given the multidisciplinary environment in which engineers work (Nguyen, 1998). These include communication, teamwork and other interpersonal skills (eg. listening, sharing information}, lifelong learning and attitudes (Martin et al, 2005; Nguyen, 1998; Rompelman, 2000, cited in Martin et al, 2005; Deans, 1999). The International Engineering Alliance (IEA} Educational Accords sets out the following graduate attribute headings that professional engineering courses should develop: engineering knowledge, problem analysis, design/ development of solutions, investigation, modern tool usage, the engineer and society, environment and sustainability, ethics, individual and teamwork, communication, project management and finance and lifelong learning (IEA, 2009).

Much attention has been devoted to understanding what "industry" wants or needs in graduates, and what the deficiencies are. One study that investigated what industry considers to be essential generic skills and attributes found that attitudes, technical knowledge and skills are the most important. Attitude was ranked ahead of technical skills by industry and the other way around by academics. Other important skills and attributes included intellectual skills and standards of engineering practice (Nguyen, 1998). Research of industry perceptions of engineering graduates has consistently identified deficiencies in communication and teamwork competencies (Lang et al, 1999; Meier et al, 2000; Holcombe, 2003, cited in Martin et al, 2005; Sageev & Romanowski, 2001). This is particularly important since a significant amount of a working day is devoted to working within a team (Martin et al, 2005) and communication (Sageev & Romanowski, 2001). …