Understanding Generic Engineering Competencies

Article excerpt


In Australia engineering education programs are accredited by Engineers Australia (EA). The accreditation criteria state that engineering students of accredited programs must develop 10 stipulated generic graduate attributes and the more detailed Stage 1 Competency Standards (EA, 2005; 2008). The accreditation criteria are significant to the decisions made by people driving change in engineering education programs, evaluation methods, and even the foci of benchmarking exercises. Therefore it is critical that the nature of generic engineering competencies required by engineers graduating in Australia is understood well by accreditation developers, accreditation panels and engineering educators.

However, generic competency theory has suffered from a multitude of related terms, such as generic attributes, employability skills, key competencies (Billing, 2003) and multiple conceptual understandings (Barrie, 2006). This has confused the use of competencies and added to the need for clarity.

The international multidisciplinary Definition and Selection of Competencies (DeSeCo) Project developed a conceptual framework for understanding competencies (OECD, 2002). The DeSeCo Project focused on key competencies for a successful life and contribution to a well-functioning society. This paper reports conclusions about the nature of generic engineering competencies, made from the Competencies of Engineering Graduates (CEG) Project, which adapted the DeSeCo theoretical framework to generic engineering competencies. Generic engineering competencies are defined here as competencies that engineers across all disciplines require for their work. They embody technical and non-technical components. The findings contribute to clarifying understanding of generic engineering competencies and will be important for accreditation developers, accreditation review panels and engineering educators.


This section describes how the research method for the CEG Project was consistent with the DeSeCo theoretical framework, adapting the DeSeCo framework, which was designed for defining and selecting key competencies, to generic engineering competencies. The DeSeCo framework describes competencies as encompassing knowledge, skills, attitudes and dispositions and manifesting in responses to demands within contexts. The framework describes competencies as inter-related and existing in "constellations" of competencies with weights that vary across contexts (OECD, 2002, p. 14).

Components of the DeSeCo framework were adopted directly in the CEG Project. Competencies identified in the CEG Project were assumed to encompass knowledge, skills, attitudes and dispositions, as described by the DeSeCo framework. The understanding that competencies are manifested as responses to demands within contexts was adapted to identify generic engineering competencies that were required for all engineering jobs. Based on the DeSeCo framework, it was expected that generic engineering competencies would exist in inter-related constellations with relative importance that varied across engineering jobs because the tasks and work contexts of the jobs created the demands and the context for the competencies. Therefore ratings of the importance of competencies for engineering jobs were collected along with data about the tasks and work contexts of the engineering jobs, to identify the relationship between these and expected based on the DeSeCo framework. The statistical method used to analyse the results allowed for competency factors to be correlated to accommodate the inter-related nature of competencies described by the DeSeCo framework.


The CEG Project identified generic engineering competencies required by engineers graduating in Australia. A list of potential generic engineering competencies was identified from a review of international and Australian literature on engineering and higher education, and key competencies, skills and attributes. …


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