Farr and Brazil (2009, p. 3) have listed the three major publications in the field of engineering education in the last 50 years: The Grinter Report, The Green Report and Educating the Engineer of 2020. Out of the three reports, the authors show that there is an emphasis on leadership skills in the Green report. In addition, in the Educating the Engineer of 2020 report by National Academy of Engineering [NAE] (cited in Farr & Brazil 2009), it is recommended that ‘potential engineering graduates should possess team communication and global contextual analysis skills’. However, Kumar and Hsiao (2007, p. 19) argue that ‘leadership is rarely discussed in traditional classes’. As a result, Kumar and Hsiao (2007) endorse the ‘nontechnical (soft) and technical skills’ of engineering leaders. Frameworks such as leadership development models, on-the-job training are introduced by Farr and Brazil (2009) to encourage ‘soft skills’ for engineers. Farr and Brazil (2009) also discuss engineering education that can make an influence on enhancing leadership in engineering classes. The aim of this report is to synthesise some approaches suggested by academic researchers in order to promote leadership skills for engineers.
Several studies are done to come up with accurate methods to delivery engineering education. These studies have resulted in various delivery approaches like using case studies, role plays and challenge or collaborative games, group discussions and debates, presentations, online instructions, code of ethics, video simulation and the good old traditional teaching methods. According to Štefková, et al.(2012), case studies remain the best methods of engineering education. For example, the use of disaster cases which are more likely to be encountered by the engineering student in real life situations. By use of case studies, Rüütmann & Kipper (2016) adds, the student understands a framework that engages him and problem solving areas, this can also be a platform where peer to peer learning becomes effective. During such cases, students are able to train on their ethical imagination due to the holistic effect of case study approach. Rüütmann & Kipper (2016), adds that case studies will enable the student differentiate between unacceptable and acceptable actions and behavior. This is because case studies are known to encourage experiential learning and ethical reasoning skills between the student and the faculty.
In addition, when it comes to gaining leadership skills for engineers, practical understand of ethical issues will be paramount. According to Sell, et al. (2014), the concept of responsibility can be attained through leadership role plays. Here Sell, et al. (2014), adds, the student will be able to learn negotiation skills, public speaking, strategic planning and the presentation of evidence. Through different role plays, students are able to be involved in learning without losing interest and allow for group discussion. According to Daugherty & Custer (2012), group discussions are important as they enable teamwork and collaboration among students with their competitive environment. In the end, students are able to gain an informative experience.
According to McPhail, et al. (2008), the engineering profession will put the student in various conflicting and ambiguous situations like facing a dilemma. For one to be able to tackle such situations necessary leadership and ethical skills will be required. The leadership development model consists of three areas that are of concern for the engineering student working in the capacity as a leader, the model discusses the engineering student as an individual, when in a group and as part of the community.
Figure Below: Leadership Development Model (McPhail, et al., 2008)
When it comes to individual values, the student needs to be aware of oneself, at this, the individual identifies personal talents, value and skills. One should learn to demonstrate openness and ability to adopt change and appreciate values of other people. At this part, the individual also needs to understand various theories that come with leadership, he needs to learn to development a personal leadership style and understand the cultural and gender effects that might influence leadership (Kumar & Hsiao 2007). Other areas will be development of personal management skills with regard to time, stress reduction and developing relationships. On the ethical part, the individual will look at ways of articulating relationships with personal beliefs, decision making based on values. The individual will also need to demonstrate difference between values and actions. This can be done by adopting engineering ethical principles and appreciating workplace diversity (Štefková, et al., 2012).
Secondly, the model looks at the individual and the community. For example, how does the individual exercise teamwork? This calls for the need to learn more about group dynamics, goal setting and sharing leadership through empowering others. There are also issues of developing trust. Communication skills are also very important for a leader. Here the individual needs to learn different forms of communication; be it written, broadcasting, advertising, speaking and other artistic expressions. In addition, conflict management will play highly in this area (Kumar and Hsiao 2007). The individual should understand decision making skills when in a group and when working as a leader. There is need to learn and understand diversity in order to manage conflict among groups and be open to change.
Thirdly, it is important for a professional engineer to embrace community values in leadership. One needs to learn ways to engage and include everyone in the community in different areas. Effective interaction calls for integration and learning from experiences of other. This is important as it will positively influence decision making in the group. The leader needs to learn to demonstrate and exercise empathy at all times. This is done by involving groups and individuals in community activities. According to Farr and Brazil (2009), professional engineers also need to gain skills of interacting with others through corporate social responsibility activities and reacting to the needs of their individual communities. This is done through advocating for community issues.
According to Farr and Brazil (2009), training is the process of imparting and gaining skills, knowledge and aptitude to qualify as an engineer. A well organized and well executed training course will provide the engineering student with an improved level of performance which will enable him or her to be more productive. Training also allows for uniformity of working methods and mechanism for improving the quality of service offered by the engineer. With a good training program, Sell, et al. (2014) adds, there is a reduction of cost and time a student spends in the university or college.
However, in order for the student to put learning to practice, then on job training becomes paramount. According to Sell, et al. (2014), on the job training is one of the most effective training methods since it is well organized, planned and is done at the student’s place of work. On the job training thus becomes the principal method that is used for assessing the student’s skills and increasing efficiency and output. On the job, training is very suitable for engineering students since it allows development of expertise and allows the student to know where his strengths and weaknesses lay. This enables the student to know where and where not to major. According to Farr and Brazil (2009), on the job training also increases the student’s self-esteem which enables him to exercise professional skills and values through different tasks. The students will be able to understand what is expected in the job description and find opportunities to implement code of ethics in engineering.
When it comes to engineering pedagogy, there many advantages. First, through various approaches like the case studies, students get an opportunity to adopt required skills for their professional lives. Case studies also enable students come up with problems and ways of solving them. This is important as it allows student to understand what is ethically acceptable and what is not with regard to the field of engineering. Also with regard to group work and discussion forums, as a leader, students are able to learn various negotiation skills and group dynamics. In this regard, students learn how to uphold ethics in decision making and the way they relate with their fellows McPhail, et al. (2008).
When it comes to leadership and development models, it provides the student with a theoretical approach of handling oneself as an individual and when in a group. Through these models, students are able to learn leadership skills and ways of negotiating between a client and the service provider in their professional lives. Then only disadvantage is that desired leadership models cannot be adopted wholly and depend on individual traits.
With regard to on the job training, student have the advantage of practicing what they have learnt in school. This prepares them well for their professional days enabling them realize their strengths and weaknesses with regard to their career. The only disadvantage of on the job training comes when the student happens to be engaged in a poorly structured company. This may demoralize the student regarding the course or might provide the student with out of date professional information.
In conclusion, when it comes to developing leadership skills for engineers. The above approaches are paramount to equip a well-trained, experienced modern day engineer. It is important for an engineer to understand various problem solving skills, leadership models and be able to learn from other experienced professionals. Leadership skills also means understanding the code of ethics for engineers, learning negotiation skills and keeping ethical standards at all times.
Cox, M, Cekic, O & Adams, S 2010. Developing leadership skills of undergraduate engineering students: Perspectives from engineering faculty. Journal of STEM Education: Innovations and Research, volume 11, no. 3&4, p.22-33.
Daugherty, J. & Custer, R., 2012. Secondary level engineering professional development: content, pedagogy, and challenges. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 22(1), pp. 51-64.
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