Breaking through stereotypes: professional roles for future engineers. A validated competency based framework supporting professional awareness and making well informed career choices.
Although the field of engineering is broad and diverse, engineering is often perceived stereotypically and mainly from a technical point of view, even by students within the program. Several studies indicated that engineering students, even close to graduation, have difficulties to understand what engineers actually do and reflect about themselves as future engineers. This lack in professional and self-awareness can hinder the education-to-work transition, with students ending up in a job that does not correspond to their expectations or students not applying to jobs that best match their capabilities – the so called expectations and skills mismatch.
This doctoral thesis was set up with the aim to support students in developing a future identity as an engineer and in making well-informed career choices. A validated competency-based professional roles model for early career engineers was developed, using a multistakeholder perspective. The PREFER model presents three portraits of early career engineers in practice (engineers in a role focusing on radical innovation, on process optimisation and/or on customised solutions) and what it requires to be successful in these roles, independent of the engineering discipline. The model aids engineering students to navigate through the broad field of engineering and to reflect on their future self.
The model also further supported our understanding of how engineering students and young graduates make career choices. Via three studies (a survey, a case study and interviews), it was shown that awareness of engineering roles and professional competencies are important to address in education. The studies demonstrated the importance of professional awareness and career exploration in educating confident engineers that are more likely to enter the labour market with the right expectations and competencies from the start, which benefits their job satisfaction.
The main contribution lies in new insights and innovative instruments that can guide both education and future research in identity and career development. A series of recommendations for education and industry are made to support students, lecturers and work field to break through the stereotypes and to bridge the gap.