Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence

Publication Details

Proceedings of the Research in Engineering Education Symposium 2011 - Madrid, Spain


Engineering graduates are under increasing pressure to demonstrate high levels of personal skills. The accreditation criteria of professional bodies such as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) in the US, Engineers Ireland and Engineers Australia, to name but a few, now include the development of a broad range of personal skills (ABET, 2008; Engineers Australia, 2011; Engineers Ireland, 2007). Evidence of a ‘strong contribution’, a term used by Engineers Ireland, to the development of teamwork, lifelong learning, ethics, communication and self-direction is required in the programme to satisfy the accreditation criteria. Numerous anecdotes of intensive probing for personal skills are relayed by graduates applying for their first job. Many employers devote significant time to assessing the level of personal skills during the recruitment process. Government reports on skills needs often call for greater attention to be paid to the development of critical thinking, creativity and innovation in engineering programmes (Forfás, 2009). Today’s engineering students are experiencing the effects of curricula changing in response to this new outlook of graduate attributes. Achievement of high levels of many personal skills is greatly facilitated by a concurrent growth in intellectual development – autonomy in learning, commitment to ethics, willingness to lead and display initiative are hallmarks of the relativistic thinker. The engineer whose intellectual development has not yet passed the dualistic and multiplistic stages and is still reliant on authority for direction and decision making will not score highly on personal skills, will be unattractive to employers, and has yet to realise his/her potential. Personal skills development will be facilitated by an engineering curriculum that promotes growth in intellectual development. Attention should be paid to the intellectual development of the students throughout the programme to optimise their progression from dualistic to relativistic thinking. Process facilitated student-centred learning can support this growth. Evidence of strong contribution to programme outcomes related to design and personal skills should also come from measurements of levels of intellectual development among students.