Employer and Student Mismatch in Early-Career Skill Development

Alyson Grace Eggleston, Robert J. Rabb, Ronald W. Welch

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Students, early-career engineers, and employers disagree on the relative importance of so-called 'soft skills' and communication in the context of internships and early hiring. This misunderstanding arises because students and companies misidentify each other's value systems. Students seeking internships are hesitant to approach company recruiters, thinking the companies are looking for someone technically proficient in a particular field. Companies understand that students have not completed their undergraduate curriculum and lack technical knowledge. However, companies are seeking students to develop into prospective long-term employees and value students' communication and professional skills over technical knowledge. Many industry partners of The Citadel specialize in proprietary products or support the nation's defense. For this reason, employers have no expectation that students or recent graduates will have technical knowledge in a specific domain. However, employers search for students who can listen, take direction, and deliver results. Comparing a counterbalanced, Likert-scaled survey of engineering students attending career networking events and a survey targeting over 50 employers, we find significant perception gaps in communication and relative student performance and preparedness for networking events. Identifying perception gaps, or blind spots, ensure our engineering graduates matriculate with career-readiness. While students' definitions of what constituted 'professional skills' were narrow, employers grouped nearly all tasking actions as communication-related or dependent on good communication. Similarly, students believed themselves to be well-prepared for networking events, and deemed their performance as adequate. Early-career engineers, too, underestimated the relative importance that employers attributed to communication skills, as well as the impact communication skills have on promotion and hiring decisions. These findings are well supported by employability research, where countries like Malaysia, India, and Japan have instituted educational policy initiatives to formalize industry partnerships as on-campus experiences. Identifying significant response differences with regard to the definition of professional skills, the importance of communication skills, and personal preparedness provides a unique dataset to guide continued curricular improvement throughout the engineering degree path. This report is part of a larger, mixed-methods study that seeks to close communication skill gaps in developing engineering students and create an ABET-informed approach to embedding communication skill scaffolding into a traditional 4-year engineering curriculum. Career Services and support personnel within the School of Engineering at The Citadel coordinated access to the industry partners that were surveyed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Aug 23 2022
Event129th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: Excellence Through Diversity, ASEE 2022 - Minneapolis, United States
Duration: Jun 26 2022Jun 29 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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