Why industry says that engineering graduates have poor communication skills: What the literature says

Jeffrey A. Donnell, Betsy M. Aller, Michael Alley, April A. Kedrowicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Although engineering departments have worked hard at improving the communication skills of their students, a large percentage of industry managers consider the communication skills of engineering graduates to be weak. Why does industry consider these skills to be weak? Also, what particular aspects of written and oral presentation skills does industry consider to be weak in engineering graduates? This paper addresses these two questions through a review of multiple studies that have assessed the communication skills of recent engineering graduates. Our review has found that part of the disparity arises because the communication assignments that engineering students perform in college significantly differ from the writing situations (audiences, purposes, and occasions) that engineering graduates encounter in industry. New engineering graduates do not typically possess the expertise to realize what communication principles from classroom assignments apply, or do not apply, in different professional situations. Yet a third problem is that what constitutes strong communication skills in professional engineering settings may differ considerably from what is taught or expected in classroom settings. Although the literature provides these insights into the disparity, much still needs to be learned about the specific deficiencies in communication skills of entry-level engineers. One step that could be taken is for engineering departments to conduct longitudinal studies about how well their instruction on writing and oral communication prepares students for later classes, for internships and co-ops, and for employment. Departments at different institutions should consider adopting a core of common survey questions so that survey results can be compared. Another recommendation is that when incorporating writing into a course, engineering departments should consider the following two questions: 1. What communication skills do we want students to acquire? 2. How can technical assignments be designed to help students achieve those desired communication skills? To answer the first of these questions, engineering departments would do well to identify the specific communication traits that the employers of their graduates see as important. To answer the second question, engineering departments should consult with communication specialists, and preferably those familiar with the kinds of communication that engineers do.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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