First, it’s true, grades, and rigorous and integrated multidisciplinary degree programs matter. However, that’s not enough to find and land a job.
Companies are equally interested in examining whether potential hires have experience working in teams, can solve complex problems independently and can continue to learn complex material. Their capacity for teamwork, communication, functional knowledge and problem-solving skills is particularly important for entry-level hires.
New graduates with prior work experience, e.g., through co-op and internships, have a leg up in today’s globally competitive job market. Many companies depend on employee referrals and work-integrated programs, such as co-op, as a significant source of entry-level hiring. This points to the need for new graduates to network effectively.
Employers also look for evidence of soft skills through graduates’ involvement in volunteer, community engagement and a variety of extra-curricular activities. A multidisciplinary grounding is also attractive.
Gallup has shown that mentorship of U.S. university students and their co-op and internship experiences are strongly linked with increased employee engagement after graduates enter the workforce. As per Gallup, undergraduate co-op and internship experiences enable more job offers upon graduation and higher starting salaries for graduates.
Effective mentoring and prior work experience also improves the feeling of well-being graduates have later in life, as well as their conclusion that their degree was worth the cost. Indeed, mentorship leads to career planning, and active and persistent job search behaviour.
A Modus Research Inc. poll of 823 Canadian business leaders found that only 41 per cent of them agree that universities are doing a good job in preparing their graduates for employability. Another 31 per cent said they are doing a poor job, 21 per cent were neutral and the small remaining fraction was unsure. In Ontario, just 42 per cent of these business leaders said that universities are doing a good job preparing their graduates for the economy of the future.
This gap is not unbridgeable. It can be overcome by including more students into work-integrated degree programs and providing additional mentoring.
The onus for job preparation lies both on the shoulders universities and their graduates. Gallup reports that only sixty per cent of recent U.S. engineering graduates surveyed reported having visited their career offices as students. Of these, first-generation college graduates and transfer students are less likely to use career services, indicating the need to reach out to them.
Graduates with positive experiences with career services are significantly more likely to state that their university prepared them well for life outside of college, that their education was worth the cost, recommend their university to others and make gifts to their alma mater.
What does this mean for engineering graduates? The technical education that engineering students obtain prepares them for skilled jobs. However, an emphasis on technical preparation alone will leave unfilled gaps that are frustrating to employers, notably good communication, writing and strategic-thinking skills.
Although free trade skepticism abounds in 2017, it is unimaginable that engineers will cease to effectively live, work, and perform in a global context. In that context, while English is considered a key global language, few North American engineers are technically bilingual.
At McMaster Engineering, we realize that while students don’t expect a free pass to a job after graduating from university, securing employment is a fundamental reason for which they enrol. Hence, we consider it our fundamental responsibility to prepare our students for employability and meaningful success.
We’re educating our students accordingly. They’re taught to be cognizant of the political, social, and economic perspectives of their work in a global context so that they can solve grand challenges and wicked problems. We offer some of the world’s foremost integrated multidisciplinary “and” programs in engineering, such as engineering and management, engineering and society, and engineering and biomedical engineering.
From placing extracurricular activities in a dedicated building to a dedicated makerspace and design kitchen to an entrepreneurship program to linkages with global universities and grand challenges to an active co-op and career services office, we’re educating and training McMaster Engineering students to fill the competency gaps that are being identified for work in both the private and public sectors.
We take our responsibilities seriously. Our vision is to develop engaged citizen scholars who will transform our world. This leads to fulfilling work.
Our reward comes in the form of the impact and success that our graduates have on our world.