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Synthesis of Global Set of Skills

The synthesis of a global set of skills of twenty-first-century engineers has been achieved in four stages:

  • 1. Identifications of various terminologies in regard to skills or competencies,
  • 2. Skills extraction from the literature on skills and competencies (engineering and non-engineering),
  • 3. Model generation, and
  • 4. Counting and quantifying.

Further details on each stage are provided in the next subsections.

Definitions: Skills, Attributes, Competencies, and Others

Generic Literature (Non-engineering)

There has been a wide range of terminologies and definitions that have been utilized to describe and define the different terms of skills and attributes. The term “skills” is normally utilized to refer to the ability of performing a task. The term “attribute” refers to a characteristic or feature of something and it might be part of the personality nature or might be developed through life experience. Both skills and attributes constitute key elements for employability. They both refer to the ability to apply content knowledge in a practical way in order to accomplish a mission or a task. Knowledge is defined as the interaction between the capacity (intelligence) and opportunity (situation) to learn something, and it includes theory and concepts. The term ability refers to basic competence (skills, knowledge, and attitudes). The term competence has also been defined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development (OECD) as “the ability to successfully meet complex demands in a particular context” (OECD 2002). It is indicated that the development of competence issue is influenced by a number of factors that are as follows: (a) ability, (b) knowledge, (c) understanding, (d) skill, (e) action, (f) experience, and (g) motivation. The OECD classifies competencies into the following: 1—“key competencies” and 2—“specific domain competencies”.

Key competencies are defined considering those “important across multiple areas of life and contribute to an overall successful life and a well-functioning society” (OECD 2002), while specific domain competencies are those which “do not apply across multiple areas of life and are not necessary for everyone or are irrelevant to the betterment of individual and societal life” (OECD 2002). The term “key competencies” coined by the OECD is similarly referred in other literature by the term “generic skills” or “generic competencies” (Hager and Holland 2006; Male and Chapman 2005). Internationally, generic skills are known by a number of different terms from one country to other (NCVER 2003; UNESCO 2012) such as basic skills, necessary skills, and workplace know-how (USA). Generic skills can be referred as core skills, key skills, common skills (UK); key competencies, employability skills, generic skills (Australia); employability skills (Canada); critical enabling skills (Singapore); transferable skills (France); key qualifications (Germany); transdisciplinary goals (Switzerland); and essential skills (New Zealand).

According to Hager and Holland (2006), the term “generic skills” has been widely utilized recently across education systems for the adjustment of outcomes of graduates, where they are often called “graduate attributes” or “graduate qualities”. The term “generic skills” refers to a wide range of qualities and capabilities, which can be applied in different aspects of life, work, and academia. Hence, generic skills include both graduate skills (and graduate attributes) and employability skills. Graduate attributes are defined as “the skills, knowledge, and abilities of university graduates, beyond disciplinary content knowledge, which are applicable to a range of contexts” (Barrie 2007). Clearly, graduate attributes are more than just skills and competencies for employment; they are life skills as well. Employability skills are sometimes mapped into a number of terms such as key skills, core skills, life skills, generic skills, essential skills, key competencies, enterprise skills, necessary skills, and transferable skills (DEST 2007). Employability skills are the bridge between academia and work and have been defined in literature as “a set of achievementsskills, understandings, and personal attributesthat make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community, and the economy” (Yorke and Knight 2006).

Engineering Literature

Skills identified in the engineering context literature are normally divided into two categories: the “technical” or “hard” skills and “non-technical” or “soft” skills; both technical and non-technical are complementary skills for engineers (NAE 2004, 2005). The non-technical skills are considered important to deliver the technical skills in a proper way (NAE 2004, 2005). The non-technical skills are also called a variety of other different terms such as soft skills, twenty-first-century skills, professional skills, foundation skills, graduates’ skills, functional skills, and graduate qualities (NCVER 2003). Engineering skills can be also divided into the global and the local.

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