Enhancing Employability of Graduates in Engineering
The paper presents the results of a study on students’ and employers’ perceptions of the employability skills of new graduates in engineering. The main objectives of the research are: to explore the perception of Master’s students concerning their own skills, knowledge and characteristics which help them to be employable; to explore the students’ perception of the targeted job; to identify the employability skills followed by the employers in the recruitment process and in the next period, right after hiring; to assess whether there are differences in the perception regarding the motivating factors at the workplace, between employers and students. In order to explore issues pertinent to the research objectives, interviews with students, young graduates of technical degree programs provided by the University Politehnica of Bucharest, and employers were conducted. Students were asked to specify both subject-specific competences and the transversal competences owned. These data were complemented with the employers’ views on graduates’ employability. The focus was on exploring their opinions regarding the strengths and weaknesses of graduates/ probationers, during the interview/ or in the next period, right after hiring. The employers’ opinion concerning the facilities offered to graduates and young employees revealed the nature of their partnership with the higher education institution, in order to promote employability. The research findings were used for identifying and choosing the best useful tools and developing specific materials that support the work of counseling to career planning for students in the target group.
Keywords: Employability skillsemployers’ expectationswork environmentassignmentwageswork program
The employability is a dynamic concept. It has evolved over time, with the focus balancing
between the work requirements of employment and the supply-side- individual characteristics. A
narrower perspective of the concept was proposed by Fugate, Kinicki & Ashforth (2004), who
emphasized the need for employees to acquire various characteristics valued by current and prospective
employers: “employability is a form of work specific active adaptability that enables workers to identify
and realise career opportunities” (p. 16). They conceived employability as a psycho-social construct
consisting of three overlapping dimensions: “career identity” (goals, hopes and fears; personality traits;
values, beliefs and norms; interaction styles; and time horizons); “personal adaptability” (the willingness
of the individual to develop/ change his/ her attributes in order to meet the demands of the situation);
“social and human capital” (social networks, work experience, training and skills development) (p. 20-
32). Hillage & Pollard (1998), McQuaid & Lindsay (2005), Baum et al. (2008) (as cited in Green et al.,
2013) elaborated broader models of employability, which include contextual factor, such as labour market
demand and regulations.
Results from the European Commission report (Humburg, Van der Velden & Verhagen, 2013)
show that professional expertise (subject-specific knowledge and expert thinking) and interpersonal skills
are the most important skills set that affects graduates’ employability. Work experience is also an
essential asset for new recruits (European Commission, 2010; Humburg, Van der Velden & Verhagen,
2013), being even able to compensate for lower grades and a field of study which is not entirely suitable
for the job. Employability skills presented in different studies (Brown et al., 2010; Bynner and Parsons,
2002; Krahn et al., 2002; Scarpetta et al., 2012; Simmons, 2009; Worth, 2005) (as cited in Green et al.,
2013) comprise hard skills (technical skills), soft skills (non-technical skills) and attributes that
contributes to a persons’ employability. Blades et al. (2012) (as cited in Green et al., 2013) define
employability skills as those focusing on “personal, social and transferable skills seen as relevant to all
jobs, as opposed to job-specific technical skills or qualifications” (p. 30).
“Employers’ perception of graduate employability” (European Commission, 2010) shows the
perception of graduates recruiters regarding the importance of various skills/ capabilities when recruiting
higher education graduates, the level of employers’ satisfaction with these skills, the factors that influence
the level of graduate recruitment and the major challenges that companies face in hiring graduates.
The report “STEM Graduates in Non-STEM Jobs” (Mellors-Bourne, R., Connor, H & Jackson, C.,
2011) presents the factors that have a significant impact on STEM (science, technology, engineering and
mathematics) graduates who choose to pursue a STEM career, e.g. “have a definite career in mind at
entry to university”; “undertake degree-related work experience”; “not change career plans during
university”. (p. 39).
The investigation was part of a broader research on the employability of graduates in engineering,
conducted in October- December 2015, within the SCOP project- “Increasing the students' performance
through practice and guidance”, co-financed by the European Union under the European Social Fund. The
research results were used for the development and provision of guidance and counseling for 250 students
in master programs in technical fields, in order to increase employment and adaptability to support their
The paper presents various aspects regarding the individual characteristics required for a job, and
the working context (interpersonal relationships, physical working conditions and features of the
workplace), from the perspectives of students, graduates and employers: students’ perception on their
own employability skills; graduates and employers’ views on the personal attributes valued by employers
in the recruiting process and in the next period after hiring; students’ perception on the targeted job
(working conditions, the employment/ professional status, wages, the working program etc.) and their
expectations from employers; employers’ views on the facilities offered, in the companies they represent,
to master’ students and young graduates.
For the investigation we used both, qualitative methods (focus group and individual interviews
conducted with students, graduates and employers) and quantitative methods (analysis of the study
programs documents). The sample was selected using convenience sampling. It comprises: thirty five
master’ students attending the study programs organised by the Faculty of Engineering and Management
of Technological Systems, University Politehnica of Bucharest, four graduates and six employers -
representatives from companies of production/ distribution of metal fabrications/ equipment. Students and
graduates were invited to participate in the project as members of the target group, and included in the
sample on the basis of their options. Participating companies were selected considering the field of the
Competences Owned by Master’s Students
Most students expressed their opinions regarding the competences owned for performing the
targeted job in terms of knowledge, skills and personality traits. The most frequent responses regarding
knowledge in the field of study are: theoretical training on CNL programming; knowledge in mechanics
and strength of materials; knowledge of 3D modeling; knowledge in designing industrial robots, industrial
sensors; theoretical training in CATIA, Inventor; knowledge on legal issues, knowledge on fundamentals
of quality management in occupational safety. Among the skills, most frequent were mentioned: skills for
using measurement tools and specialized programs, skills in mechanical and organizational design, skills
on Computer Aided Design, skills on SCKERS, GSD, ASAHBLY, 3D PART, skills of 3D modeling,
algorithmic thinking, creativity and innovation skills, problem solving skills, planning and organization
skills. The level of the knowledge acquisition and skills development vary from basic, acceptable, to good
or quite extensive (e. g. “basic training acquired in university; practical training acquired only in
university”; “a quite extensive theoretical training; good knowledge and practical training”; “better
theoretical than practical training”). Initiative, resilience, diplomacy, attention to details, adaptability,
patience, obedience were specified as personality traits by most students.
Regarding subject-related competences most frequent responses refer to: competences in the
design and control of welding processes; competences in the design of the welding equipment;
competences regarding the integration of SSM in work processes; understanding and use of standards
series 9000, 18000, 14000; competences regarding SMC design; CAD- CAM design; competences on
ISO 24 444 / ISO 24 443, ISO 24442, specific quality standard procedures; competences on CATIA,
Inventor, industrial robots, sensors; competences on SolidWorks, MATLAB Inventor, hydraulic actuator;
competences in the use of methods of quality inspection; fundamentals of quality management and safety.
Students' Perception of the Targeted Job
Most of the respondents mentioned that
description, and the workload is adequate. Responses highlight the following features of the assignments:
they are clearly formulated; are ranging from simple to difficult; require collaborative work; the
complexity of assignments depends on the employee’s competences. Two respondents described the
working tasks as challenging. They have made remarks of the usefulness of working tasks for their
employees with opportunities for career advancement. Students’ perceptions on the job comprise also
aspects regarding good relationships with colleagues and superiors, access to information, effective
collaboration with colleagues; receiving feedback from managers, and having their work appreciated by
Most of the respondents presented
student stated that the work program is not so important since employees work in decent conditions and
are motivated. Some respondents specified that a flexible work program is expected, especially during the
sometimes. Communication and collaboration are considered very important by most respondents.
Students’ Expectations from the Employer
Some respondents are expecting decent
others good or very good working conditions: “working conditions according to the job necessities”;
“working conditions under EU regulations”, “good quality of the technical equipment”; “modernization
and adaptation to new generations of equipment”; “providing employees with opportunities for career
development”, “providing employees with opportunities for learning new things” etc.. Other respondents
suggest they would appreciate the flexibility of the working schedule and a positive attitude of employers.
The respondents did not mentioned specific jobs/ functions on the labor market. Most of them
specified that the
For most students,
performance, and confidential. In terms of wage levels, the responses vary: “It's all about wages: a good
payment leads to effective work, with good results”; “Wages should ensure a decent living”; “Wage
bonuses are necessary”; “Payment should be above average”. Deloitte study (2016) describes the Y
generation as one with traditional values and expectations. A good work/ life balance is also important for
them. Customer care focus and the positive impact of business on society are also important motivators
for majority of Millennials.
Facilities for Graduates/ Young Employees. The Employer’s Perspective
respondents have mentioned that they offer work placements, internships and work trials in the
organization they represent. One employer even mentioned that graduates may start the professional
activity without an extensive prior working experience.
The following characteristics of the
factors of young employees: dynamic, friendly, youthful and incentive. Regarding the employer’s
perspective of the
provide young employees with support for skills development, through daily activities or training (e.g.
“The possibility to quickly learn and implement all the technological flow operations”; “Support to gain
technical knowledge”; “A training period regarding the marketed equipment”).
Qualities Employers Look for in Candidates During the Interview
Human capital is critical to the ability of any organisation to maximize its potential.
Employing the right persons is therefore a critical component of business success. The attributes the
respondents look for in candidates when recruiting new staff are: basic professional knowledge/ specific
technical knowledge, capacity for applying knowledge in practice, interest in the domain of the business
activity, capacity and willingness to learn, concern for quality and will to succeed.
Considering their experience in the job interview, graduates have mentioned the following attributes:
basic professional knowledge, willingness to experience new things/ activities, computer skills and
Employers’ Expectations Towards New Employees
Among the probationers’ strengths, employers mentioned self-confidence, ambition (interest in
career development), seriousness, spontaneity, good knowledge of PC, technical knowledge. For them it
is important to see a good evolution of the employee in the next period after hiring. The work behaviours
most appreciated are: involvement in projects; finding new workflows. At the opposite, reduced working
speed, low productivity and lack of interest are highlighted as weaknesses of the new staff. In their
opinions, sometimes the employee’s requests are a little higher than the attributes they possess.
Employers’ expectations towards new employees are: a decent behaviour at the workplace, sociability,
reliability, ability to work in teams, technical knowledge and interest in specific industry.
Almost all skills considered important by employers in the recruiting process were mentioned by
master students among their personal attributes. Comparing their views, we appreciate that differences
may arise regarding the practical training of graduates.
Neither competences profiles presented by master students, nor the skills mentioned by employers
comprise understanding of cultures of other countries, knowledge of a second language, ability to work in
an interdisciplinary team or ability to work in an international context. According to the Eurobarometer
survey on “Employers’ perception of graduate employability” (2010), foreign language skills are more
important in the private than in the public sector, and especially to recruiters with international contacts
(European Commission, 2010). In certain organizations few people with excellent skills of this kind are
In the literature on high performance working (Humburg, Van der Velden & Verhagen, 2013),
facilities provided to graduates and young employees to enhance employability- a competitive and
incentive working environment, the opportunity to make effective use of their skills and develop them-
are considered beneficial for employers. According to the research results, the exploitation by the
organisation of the skills employees currently have to offer, and providing employees with opportunities
for learning new things in a dynamic, competitive and incentive work environment were the aspects most
frequently mentioned by students when describing their expectations from employers.
Students’ skills and preferences are very important in determining the mix of vocational provision,
but reflection on labour market requirements should be also considered (OECD, 2010). Career guidance
services in the university should provide students with clear information about the study programs, in
order to help them to choose those that provide the type of competences which are most needed in the
labor market. On the other hand, by informing students about the areas of skills shortage and the labour
market returns (e. g. wage returns), career counselors can support students, most interested in the financial
aspects, for example, to prepare for well-remunerated jobs.
Strengthening the collaboration between the university and industries may allow students to make
informed choices about training programs and targeted jobs, and provide employers with correct
information about the learning outcomes of the graduates.
- Deloitte (2016). The Deloitte millennial survey 2016. Winning over the next generation of leaders.
- European Commission (2010). Employers’ perception of graduate employability. Analytical report.
- Fugate M., Kinicki A.J. and Ashforth B.E. (2004). Employability: A psycho-social construct, its dimensions, and applications. Journal of Vocational Behavior 65, p. 16, 20-32.
- Green, A. E., de Hoyos, M., Barnes, S.-A., Owen, D., Baldauf, B., Behle, H. (2013). Literature review on employability, inclusion and ICT, Report 1: The concept of employability with a specific focus on young people, older workers and migrants. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, p. 17-20, 29.
- Humburg, M., Van der Velden, R., Verhagen, A. (2013). The employability of higher education graduates, Maastricht: Publications Office of the European Union, p. 4, 21.
- Mellors-Bourne, R., Connor, H, Jackson, C. (2011). STEM graduates in non-STEM Jobs. BIS Research Paper number 30, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Cambridge: Careers Research & Advisory Centre (CRAC) Ltd., p. 39, 141.
- OECD (2010). OECD policy reviews of vocational education and training.Learning for jobs, OECD Publishing.
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