Drawing on Collective Engineering Sentiment To Improve Learning Outcomes

Source: US Department of Labor Employment & Training Administration.
Fig. 1—Engineering competency model.

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With many engineering disciplines projected to have a shortage of workers in the next 10 years and the impending retirement of many senior-level employees, there has been an emphasis on identifying job competencies and skills gaps. SPE, and others, have developed a variety of tools to identify and address these and help members ready themselves for the emerging realities of the future workplace, further their careers, and meet employers’ expectations.

As the SPE Soft Skills Committee reported in the February 2016 issue of JPT (Fig. 1 above), the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES) released an Engineering Competency Model (CMT) in July 2015. The group engaged subject matter experts from its 17 member societies to develop the model in conjunction with the US Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration over a 2-year period. The administration partners with industries and professions to develop and maintain dynamic models of the foundational and technical competencies that are necessary in economically vital industries and sectors of the American economy. SPE’s parent organization, the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME) participated as a member society. AIME interfaced with SPE training staff during development of this model.

The creation of the competency model included an examination of existing bodies of knowledge, as well as the inclusion and involvement of the stakeholders within the engineering community, including associations, industry, and academia. The tool was vetted via a webinar, a survey, and an in-person review session. The team built the model to provide a universal standard for the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary not only for entering the engineering profession but also for maintaining proficiency during one’s career. It is also helpful to employers, educators, associations, and economic developers.

While the Department of Labor has used this pyramidal template to develop models for 23 industries, engineering was the first profession for which this was used. Additional detail can be found at https://www.careeronestop.org/CompetencyModel/.

Bridging the Engineering Competency Model With SPE’s Competency Work

The ECM competencies are laid out in pyramidal fashion to display foundational skills typically learned earlier in life underneath those skills acquired in later stages of educational and workplace achievement. But it stops short of identifying competencies for specific engineering disciplines and jobs. This is where most of SPE’s technical competencies come in.

SPE has been at the forefront of the engineering community in competency development with its:

  • General Engineer Competencies (developed by the SPE Minimal Competency Task Force, 2001)
  • Soft Skills Matrix (Behrooz Fattahi, Susan Howes, Giovanni Paccaloni, and Ford Brett article in JPT, October 2014)
  • Graduating Engineer Competencies (industry survey initiated by the SPE Engineering Professionalism Committee, 2011)
  • Competency Management Tool (CMT), launched 2015

The lion’s share of SPE’s efforts is in the technical categories while AAES’ competency model is more soft-skills focused. The objective is to bridge SPE’s work in discipline-specific technical and nontechnical skills with the more generic competency model work released by AAES to create a holistic lifelong-learning roadmap for SPE members.

Other groups who have actively and broadly engaged in soft skills training for several years include the American Chemical Society, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and the Emerging Leaders Alliance (ELA). The ELA is a partnership among leading engineering and science-based organizations that provides high-quality leadership training. Recognizing the importance of providing soft-skills training to propel its young professionals to quickly occupy the emerging leadership opportunities, SPE annually sponsors eight promising members to the ELA workshop; however, this single workshop clearly will not meet industry demand. Additional details can be found at www.EmergingLeadersAlliance.org.

SPE Soft Skills Committee Competency Mapping Work

AIME 2014 president and SPE Soft Skills Committee charter member Behrooz Fattahi asked AIME’s executive director, Michele Lawrie-Munro, to introduce this model to SPE’s Soft Skills Committee. The committee was impressed by the work and agreed that it would be worthwhile to establish a task force to map AAES’ model to SPE’s competency models and to drive the integration of both models. It included a three-fold purpose, to see if SPE might adopt the AAES competency model to:

  1. Reduce or eliminate duplication of effort
  2. Enhance soft skills curriculum development and assessment (by using learning outcomes such as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology model for universities)
  3. Prioritize soft skills training development going forward

The Competency Mapping Task Force put the AAES’ competencies in a tiered Excel format. It was able to map all soft skills elements of SPE’s General Engineering Competencies and 75% (31 of 41) of the components of SPE’s Soft Skills Matrix (Fig. 2) to the AAES competency model.

Fig. 2—Progression in people capabilities and actions.


Because AAES will periodically update the competency model, this task force will also provide feedback to AAES to consider adding detail for additional items found in SPE’s Soft Skills Matrix, specifically excellence, dialogue, cultural mental models, conversation, establishing direction, imagination, volunteerism, mental models, perseverance, and patience. Mapping the AAES’ competency model to graduating engineer competencies and the CMT was more difficult. The group decided that, because these are mainly technical competencies, there is no need to map to them at this time.

Upon reviewing the competency model in detail and the mapping, the task force recommended considering adopting of the competency model because it provides detailed learning outcomes that would be helpful to academic members as well as soft skills trainers in delivering effective curriculum to produce related competencies. As an example, if an aspiring engineer wished to understand what could be expected of their critical and analytical thinking skills in their future workplace, they could use Tier 2, Section 2.6 of the engineering competency model (Fig. 3). In this section, the future engineer would find the expectations of the desired reasoning and mental agility skills needed. If lacking, SPE and other educators could then help them identify coursework to obtain those skills to ensure a smooth transition from an academic environment into the future work place. Likewise, educators can use the model to identify gaps in future engineers’ training and create a tailored education program to address those gaps.

Fig. 3—Detail from ECM Tier 2-Academic Competencies.

Next Steps

The group will present its work with future SPE training stakeholders and ultimately to the SPE Board of Directors. The subcommittee would like to thank the SPE staff for generous support of these efforts.

Drawing on Collective Engineering Sentiment To Improve Learning Outcomes

Michele Lawrie-Munro, Executive Director, AIME, and Lori Dalrymple, Chief Executive Officer, Architecture of Communication

01 October 2017

Volume: 69 | Issue: 10


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