Three years ago we identified a shortfall in graduates’ transformative skills, needed in securing the vital “first job after graduation”.  To address this, we altered a final-year unit and we are now seeing our graduates flourish.

Employability was our aim during development of the new Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical Engineering) in 2013.  Research on final-year students in 2016 showed that we had not fully succeeded:  there was a discrepancy in the perceived value of transformative skills between future graduates and future employers (based on a research study conducted by Serene-Lin-Stephens from MQ Career and Employment Services and Dr Shaokoon Cheng from MQ Mechanical Engineering program). Students typically undervalued the development of transformative skills, which STEM employers valued highly.  These transformative skills include identification and critical analysis of problems, and application of discipline-specific techniques to resolve them.  Considering this, we noted that these transformative skills are also necessary for successful entrepreneurship – a goal of many students.

One outcome of this process was that we changed the capstone unit (MECH401) to include transformative skills in the context of entrepreneurship. Students are required to identify market gaps for small products and to design innovative solutions for them:  they are effectively asked to be entrepreneurs. As part of this initiative, we developed a novel learning tool (www.MQIDEA.com) to strengthen the development of transformative skills.*

Using MQIDEA, students learn about both good and bad design approaches from past students’ work to enhance their own design.  We have found that this bridges the gap between the expectations of teaching staff and students’ own design standards.  We constantly encourage students to demonstrate creative and innovative thinking, as well as leadership in entrepreneurial activities.

We are already witnessing the impact that this approach has delivered, including new engagement with industry leaders, such as 3M Pty Ltd and Aristocrat Pty Ltd. MECH401 has also directly impacted students’ employability, as shown by feedback, such as this comment from one of our graduates:

“… I was offered a Graduate Engineer position working on product design and implementing an end-end design and quality process. I believe that having physical proof of some design experience at university aided me in obtaining this position. Without it I had no evidence of prior experience as I am currently employed as an Undergraduate Site Engineer, an unrelated role. … MECH401 was really a valuable final unit for my Mechanical Engineering degree.”

Previous year MECH401 student

Another student group is currently extending their product design work, developed during MECH401, into a Kickstarter crowdsourcing campaign!

So, is there any difference between the skills exhibited by highly sought-after graduates and successful entrepreneurs? We believe that the answer is no because both are innovative thinkers who aim to have a positive impact and bring value to the world!

* Made possible by the 2017 SPG Grant “Integrating entrepreneurship skill development in engineering”, led by Dr Nicholas Tse and Dr Shaokoon Cheng.

Thank you to the Macquarie University Career and Employment Services for your amazing work.

By Nicholas Tse, Serene-Lin Stephens and Shaokoon Cheng

Posted by Nicholas Tse

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