Year

2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Business Administration

Department

Sydney Business School

Abstract

For more than thirty years the world’s economies have become increasingly oriented towards a more diverse set of objectives, including a focus on sustainability, stakeholder management and the effective motivation of staff for competitive advantage.

The need for engineers to be educated in business and management skills has been addressed to some extent, by the development of the Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Engineering Management (MEM) and similar courses. These have been offered as supplementary qualifications to engineers holding undergraduate degrees. However, the need to develop undergraduate engineering courses that integrate such aspects as business strategy, entrepreneurship, leadership, team work and economic/financial applications, has not kept pace with current industry requirements.

A study of the relevant literature over the past three decades has highlighted two major gaps. Firstly, little is known about the management skills required of newly graduated engineers who may be considered for early promotion to a line or staff management role and secondly, there is no general agreement on what management skills are required.

This research has confirmed by surveying a wide cross-section of employers of engineers that there is a definite need for graduate engineers to possess specific management skills. Those most in demand are Communication and Human Resource Management. Other attributes highlighted in the survey responses were Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Sustainability and Leadership. Also, this survey uncovered that the management skills being taught at present by the various institutions are not adequately equipping engineers to undertake their duties in many engineering enterprises. They may possess some of the defined skills through work experience and further studies.

Whilst the relative importance of each skill surveyed may differ, the list of skills considered (plus Finance) forms an excellent platform from which to review current engineering curricula. Management skills are classified for the purpose of this research as Decision Making, Human Skills, Communication, Interpersonal, Conceptual, Diagnostic, Flexible, Administration, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Sustainability. The respondents indicated strongly that the need for management skills of graduate engineers are required now and will only increase even more so in the future.

Responses to the survey indicated attempts to provide the required management skills by compulsory “Engineering Management” subjects have been ineffective. There is evidence students gain little from this approach because they are not integrated into technical engineering subjects. Without direct professional engineering experience they fail to see its relevance.

The majority of responses to the questionnaire were from the Manufacturing and Consulting sectors. After statistical analysis of these sectors it was confirmed employers’ perceptions of the desired management skills were similar through all sized organisations.

In order to complete the views of all stakeholders Engineers Australia, Deans of Engineering and the Australian Council of Engineering Deans were also consulted.

Recommendations are provided on how management skills should be integrated into an undergraduate engineering course and by whom those skills should be taught. Opportunities for further research are identified.

The survey also shows that teaching these additional management subjects has so far been ineffective. There is evidence to suggest students gained little from the current approach as they find it difficult to identify with the relevance and context of management.

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