Professional practice for future engineers

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


Background: There is a need for higher education to address a number of present-day challenges (Barnett, 2000; Brew, 2013; Watson et al, 2001). It is important, for example, to equip students with the skills necessary to survive in the 'real-world' and to work towards solving the many challenges therein (McKenzie et. al. 2002; Macquarie University 2008). While learning through industry-based work experience has long been a core requirement in undergraduate engineering programs, it has recently been receiving renewed attention to ensure it remains of value. Such a review is timely in light of the growth in work integrated learning (WIL) and learning through participation (LTP) programs at universities – including the Professional and Community Engagement (PACE) initiative at Macquarie University. In this context it bears asking, what do we expect future engineers to gain from their work experience, and how open-minded can engineers and the associated professional bodies be about the range of professional experiences suitable for the development of good engineers? For example, would broad community-based experiences designed to provide opportunities for the development of generic skills (i.e. either in addition to or perhaps instead of development of technical skills), be a useful and acceptable experience of professional practice for future engineers? To what extent should work experience be about the process of learning from experience, rather than what is learnt? Purpose: The motivation behind this study is to revisit the purpose of compulsory work-experience in a program of study leading to an engineering degree, and to determine how open engineering as a discipline should be about what may count as useful work experience in training professional engineers. Method: We report on the aims of PACE at Macquarie University and its implementation in the context of current practice and trends from around the world in engineering, and other disciplines, and on the role of work integrated learning experiences in professional development. Results: Recommendations concerning the definition of acceptable work experience in training undergraduate engineers to the level of Stage 1 competency will be proposed. Preliminary evidence will be provided to demonstrate why these various experiences should be considered open-mindedly as regards preparing engineers for professional practice and ongoing development. Conclusions: We propose that the type of work experience that may count towards the professional practice requirement in an undergraduate engineering degree should specifically include generic skills and attribute development. Whilst it is desirable if there is scope for the development of specific technical skills, we argue that in an undergraduate program of studies there are many other worthwhile experiences of a non-technical nature which are important at this level to the development of engineers for the future.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 24th annual conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education AAEE2013
EditorsCharles Lemckert, Graham Jenkins, Susan Lang-Lemckert
Place of PublicationQueensland, Australia
PublisherGriffith School of Engineering, Griffith University
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)9780992409906
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventAnnual conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education (24th : 2013) - Gold Coast, Queensland
Duration: 8 Dec 201311 Dec 2013


ConferenceAnnual conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education (24th : 2013)
CityGold Coast, Queensland


  • work integrated learning
  • project based learning
  • professional development


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