Dr. Farrukh Sayed (Principal, ACE)
Communication and business management skills can be fuzzy concepts for people primarily trained in applied math and science, yet these skills are recognized when they are or are not present in individuals, especially when it comes to job performance and the ability to advance in one’s career path.
From the beginning of engineering studies, students should acquire industry- oriented attitude and communication skills. This implies an interest in improving their personal communication competence. However, negative attitudes towards learning communication skills are common, as students do not recognize the training of communication skills as an important part of academic education and engineering work, or do not perceive a need to improve their own skills.
Engineering graduates should require an ever-increasing range of skills to maintain relevance with the global environment. Communication skills are a vital component of this, recognized by academia and industry alike. Such skills are essential for an engineer who aspires to carry out his/her professional practice in the global arena.
Yet there is ample evidence that graduate engineers lack the required standard of communication skills, particularly when compared to the needs of industry internationally. Communication skills are a regular feature of an engineer’s job in industry. Indeed, communication skills are considered to be a valuable career enhancer.
Inadequate and ineffective communication skills reflect badly on the individual and the profession. An insufficient level of communication skills acquired during engineering education only serves to undermine the whole profile of the professional engineer. This in turn affects the performance and hence recruitment.
In this age of globalization, international projects are increasing, and cross-cultural communication and collaboration is rising; especially in the now international practice of engineering. English is accepted as the most widespread language in the world. This is important for engineering students as this indicates that English may be more useful internationally than almost any other language due to its spread. The burgeoning importance placed on oral communication skills by employers has been stressed at international level. Knowledge and technical know-how are clearly important, but these must be presented with an excellent standard of communication skills, particularly oral. Indeed, oral communication and presentation skills are considered one of the best career enhancers and to be one of the major factor in determining a student’s career success or failure. Communication skills can be developed through the use of various methods, such as class discussions, regularly speaking in English with friends and teachers, reading English newspapers and practicing correct spoken English etc.
Written communication is also very relevant and should be of quality standard that can be benchmarked. Examples of written communication include: engineering reports, technical writing, essays, reflective journals, peer review, and student conference papers.
Ineffective and poor written communication in engineering workplaces were found to lead to mis- interpretation, inefficiency and time wastage, thereby adversely affecting problem resolution. Such miscommunication was then found to contribute to mistrust and confusion.
Furthermore, many students dislike giving presentations, it is better that they experience a dry run in their education than to be suddenly confronted in the workplace. Students as employees will have to give the oral presentations before superiors about their group work on regular basis. Group projects and presentations encourage and enhance the interpersonal skills of the student members and should be emphasized in the education curricula. This should be considered as teamwork that is recognized as a core skill in industry, and communication with team members needs to be effective.
Communication between disciplines is an important aspect that also needs to be considered. Increasing globalization involves effective communication across disciplines, such as engineering and management. Indeed, engineers also need a certain level of basic management and business skills – including entrepreneurship skills – so that they can interact with, and operate, business ventures. Entrepreneurship skills are also being increasingly recognized as important skills for engineering graduates. Communication skills are still more important as the engineer- entrepreneur has to communicate his/her idea to others from concept to development to implementation and use. Poor communication skills will not be able to fetch the desired results or may sometime yield wrong results.
Language and communication skills are recognized as important elements in the education of the modern engineer and these are some of the qualities employers ask for. Students should improve and reinforce the communication skills along with their engineering academic schedule but in my opinion this should be initiated and inculcated at the school level. It is a lifelong learning process and can be obtained at any level if proper focus is given and concerted efforts are made by the students. Acquiring these skills should never be considered as waste of time and all such programmes should be taken seriously.