Supports and barriers that recent engineering graduates experience in the workplace

Samantha Brunhaver, Russell Korte, Micah Lande, Sheri Sheppard

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


One of the aims of engineering education is to prepare students for engineering in the 21st century. Yet critics of engineering education point to the lack of preparation students obtain in school. This paper examines the career supports and barriers that one cohort of recent engineering graduates experienced in the workplace. Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) describes supports and barriers as environmental factors that individuals perceive as having the potential to either aid or hinder their pursuit of a particular career goal.1 In this study, supports and barriers are identified in the engineering departments of four U.S.-based companies. The data were gathered from semi-structured interviews with 59 newly hired engineers who had recently graduated from college. In two of the companies, Big Food Company and Small State Agency, new hires complete a rotation period in which they work in three different departments before being assigned to a permanent position and the work is mostly project management-based. In the other two companies, Big Car Company and Small Computer Company, engineers are assigned to a permanent position and do a mix of technical and project management work. The interviews from these companies were analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively. The analysis of interviews shows that both supports and barriers in the workplace are created by the company, by managers, and by coworkers. For example, a manager would serve as a support when she supplies needed information to the new engineer and as a barrier when she is too busy to provide feedback in a timely fashion. Many supports and barriers were found to be common across all four companies. In addition, several factors were mentioned by the new engineers as being both supports and barriers, suggesting that local circumstances and individual perspectives play a role in the experiences of new engineers as well. Finally, the data also suggest that supports and barriers may influence new engineers' job satisfaction. The outcome of this research is a three-pronged taxonomy meant to help companies develop greater empathy for their new hires, to help educators better inform and prepare students for the engineering workplace, and to enable students to more skillfully investigate potential employers and careers. The implications and research findings are discussed for each group.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes
Event2010 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Louisville, KY, United States
Duration: Jun 20 2010Jun 23 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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