Work integrated learning competencies: industrial supervisors’ perspectives
Makhathini, Thobeka Pearl
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Research on student-learning outcomes indicates that university graduates do not possess relevant skills required by the industry such as leadership, emotional intelligence, problem solving, communication, decision-making skills and the ability to function in a multicultural environment. Currently, engineering graduates are expected to perform within a diverse working environment, hence the need to possess appropriate professional competencies and attributes. This paper seeks to identify strengths and potential shortfalls of work integrated learning (WIL) for students placed in the engineering sector. It presents findings from a study of workplace supervisors of chemical engineering students at one university of technology on the coastal seaboard. Supervisors from a variety of chemical industries completed a WIL students’ competency assessment, which measures 23 work-related competencies using a 4-point Likert scale. The competencies were organised under two broad themes of cognitive and behavioural skills. The two themes were further broken down into five sub-themes, namely ability, performance, judgement, attitude and suitability. This defines the common characteristics of superior performers within the workplace. The results show that most students meet the standard expectation on the cognitive or ‘hard’ skills but seem to lack the behavioural or ‘soft’ skills. There were statistically significant differences between cognitive and behavioural skills. The findings from this study suggest that cooperative education programmes need to do more in developing the students’ soft skills before they go out for WIL placement to ensure effectiveness and broad-based technical competence.