Early-career engineers at the workplace: meaningful highs, lows and innovative work efforts

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


Research units

  • Technische Universität München
  • SKG Analysis
  • Stanford University


Beyond engineering skills, today's graduates are expected to have a number of professional skills by the time they enter the working world. Increasingly, innovation is one of the arenas where professional engineers should adept at operating. However, in order to educate our students for contributing to innovation activities in their organizations, we need a better understanding of the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are relevant for early-career engineers in their development efforts. As a starting point to add to this understanding, we start by asking: what does meaningful engineering work look like in the eyes of early career engineers? We then go on to consider engineering work that is not only meaningful but also innovative, asking: What does innovative work look like in the eyes of early career engineers? Finally, we consider: How do innovative work and engineering work more generally compare?

Bases on qualitative in-depth semi-structured interviews, this paper analyzes the work experiences of 13 young engineers in their first years of work after graduating from universities in the United States. Interviewee-reported critical incidents of top and bottom moments, as well as experiences in creating, advancing and implementing new ideas in work, were coded into different dimensions of learning experiences accroding to Mezirow's [1] transformative learning theory in order to understand better what these experiences comprise. Many positively experienced innovation efforts were related to implementing new features or components to products or process improvements, and collaboration and feedback played an important role in these efforts. Negatively experienced innovation efforts, in contrast, were related to lack in implementation, solutions and resources. Top and bottom moments were strongly tied to the social dimension of work: top moments were typically related to camaraderie with peers of recognition coming from managers, and bottom experiences with an absence of social connections in addition to falling short of one's own expectations.

The results suggest that managers should be cognizant of the importance of social connections and feedback cycles with their young engineers who are looking for guidance and validation of their efforts. For educators, the results highlight the importance of equipping our graduates with skills suited to navigate this active, social landscape of engineering practice. There are more challenges to tackle in today's educational settings to prepare students for the collaboration, people-coordination, presentation, and community-building skills they will need in their professional lives.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2018 ASEE annual conference & exposition proceedings
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2018
MoE publication typeA4 Article in a conference publication
EventASEE Annual Conference - Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City, United States
Duration: 23 Jun 201827 Jun 2018

Publication series

NameASEE annual conference & exposition proceedings
PublisherAmerican Society for Engineering Education
ISSN (Print)2153-5965
ISSN (Electronic)2153-5868


ConferenceASEE Annual Conference
CountryUnited States
CitySalt Lake City
Internet address

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