Engineering Graduates Need Soft Skills, Says Dean at the American University of Sharjah

/ 30 Jul 2022

Engineering Graduates Need Soft Skills, Says Dean at the American University of Sharjah

Academic and technical skills are not enough to thrive in today’s competitive labour market, says Fadi Aloul, dean of the College of Engineering at the American University of Sharjah. Engineering graduates need soft skills, too.

Aloul wants to make sure his college’s graduates have all the skills they need to interact with this increasingly complex market to find job opportunities flexibly and easily.

In an interview with Al-Fanar Media, he pointed to three axes in the college’s efforts to better prepare students for the labour market.

Those are to admit the best students; to provide them with the best education experience throughout their four years of study; and to help graduates find a job or an opportunity to continue postgraduate studies. Some of the college’s graduates have enrolled at institutions like the University of Oxford, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he said.

The Importance of Soft Skills

Aloul, who has been dean of the college since January 2022, stresses the importance of soft skills.

“The current trend in United States universities is to train students on 21st century soft skills, besides academic and technical skills,” he said. “These skills include oral presentations, time management, leadership skills, problem-solving, communication, teamwork, writing emails, innovation and entrepreneurship skills, to be ready for the job market.”

He described how his college responded: “From Day One at school, students are divided into work teams, of men and women, of different nationalities and majors, to be decision-makers, to deal with differences. This better prepares them for the market, as most of the companies that recruit our students are interested in diversity. It also makes them more able to comfortably deal with their future career.”

As an example of how the college links soft skills to the curriculum, he cited an entrepreneurship programme that is offered to engineers, so that they learn how to look for a job, how to pass a job interview, and how to deal with superiors in business.

Industry-Sponsored Projects 

“The college is currently working on industry-sponsored projects. This does not mean there are companies that financially support students, they only guide, train and advise them in groups, to do their best. Thus, students learn the techniques from the college, and train on them in practice.”

Fadi Aloul   Dean of the College of Engineering at the American University of Sharjah

Just as learning soft skills has become a necessity to meet labour market needs, graduation projects have also shifted from their traditional form to be more practical.

“The college is currently working on industry-sponsored projects,” Aloul said. “This does not mean there are companies that financially support students, they only guide, train and advise them in groups, to do their best. Thus, students learn the techniques from the college, and train on them in practice.”

The projects can form an addition to the industry until the students find a job opportunity after graduation, even if with other companies, Aloul said.

He added: “Another thing that helps our students is the so-called professional certifications, from companies like Cisco or Red Hat, which give our graduates an edge over others.”

Training Through Clubs and Competitions

Aloul also cited the role of student clubs in refining students’ skills and preparing them for the labour market, besides enhancing their connection to the college and society.

Through club activities, students get more practice in skills like working in teams. Student clubs within the college include the Women in Engineering Club, the Open Source Club, the IEEE Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology Club, and the Game Development Club.

The college also helps students refine their soft skills by encouraging them to participate in local and international competitions and events, Aloul said.

“The purpose is not to win prizes, because even in the event of a loss, they gain experiences of participation, working in teams, presentation, arbitration, creating ideas, knowing how to adhere to deadlines, and publishing their contributions and the awards they received on social media,” he said. “This makes them feel distinguished and appreciated, and polishes their abilities to reach the appropriate jobs after graduation.”

Moreover, the college cooperates with companies in various sectors, including technology, oil and gas, construction and health. It also plays a major role in transportation studies, especially in issues related to safety, the environment, and sustainability.

“The college has strong relationships with a large number of companies, and each place has its own problems,”said Aloul. “So, when we offer a group of our students to work on a year-long project that tries to address these issues, they are very welcome.”

Data Analysis and Research

In light of data analysis and the use of artificial intelligence applications, Aloul says that exchanging ideas and information about the sector is an important part of students’ work on projects.

“Upon dealing with a hospital, there will be an agreement on a project for students, so data is taken, let it be about cancer diagnosis, for example,” he explained. “This data opens the door to creating ideas in a better way, and better integration in the market, in order to accomplish a project that can compete, and publish those papers in journals and media platforms. This gives students another competitive advantage.”

Aloul added that the college encourages students to conduct research before graduation. “If they want to go on to higher studies, publishing research will improve their chances of enrolling in graduate schools after graduation,” he added. “In many cases, students’ research papers have been published in international journals and at scientific conferences.”

Notable Number of Female Students 

“From Day One at school, students are divided into work teams, of men and women, of different nationalities, to be decision-makers, to deal with differences. This better prepares them for the market, as most of the companies that recruit our students are interested in diversity.”

Fadi Aloul  

The College of Engineering is proud of its record in attracting women to study in a field traditionally dominated by men, Aloul said.

Aloul pointed out that the global ratio of women’s participation in the engineering workforce was 16 percent in 2021, and 28 percent of engineering graduates that year were women, according to a Unesco Science Report.

“Women’s percentage at our college is 37 percent,” he said. “Our goal is to increase this percentage to 50 percent.”

Aloul noted that some engineering disciplines are dominated by women, such as industrial engineering, computer science, and chemical engineering. “This depends on the nature of work in these fields,” he said.

He added that the presence of support organisations like the Women in Engineering club contributes to women’s participation in the college, and increases the awareness of the impact of women in engineering.

“Case studies, activities, and seminars are presented on the club’s page and website, besides role models for women in engineering, alumni associations, and successful female engineers,” he said. “We review their success stories to encourage female students.”

The college has more than 7,000 alumni who have graduated over the nearly 25 years since it opened in 1997. Many of its female graduates are now corporate executives, and some reached government ministers, Aloul said. “This always makes us proud of what we do.”

Accreditation and Ranking 

Aloul stressed the importance the college attaches to accreditation of its programmes and its place in international rankings.

“Our college ranked 369th in the QS Ranking for the best engineering colleges in the world,” he said. “Our civil engineering department ranked first in the U.A.E. and in the top 150 globally. This ranking makes companies feel confident about our students and prefer to hire them.”

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He adds that the university selects faculty members very carefully. “All of them, without exception, hold a doctorate degree, from prestigious universities around the world,” he said. “Eighty-four percent of them have degrees from North America, 8 percent from England, and 4 percent from Europe.”

The college has seven undergraduate programmes in civil, chemical, mechanical, industrial, computer and electrical engineering, and computer science. It also offers nine master’s programmes, including biomedical engineering and construction management, and a doctoral programmer. All are accredited by the U.S.-based Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET), and the U.A.E. Commisison for Academic Accreditation.

The ministry accredits more than 70 universities throughout the Emirates, he said. “The accreditation is from the lowest, average, to the highest, in terms of confidence,” he said. “The American University of Sharjah is one of seven universities who gained the high confidence category.”

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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام