4TU.CEE is co-organisor of the SEFI2020 conference. This blog is part of the SEFI2020 blog series.

Blog by Casper de Jong, educationalist at TechYourFuture/ Bridge the Gap at University of Twente

Prof. dr. Greet Langie was the first keynote speaker of this unusual Covid-19 overshadowed SEFI annual conference. She held a powerful speech on “why and how to exploit the huge diversity in possible career opportunities available to engineers”. The “why” question might not be completely obvious to people new to the subject. However, professor Langie gave a clear answer by stating that 33% of the young engineers changes jobs within their first year. And from these engineers, 60% quits because of the job content. This means that one out of five graduates encounters a mismatch between their job expectation and the actual tasks at a company. Making the right choice when it comes to starting a career that fits you as a new professional is hard. If we can contribute to the student’s awareness of who they are and what they would like to do, we might bring down these numbers.


Langie was quite straight forward on the subject of “how” we can let students exploit the huge diversity in possible career opportunities. To answer that question she posted the rather philosophical answer to let our engineering students “wake up so they can smell the roses”. This could be translated into: “Make sure your students see a clear and complete picture of all jobs in engineering”. In short we should give them insight in all the career opportunities, and show them all the different roles available in engineering.

Engineering roles

The developed PREFER framework could help with creating a clear and complete picture. In short, this framework is based on the strategy model by Treacy and Wiersema and describes three different roles for engineers. These role are: the Product Leadership Engineer, the Operational Excellence Engineer, and the Customer Intimacy Engineer. And the nice thing is, every student can fit in one, two or all of these roles at once. A more in-depth explanation of each of these roles can be found at the PREFER-website. During a short side quest, prof. Langie asked the audience to position themselves somewhere in the framework. Where do they stand as an engineering professional? Even for non-engineering professionals it was easy to understand the reason of this question. As prof. Langie explained, it were not the answers/results that counted, but it was the reflection of the audience that mattered. Where am I, what are my strengths and what are my weaknesses?


Screen shot of audience poll


This question led to the second part of keynote in which prof. Langie showed us how we could create awareness and empower our engineering students. The good news she presented was that students are open to a range of alternatives when it comes to future engineering roles. In fact, quite a lot of students make their choice for specific career options based on some single experiences. Unfortunately, the preferred role of the students in general does not fit the roles mostly required by companies. They need mostly Operational Excellence Engineers, while most students prefer to be a Product Leadership Engineer. Et voila, a mismatch is born. But there is no need to worry since there is a possible solution to this matter. This is to get students in an early stage of their education into a mindset of “Zero-based career planning” (Brunhaver et al. 2013). In short this means that they will recognise all engineering career options as valid ones.

Clear picture

For this mindset of “Zero-based career planning”, educational programmes should create a clear vision of the available roles and also create awareness of the students regarding their strengths and weaknesses. When a clear picture has been formed, the students know their roles, which allows them to strengthen specific skills that fit these role(s). This, for instance can be done during their master’s programme. Organising field trips, guest lectures and real-life assignments from companies could help students develop a better understanding of the type of engineer they want to become.

Prof. Langie showed that the PREFER-project offers a number of micro interventions including two validated tests. On the one hand the “PREFER EXPLORE” test which can measure the students motivation and shows them their preferred roles, and on the other hand the “PREFER MATCH” test which focuses on competencies and results in a role alignment for each student. More information about these tests and an intervention called the “Chinese Whispers with a Twist’’ can be found on the PREFER-website.

To conclude this blog: the keynote showed me that it is essential to provide accurate information about engineering roles and what is needed by companies in an early stage to potential engineering students when they orient themselves. It also became clear that both students and companies can benefit from students who are more aware of the type of engineer they would like to be, or as professor Langie puts it: “Students can see better when they know how to look.”

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