Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Towards a working model of industry and higher education collaboration in enhancing engineers’ soft skills for better employability

The discussion on employability of higher education graduates has been around for several years, with more emphasis in the 21st century. Yet, universities are still challenged in the pursuit of providing work-ready graduates who can meet industry expectations.

2018 - 2022
Akif Çal


  • A. ÇAL – PhD candidate
  • prof.dr. W.F. Admiraal – supervisor
  • dr. T.L. Mearns – supervisor 

Research questions

  • What is the role of English in the Turkish workplace for engineers?
  • To what extent are Turkish engineering students aware of the workplace communicative requirements in English?
  • What are the expectations of the workplace from universities in terms of enhancing engineering graduates’ soft skills?
  • What are the expectations of universities from the workplace in terms of enhancing engineering graduates’ soft skills?

Social relevance

Employability of graduates is one of the key topics discussed with respect to higher education in the 21st century, in which we find much more students pursuing a formal degree compared to the past. The importance of developing employability skills in higher education arises from the fact that the workplace has also become very competitive in relation to the rising number of higher education graduates.

However, employers still complain about a gap between their expectations from higher education graduates and what these graduates are actually capable of upon completion of a university degree. This potentially leads to unemployment among new graduates, which is impacting the society directly. Therefore, this project will support higher education institutions and students in developing more accurate perspectives of employability requirements and taking action accordingly.

Scientific relevance

While employability has been shown to be a highly important trait for higher education graduates, there has not been consensus on what counts as employability and which skills go into it. In order to explore employability, most research has focused on understanding workplace requirements in specific contexts, sometimes as generic skills like communication, teamwork, problem solving, etc., and sometimes by defining what each of these entail in detail such as report writing, giving presentations, reading technical documents etc. in relation to communication skills.

However, such research is limited in terms of number and contexts mainly to Asia and the Middle East. Therefore, the first aim of this research project is to explore in detail the needs of the workplace in terms of one of the most important employability traits, communication, within the Turkish context. Additionally, research has also shown that because of a mismatch between what academia thinks are important employability traits and what actually is needed by the industry, understanding of employability skills among university students may be poor, again potentially leading to a skills gap.

In order to understand to what extent higher education institutions have an effect on students’ understanding of workplace communication requirements, this project will also explore senior engineering students perceptions of workplace requirements and their self-preparedness. Nevertheless, such an understanding will require acting on findings in order to improve higher education curriculum where necessary, and this entails a strong cooperation between higher education institutions and the workplace. This takes the project to the level of understanding expectations of each party for such a cooperation to run smoothly. Thus, the final steps of this research will involve exploring expectations of the workplace from higher education institutions and vice versa so that a working model of industry-higher education cooperation may be developed in order to enhance university graduates employability skills.

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