2019 CSCE Annual Conference - Laval (Greater Montreal)

2019 CSCE Annual Conference - Laval (Greater Montreal) Conference

Journey to Success: Helping International Co-op Engineering Students Succeed in the Workplace

Mr. Gordon Jin, Memorial University of Newfoundland (Presenter)
Dr. Cristina Fabretto, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Recent years have seen the growth of Co-operative Programs in Faculties of Engineering across Canada. Mission of these programs is to equip undergraduate engineering students with some direct experience in the professional world they expect to enter after graduation. Importantly, co-op programs aim at familiarizing learners with the practices, norms, and rules of the engineering professional community. They facilitate the acquisition and development of relevant professional skills necessary to function successfully in the workplace. Increasingly, professional skills developed during the work term have become instrumental for students’ post-graduate employment. Research shows that engineering undergraduates’ work-term experience has a considerable positive effect on graduates’ likelihood of receiving a job offer prior to graduation and a considerable increase in starting salary.

This presentation considers the professional skills relevant to employment in the engineering sector in the context of undergraduate co-op programs.  However, unlike mainstream research that studies professional skills as an outcome of a successful co-op program, here they are considered as a prerequisite for it. Specifically, this presentation is centred on communication, as the skill that researchers and employers regard as a core requirement of the engineering profession. Furthermore aligned with current and projected demographic trends nationwide, investigative focus is placed on how communication relates to co-op placements when the student candidate is international. It is established that most international students struggle, in some way and to some extent, to function and integrate in their new host-country and to succeed in their academic program. Their struggle is more evident among first year non-native speakers. Insufficient language ability and unfamiliarity with postsecondary teaching and learning tradition pose significant challenges to this cohort when enrolled in a co-op only B.Eng. Program. 

Ensuring that academic and professional success is attainable for this increasingly diverse student population is uniquely contingent upon the faculty responding to its students’ need to be equipped to function effectively in workplace settings. Hence, this presentation reviews solutions devised and implemented to date at Memorial University Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science aiming at maximising international students’ success in co-op workplace. Recruiters and employers expectations against gaps and deficiencies in students’ preparation are discussed drawing from the conceptual framework of Communicative Competence as conceptualised in the theoretical framework of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), the internationally accredited scale of English language proficiency currently in use in Canada. Lessons learned, best practices, and future research are also discussed.