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Importance of communication skills to an engineer?

  1. Jul 1, 2009 #1
    I'm a second year engineering student and as part of my course, am required to do one subject per semester not related to engineering/science/mathematics. First semester I did International Politics and I'm enrolled for another politics subject sem 2, but I've been thinking about changing that to Organisational Behaviour. I won't lie - my communication skills aren't my strongest point but 3 or 4 years down the line, would I benefit much from having gone the OB route?

    I'm not exactly sure what Organisational Behaviour entails but it's really my only option in semester 2. The subject overview is:
    This subject will provide an introduction to basic individual and group processes, as they affect people in organisations. Major theories and models in key areas of organisational behaviour will be examined; including group dynamics, motivation, stress, communication, conflict, power, strategy, structure and change management. Tutorials will emphasise the application of theories, through the use of exercises and case studies.

    Again, would this subject be relevant and worthwhile for a prospective engineer?
     
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  3. Jul 1, 2009 #2

    negitron

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    Might help you in terms of pursuing an engineering management position, such as a project manager. But, I can't see it as very helpful to an entry-level engineering position. Nevertheless, you'll certainly want to look into ways to improve your communication skills since good, clear communication is very import to general success in any professional environment, including (and perhaps even especially) engineering.
     
  4. Jul 1, 2009 #3

    Dr Transport

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    I would disagree with this. I work in industry in an engineering/scientist position and communication skills are necessary for ALL levels of experience. I routinely work with entry level people who can't communicate very well and this impedes their career development. If you can't get your point across, no matter how competent you are, you'll not be perceived positively in your profession.
     
  5. Jul 1, 2009 #4

    negitron

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    Yes, I said that. Read the course description provided by the OP; that is what I was telling him might not be entirely useful, not communication as a whole.
     
  6. Jul 1, 2009 #5

    turbo

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    Is there a debating team, or a course in debating? If there is one problem that rookie engineers exhibit consistently (in my experience) it is the failure to communicate effectively with non-engineers who may control their fate in the company, or who have some vested interests in the projects that the engineers are working on, and debating can help improve that. To debate effectively, you need to deconstruct a situation or hypothetical, understand your audience (including comprehension levels), identify points at which you can exert some leverage to sway the audience, and make your case in terms that they understand. Those are all really useful skills in the workplace.
     
  7. Jul 1, 2009 #6

    j93

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    Youre argument goes against your belief because
    if this was really true
    then this would not be true
    because of the definition of necessary unless the company has a habit of hiring employees who do not meet the necessary requirements.
     
  8. Jul 1, 2009 #7

    turbo

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    Have you ever worked in industry? Companies hire people who have basic requisite training relevant to their field and then groom them to fit in and contribute. One very basic problem in evaluating candidates for highly technical jobs is the failure of the applicants to take courses that improve (and demonstrate) their proficiency in writing, oral communication, and debate (see previous post). A sharp-minded engineer with lots of great ideas can be hobbled badly by an inability to express their ideas to managers and bean-counters.
     
  9. Jul 1, 2009 #8

    j93

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    This still doesnt disprove the point that companies dont seem to value communication skills otherwise they would have a greater emphasis in hiring based on communication skills but companies hire based on engineering skills without any regard to communication skills therefore the answer to the initial question must be that NO communication skills are not important , they may be beneficial but so would a CS degree to a Mech/Elect Engr. and any engineer doing even basic programming, or a design degree for all engineers doing even the most basic design, or for that matter it would not hurt if all engineers would also have a physics degree as well. The qualities an employee working for a company wants in his coworkers are very likely not to be the qualities an employer/HR may value in new hires.
     
  10. Jul 1, 2009 #9

    symbolipoint

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    In reality, you will find people who exercise poor communication skills, including managers and leads. Following their poor example is still not a good idea.

    Good communication ability can take time to develop. Practice in speaking and writing is good because, without making the explanation so long, clear understandable communication is important. Courses help; day-to-day practice including refinements of what and how you express helps. Studying language and languages (both your native one and nonnative ones) helps. Overall, you (actually almost everybody) needs to communicate by compositions of sentences and paragraphs, draw and show labels, and demonstrate with naration and description and explanation.
     
  11. Jul 3, 2009 #10

    Dr Transport

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    One point of clarification, in most engineering schools in the US there isn't a requirement to take any communication/composition classes after the freshman year. The ability to communicate effectively is pushed off until the person is either looking for a job or if they find employment they are taught by their company the most effective and productive ways to communicate in their specific industry.

    Companies routinely hire people who can't communicate very well because the ones who have advanced competency are far and few between.
     
  12. Jul 3, 2009 #11

    j93

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    This cant be completely true due to the amount of foreign engineers employed by engineering with H-1B (http://www.myvisajobs.com/Top_Visa_Sponsors.aspx) because I doubt these employees have the same mastery of the working language as domestic applicants.
     
  13. Jul 3, 2009 #12

    D H

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    Is this how you justify to yourself that you do not need to improve your communications skills? Poor communications skills can keep one from being hired in the first place. At my workplace, a poorly written resume or cover letter will sink a candidate. The same goes for exhibiting poor communications skills during the interview. We make freshout candidates give a technical presentation on a topic of their choosing. One purpose is to ferret out those with poor communications skills.


    You may have a point there. 4N studnts Rnt vry gud @ txtN.
     
  14. Jul 3, 2009 #13
    In my opinion, communication skills is a very underrated topic when it comes to engineering. Writing and oral communication are skills that really need to be mastered if you plan on getting anywhere in your career.

    However, I don't think these skills can be taught very well in any gen-ed course. My school required me to take two writing courses and one communication based course and neither of them helped my communication skills. What really did it for me was just diving right in and working in industry. Working with and communicating with engineers on a technical level really sharpens your skills especially when you are asked to do presentations or teach things to other people. So does writing 200+ technical reports. While debate and organization behavior courses do help, I don't think there is any substitute for the real thing.
     
  15. Jul 3, 2009 #14

    j93

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    Im not trying to justify anything for myself I feel confident enough in my communication skills but Im not going to give people advice based on my idealizations of life but I will give people advice based on reality and reality is that HR doesnt seem to value communication skills.
    Anyone could go through the trouble of having someone proofread or rewrite a resume and cover letter so a resume doesnt sink a candidate but rather the carelessness of not having another person read it.
    Your workplace is not the norm since so many large employers use the STAR method. The star method can be prepared for and doesnt focus at all on communication skills other than perhaps the being able to speak english. I suppose in reality many employers hire based
    on a)technical proficiency b) interviewing skills(How well can you fit your experiences to STAR).
     
  16. Jul 3, 2009 #15

    turbo

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    If you consider "success" to be hired for a base-level engineering job, you can be "successful" pretty easily. If you want to be successful in your field and in your chosen industry and employment, you had better be able to communicate effectively. When an engineer has to pitch a project, and can speak only in terms of thermal efficiencies, mechanical efficiencies, etc, (s)he is doomed to mediocrity. When you talk to the production managers and superintendents, you had better be able to speak in terms that will address the overall efficiencies in the parts of the plant that they are responsible for. If you have to pitch the project to upper management, you should be prepared to explain how the project will impact the profitability and competitiveness of the plant and the corporation. If you try to talk to upper managers and bean-counters (who often hold the purse-strings) using engineering jargon, you will baffle them, and may go nowhere in the company. Cold, hard facts.
     
  17. Jul 3, 2009 #16

    D H

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    The reality is that while HR departments act as filters to weed out the obvious mismatches, they typically do not perform the final interview for technical placements, even in large companies.
     
  18. Jul 5, 2009 #17

    j93

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    The H1-B numbers still show that communication skills are not important unless you honestly believe the average foreign candidates english communication skills are =< to that of the average domestic candidates english skills.
     
  19. Jul 6, 2009 #18

    D H

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    Based on my experience, the English communication skills of a typical foreign candidate vastly exceed those of the average young American, particularly when the two graduated in some technical arena.
     
  20. Jul 6, 2009 #19

    turbo

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    If you are an engineering student, please disregard all of j93's ill-advised "advice". You want to excel at your profession, and to do so you will have to communicate with people in your company that control the purse-strings. There are times when you will have to present your ideas in terms of incremental gains in productivity (production managers, etc), and there are times when you will have to present your ideas in terms of bottom-line gains or even in terms of global industry-competiveness(top managers and corporate big-wigs). Can you do any of this if you cannot express yourself in terms that your audience cannot comprehend?
     
  21. Jul 6, 2009 #20
    I think that the basic problem is that many of the posters here are right to some degree.

    Firstly, it is absolutely crucial to be able to express yourself in clear, coherent, English sentences. A little punctuation and capitalization never hurts either.

    Secondly, a shocking number of working engineers seem to be functional illiterates. I include the people who seem to think writing email w/txt@work is gud 2 do. Especially those who insist on doing this into their mid-30's...
     
  22. Jul 6, 2009 #21

    j93

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    I cant possibly argue an experience based argument for all I know your co-workers are the top percentile english communicator for their country however in my experience particularly with software engineering not true especially not with the qualifier vastly.
     
  23. Jul 6, 2009 #22

    j93

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    Nobody is going to say communication skills are not useful in general (youre advice is pretty generic and not specific to engineering) but the phrasing of the OP questions by making it specific to engineering means it has to be relative to other fields and if I was to rank the value of communication skills for positions engineering positions would be near the bottom or the lower end. If obtaining generic advice is the goal I would recommend daily reading, brushing ones teeth 3 times a day, and flossing after meals.
     
  24. Jul 6, 2009 #23
    But going back to the OP's question (which seemed to have very little to do with the importance of communication skills, despite the title), if you are interested in management, the Organizational Behavior course could be useful. If you aren't interested in management, just take whatever interests you the most.

    And definitely floss after meals.
     
  25. Jul 6, 2009 #24
    how do you improve your communication skills if you're done with undergrad? the only people you can improve your conversational skills with are your coworkers, right? what if they dont really like you and want to talk to you?
     
  26. Jul 6, 2009 #25

    turbo

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    That can be problematic, especially if the people you NEED to know cannot effectively communicate with you on your terms, and you haven't learned how to communicate with them on theirs.

    My favorite mentor in college was a professor emeritus of English. I entered the college of engineering in an honors program, and he was determined to provide "balance" to that program in the form of enhanced communications skills, and he crafted his programs to achieve that. If you enter the work-force with a poor understanding of the functions and viewpoints of the other people in your company, and/or cannot communicate effectively with them, you will be a "tool" - a one-dimensional entity with little influence in your company, and with limited upward mobility. Not good.
     
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