Into the Workplace: Exploring the Learning Experiences of Newcomer Engineers during the School-to-Work Transition
Lutz, Benjamin David
MetadataShow full item record
Entering a new environment is challenging for everyone, including engineers. Despite national efforts to improve graduates' competencies, managers and other critical industry stakeholders consistently describe new hires as underprepared for practice. Nonetheless, as engineers move into their new organizations, they learn to participate in and contribute to their communities of practice. This period is the school-to-work transition, and the goal of this research is to gain a deeper understanding of the salient learning events that characterize individuals' trajectories from engineering student to engineering practitioner. Using a multi-case approach, this study leverages weekly journals and semi-structured interviews to explore the experiences of recent engineering graduates as they enter the workplace and learn to engage in professional practice. Journal entries probed newcomers' perceptions of challenges, accomplishments, and significant learning events during the first 12 weeks of their jobs. Interviews expanded on journal findings and elaborated on participants' experiences. Analysis entailed the development and application of two complementary workplace learning frameworks from Jacobs and Park (2009) and Chao et al. (1994) that describe both the setting and content of salient learning experiences. Cross-case analysis enabled exploration across participants to examine trends and patterns within participants' experiential trajectories. Findings point to several contributions and implications. First, the codebooks developed in this study were contextualized and operationalized for engineering workplaces, and have been refined to enhance descriptive precision and clarity. Second, journals provided thick, rich descriptions of events in ways that hold promise for future exploratory studies as well as formative assessment. Finally, results indicated that newcomer engineers engage in a wide range of learning environments throughout the school-to-work transition and describe learning along myriad socialization dimensions. In particular, workplace learning takes place in unstructured environments through routine tasks and along both technical and sociocultural dimensions. Given this learning, both industry and academic professionals should consider these dimensions as they design experiences and assess learning across organizations. Newcomer learning is challenging, but if we can gain a better understanding of how and what happens during it, we can more effectively develop efforts to enhance the transition—and therefore, practice—for future generations of engineers.
- Doctoral Dissertations