Power Skills Set You Apart

In our last post, we discussed the premium placed on power skills, or soft skills, in today’s workplace. These include creativity, empathy, collaboration, and communication.

Having empathy puts people in their customers’ shoes, helping them to understand the problems needed to be solved most, which in turn inspires better work,” says Otto Hilska, Vice President of Engineering at Smartly.io. “When people have a better understanding of who is using the technology they create, that’s when the magic happens.”

Ash Norton, who helps engineers develop leadership skills, adds, “What I’ve seen time and time again is that developing the ‘soft skills’ is dismissed throughout [engineers’] formal training. Then, when they enter the workforce, they can’t make the progress or impact that matches their technical skills because they lack communication, creativity and interpersonal skills that are required.”

The High Value of a Hybrid Skill Set

Given the fact that STEM-related skills are also greatly valued in today’s Fourth Industrial Revolution, the most highly prized workers right now have a “hybrid skill set” of hard skills, like programming, and power skills, like communication and creativity.

That lines up with analysis from LinkedIn, which found that 2019 employers prioritize a combination of both hard and power skills. According to this study, the top sought-after power skills are creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and time management.

At most colleges and universities, though, students must choose a segmented track, either specializing in hard skills to learn engineering essentials, or choosing a liberal arts track that emphasizes power skills like critical thinking. There is rarely an undergraduate choice that blends both.

That means that if engineers want to ground themselves in power skills, they usually need to earn an advanced degree, either a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree or Master of Engineering Management (MEM) degree.

MEM Degree

Undergraduate engineering students learn how to create products like sensors and solar heating units. If they want to learn how to put together a plan to prototype, produce, and sell these types of products, earning an MBA degree is no longer the only option.

Earning an MEM degree has become more and more popular, as it combines core management courses and advanced industry-specific technical education. Preparing students to become leaders in technology and its management, this type of degree program can be customized with a wide variety of technical electives.

Jeffrey Glass, faculty director of Duke University’s Master of Engineering Management Program, states, “What I think is a bigger driver for the Master of Engineering Management degrees that are coming up…is this idea that we no longer do engineering in a vacuum.”

The value of an MEM degree is that students learn the systems perspective, “where you look at an organization and the problems you’re trying to solve in a broader sense, not just from the simple engineering solution,” Glass says. “Now you have to solve a customer problem, an engineering problem, an organizational problem, and a stakeholder problem.”

MBA Degree

Until a few years ago, earning an MBA degree was the main way that engineers honed power skills. This type of degree program has a broader perspective than the MEM degree and is geared more toward engineers who are interested in management or starting their own companies.

The MBA curriculum therefore includes economics, organizational behavior, marketing, accounting, finance, strategy, operations, and information technology management.

“Those [students] who…want to be tagged for leadership upon entering a company may opt for an MBA,” states Colin Drummond, professor and assistant chair in the department of biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University.

Stephan Kolodiy, Senior Admissions Officer, notes that at Rutgers Business School, MBA students with engineering backgrounds make up the second largest population of students. “There is certainly a shortage of good managers in the field of engineering, and engineers are making themselves extremely marketable by adding an MBA to their list of credentials.”

Bottom Line

Clearly, engineers can acquire the highly valued hybrid skill set by earning either an MEM degree or MBA. An MEM degree will give you more targeted technical skills, as well as a business grounding, while an MBA will give you a broader business toolset.

In our next post we’ll examine how entrepreneurship has come to be valued in engineering education, and how earning an MBA degree can help unlock the engineering student’s entrepreneurial spirit.