The American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES) – of which the Society of Women Engineers is a member – has earned a 2016 American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Power of A Gold Award for its Engineering Competency Model (ECM). We’ve long needed a competency model for engineers, but until recently no widely accepted model was available. The development process was the united effort of representatives from across the engineering community, and SWE was very active in the design and vetting of the model. Given that we have had our own leadership competency model for more than six years, our expertise was welcomed and appreciated.
Developing the ECM
The model is a guide for the development of professionals in the engineering workforce which promotes an understanding of the skill sets and competencies that are essential to educate and train a globally competitive engineering workforce. Funded by a grant from the United Engineering Foundation, it was developed by AAES in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration and AAES subject matter experts from education, industry, and private practice including FY13 SWE President Alyse Stofer and SWE’s Deputy Executive Director and Chief Learning Officer Peter Finn. Over a period of about 15 months, the model was created thorough a development process engaging stakeholders within the engineering community.
“The development of the Engineering Competency Model demonstrates the power of associations coming together to collectively achieve what an individual association cannot do alone,” said Stofer, AAES chair. “The model brought together leaders from a variety of engineering disciplines to establish a more consistent guideline on the competencies that are common to all engineers.” More information on the model can be found at www.aaes.org/model.
Understanding the ECM
A frequent topic at engineering conferences, including SWE events, concerns defining the skills necessary to be a successful engineer in the 21st century. We repeatedly hear about the need for engineers to develop a “T-shaped” skill set — the vertical bar representing in-depth knowledge in one particular area, the horizontal bar representing the ability to collaborate across disciplines and apply knowledge in areas beyond one’s own specialty. But what does this really mean in terms of specific skills?
The ECM defines competency as a cluster of related knowledge, skills, and abilities that affect a major part of one’s job (a role or responsibility); correlate with performance on the job; can be measured against well-accepted standards; and can be improved through training, development, and experience. The ECM identifies the knowledge, skills, and abilities workers need to perform successfully in the field of engineering. As with any tool of this nature, it is meant to be a guide rather than a definitive list of required skills. The ECM is covered on page 10 of this issue, and can be found online in the Department of Labor’s Competency Model Clearinghouse.
At its core, the ECM is a four-tier model that uses a pyramid to depict the required key competencies. Tiers one through four include personal, academic, workplace and technical competencies that are common to the engineering profession. AAES encourages adoption of the model and development of fifth tiers to include discipline-specific competencies. Tier six, a final optional tier, is divided into two areas: competencies needed for management and occupation-specific requirements for a particular position within the engineering profession.
Significance of the ECM
Several tiers include areas of particular importance to SWE, such as the value of diversity, lifelong learning, and by extension, cultural awareness and public policy. SWE is in the process of reviewing our own competency model, making adjustments as needed to ensure our professional development offerings for every career stage, whether virtual or face-to-face, support the skill sets defined by the new ECM. I encourage all members to review the model and create their own learning plan to add the skills needed to have a robust 21st century career toolbox.
The ECM is a living document that responds to changes in the environment and industry demands, while also providing a solid foundation for core engineering education and training elements that stands the test of time.
In July 2015, the model was launched on the Department of Labor’s Competency Model Clearinghouse website. Since then, awareness of the model has been spreading through journal and magazine articles, social media, and conference presentations.
Resources, including a two-minute video and PowerPoint presentation with a speaker’s guide, have been created for faculty, guidance counselors, and others who work with individuals who are entering the STEM pipeline, to provide specific guidance on the core competencies and skills not only necessary for entering the engineering profession, but also for maintaining proficiency during one’s career. The resources can be downloaded from and are relevant to association leaders and practicing engineers as well.
ASAE honored AAES for its model, which is vital to informing discussions among industry leaders, employers, human resource professionals, educators, and workforce professionals as they collaborate to identify specific employer skill needs, develop competency-based curricula and training models, and develop industry-defined performance indicators, skill standards, and certifications.
ASAE’s Power of A (association) Awards, the industry’s highest honor, recognize the association community’s valuable contributions on the local, national and global levels. The Power of A Awards reward outstanding accomplishments of associations and industry professionals for their efforts to enrich lives, create a competitive workforce, prepare society for the future, drive innovation and make a better world.