A Soft Skills Experiment in an Industrial Engineering and Management Academic Course: A Demonstration of How to Develop Soft Skills

A Soft Skills Experiment in an Industrial Engineering and Management Academic Course: A Demonstration of How to Develop Soft Skills

Klaas Stek (University of Twente, The Netherlands & Graz University of Technology, Austria)
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 30
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8816-1.ch002
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Industrial firms increasingly concentrate on their core competences and outsource non-core activities, affecting the personal (soft) skills requirements of purchasing and supply chain management (PSM) personnel in their boundary-spanning roles. In parallel, machines take over processes but cannot replicate humans' soft skills such as creativity and strategic thinking. The literature shows that learning objectives in PSM courses in higher education are evaluated for not covering soft skills. Moreover, there is evidence that soft skills development is challenging. It is questionable which soft skills can be developed and which didactics are applicable. This study presents an educational soft skills experiment with IEM graduates, and it provides evidence that soft skills learning can effectively be introduced in existing courses. The graduates self-rated their competence levels of 36 soft skills before and after the course that provided soft skills workshops and a case study. In the first survey, “strategic thinking” ranked low and could be improved the most in the second survey.
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In this chapter, the role of higher education lecturers in preparing the next generation of industrial engineering managers is addressed by presenting an active learning method for the training of (1) knowledge and theory, (2) professional and interpersonal skills, and (3) intrapersonal traits. It presents the results of an educational experiment in an academic master’s course with students of Industrial Engineering and Management (IEM) and Business Administration (BA), more precisely, in the field of purchasing and supply chain management (PSM) which belongs to the domain of Operations Management.

The challenges of further digitalisation and the circular economy need to be addressed with technological advancement, which is the focus of this book. Technological advancement is a human effort and requires competent humans to combine hard skills ([technological] knowledge, theory and professional skills) and soft skills (interpersonal skills and intrapersonal traits or attitudes), as shown in this study.

The recommendation is to distinguish between (1) knowledge and theory, (2) professional and interpersonal skills, and (3) intrapersonal traits and to design for each of these three (I) intended learning outcomes, (II) didactical approaches and (III) assessment methods. This study distinguishes between hard and soft skills and found evidence in the literature that soft skills learning objectives are absent in academic (PSM) curricula. Therefore the following recommendation is to formalise soft skills learning objectives. Educators need to understand that soft skills cannot be assessed the same way as knowledge. For instance, to test the progress in soft skills, the students were evaluated with two surveys before and after a cognitive and soft skills training course in which they worked on a real-life case study in an experimental educational design.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Quasi-Experiment: An experiment with a single group with observations before and after without a control group.

Procurement 4.0: The term for the implications of Industry 4.0 on the procurement function.

Hard Skills: Knowledge and skills applicable for a specific job.

Soft Skills: Interpersonal or human-to-human skills and intrapersonal character traits.

Globalisation: The process of purchasing on the worldwide market that has been promoted by the United Nations World Trade Organisation (WTO) and its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades (GATT).

Internet of Things: Or machine-to-machine communication or the 4th Industrial Revolution is the process of autonomic production systems.

Student-Centred Approach: The student acquires knowledge, skills, and attitudes through active, productive and effective learning.

Teacher-Centred Approach: The teacher instructs students in a straight classical frontal fashion setting students in a passive, consuming role.

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