Mechanical & Materials Engineering, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version



J Eng Educ. 2024;113:103–123. DOI: 10.1002/jee.20572


Open access.


Background: Engineering education seeks to prepare students for engineering practice, but the concept of preparedness is often ill-defined. Moreover, findings from studies of different populations or in different contexts vary regarding how well new graduates are prepared. These variations, coupled with the lack of clarity, suggest the need to better understand what it means to be prepared for engineering work.

Purpose: This study contributes to research on workplace preparation by exploring how new graduates describe being prepared for engineering work.

Method: Applying secondary analysis to data from the multi-institution Capstone To Work (C2W) project, we used thematic analysis to explore new engineers' descriptions of preparedness. We analyzed written responses to structured questions about the school-to-work transition collected weekly during participants' first 12 weeks of work; 105 graduates drawn from four universities provided 956 responses, with a mean of 9 (out of 12 possible) responses per participant.

Results: Participants' descriptions of preparedness included applying concrete skills, recognizing familiar situations, and having strategies for approaching challenging tasks even when they lacked relevant knowledge or skill.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that although many discussions about workplace preparation implicitly focus narrowly on mastery of skills and knowledge, that focus may not fully capture new graduates' experiences, and may limit discussions about the ways in which school can (and cannot) prepare students for work. A more expansive understanding may better support both student learning and workplace onboarding, though more research is needed across stakeholders to establish shared understanding.