Providing engineers with OARS and EARS:Effects of a skills-based vocational training in Motivational Interviewing for engineers in higher education

Authors: Florian E. Klonek, Simone Kauffeld (2015)

The curriculum of technical professions and engineering education often is heavily focussed on technical knowledge (Darling and Dannels, 2003). More recently, scholars have argued that oral communication skills are increasingly important for engineers (Ford and Teare, 2006; Seat et al., 2001). The rational for this argument is that communication skills are important for personal and professional development (Morreale and Pearson, 2008; Morreale et al., 2000), are rated among the most requested skills by employers (The Cline, 2005; McEwen, 1997), and can facilitate career success (Morreale and Pearson, 2008). As engineers spend about 50 percent of their day communicating with others (Vest et al., 1996) it is even more important for them to communicate effectively. However, it appears to be challenging to teach communication skills effectively to engineers (Dannels et al., 2003; Ford and Teare, 2006). Given the importance of communication skills in the area of engineering (Darling and Dannels, 2003) and higher education (Morreale and Pearson, 2008), the evaluation of communication training in this domain is worth studying.
The present study sets out to evaluate how professional development in Motivational Interviewing (MI) – a person-centered and directive communication method – has measurable impact on engineers’ communication skills. Overall, this study contributes the following. First, we will outline the basic features of MI. We will give definitions and examples of central verbal skills in MI and show how these can be assessed by using an observation-based scientific approach. Second, we will show how skills covered in MI are valuable within the work environments of engineers. Finally, we will illustrate how to use an observational instrument as a quality assurance measure in higher education. For this, we present results from a training study that we carried out in a university of technology.