The skills you need to succeed as an engineer

Students smiling and interacting

Engineering students develop an impressive set of skills over the course of their degree. Not only do they apply their in-depth knowledge of math, coding and discipline-specific engineering fundamentals, they also learn how to use cutting-edge technology, analyze problems and design and test solutions. Equally important are the development of skills in teamwork, communication and leadership. 

These are sometimes called “core skills” or “soft skills” as a way of differentiating them from what’s traditionally been known as “hard skills.” But there’s nothing easy about soft skills – in fact, many people find it far more straightforward to solve a complex thermodynamics equation or come up with an innovative technological solution than they do resolving conflict in a team, communicating effectively or taking on a leadership role! 

Soft skills can be learned, and practice is the best way to gain confidence and expertise. As a UBC Engineering student, you will have lots of opportunities in your classes, work experiencestudent design teamscapstone projects and more to gain the skills that will set you up for success as a student, in your career and in your life. 

Work experience 

Student design teams 

Capstone projects


Learning teamwork 

Engineers work in teams. After all, there are very few complex problems that can be solved by one person alone. Whether they are advancing sustainability in the mining industrydeveloping a new process to remove “forever chemicals” from waterwriting code to keep people safe online or creating new biomaterials, engineers work in groups to solve challenges that affect us all.

Throughout your degree, you’ll be learning how to be an effective team member by working on group projects, starting in your first-year engineering design courses, then in upper-year courses and in your final-year capstone project

Dr. Jonathan Verrett is an Associate Professor of Teaching in Chemical and Biological Engineering who focuses on educational research – studying what kinds of experiential learning environments can help students in the applied sciences develop their skills.

He says that the group-based projects that are the hallmark of engineering courses are the best ways to learn how to set goals as a team, communicate effectively, negotiate conflict and delegate tasks. 

”We give students tools to help them gain skills in this area,” he says. “These include strategies like Tuckman’s model of the stages of team development, peer evaluation frameworks and team contracts. Together, they create a space to help students work together efficiently, communicate well, manage conflicts and achieve a shared goal.”

Foundation year  Dr. Jonathan Verrett

Communication skills

Engineers are communicators who need to be able to clearly share their ideas orally and in writing. And since engineers don’t just work with other engineers, they also need to be able to explain complex technical concepts in ways that can be understood by people who don’t share their technical expertise. 

For example, if you’re someone like Dr. Naoko Ellis who is advancing research in carbon capture and storage, you’ll need to be able to talk about your work with your engineering colleagues, as well as the general public, government officials, entrepreneurs and many others. She’s currently working on the Accelerating Community Energy Transformation project with members of remote and Indigenous communities who want to move away from diesel-based energy production, and in this role she must be able to talk about energy solutions in clear and compelling ways. 

In your first year, you will take a course on communication for engineers. You’ll also have lots of opportunities to practice your communication skills in your other courses. For example, in the first-year engineering design course, you might be asked to write a report, create a poster, deliver a presentation or share your work in other ways. 

When it comes time to your capstone project, you’ll present your results at a design and innovation day to members of the public and people from industry. “It’s another venue for students to practice how to communicate with a diverse audience and talk to the public in a way that is clear and understandable,” says Dr. Verrett.

Dr. Naoko Ellis Accelerating Community Energy Transformation Design and innovation day


Learning leadership skills

Engineers also need to be able to lead teams. 

Dr. Verrett says that the leadership focus in undergraduate education tends to be on self-leadership, which is the ability to take initiative, be reflective about your strengths and weaknesses, and contribute meaningfully to teams. 

If you decide to join an engineering design team , you might have the opportunity to take on a more formal technical leadership role; getting involved in on-campus clubs is another way to move into positions where you are managing a group of people.

Engineers have a unique combination of technical and soft skills 

Engineering really is one of the most versatile degrees because students graduate with the specialized technical skills and interpersonal skills needed to succeed in your career and life. 

As Mining Engineering student Howard Cheng says “This program has helped me become a lot more well rounded. I’ve learned a lot of communication, teamwork and leadership skills through my classes and co-op.”

Howard Cheng

Mining Engineering

An engineering student at the Design and Innovation day exhibit

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Design & Innovation Day, Kai Jacobson

Start Your Future at UBC Engineering

You may not know yet if you’re interested in leading an organization. But one thing is certain. Starting your future at UBC Engineering will give you a well-balanced education and sought-after skills – the first step and the foundation for a challenging and rewarding career.

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