Identification of Threshold Capabilities in Engineering Workplace Conflict Resolution

Kyle Ludewick, Sally Male, Andrew Valentine, Ghulam Mubashar Hassan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperConference paperpeer-review

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In Australia practicing engineers are expected to possess a wide range of competencies in accordance with Engineers Australia Competency Standards for Professional Engineers. In the engineering degree program accreditation criteria, Engineers Australia requires that students engage with engineering practice. This has often been through internships or work experience. However, trends have emerged that illustrate that there is a decrease in the opportunities that are available for engineering students to gain industry experience; therefore, not all students are able to obtain essential skills, such as conflict resolution.

This research identified the most critical learning required by engineers in industry for conflict resolution, to inform curriculum development. The study is framed by Threshold Capability Theory. Within the framework, threshold capabilities are understood to be transformative concepts that are critical for study and/or practice. We addressed the question “What threshold concepts can be identified from industry graduate engineers for conflict resolution?”

Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with five graduate engineers. The participants were from a range of engineering disciplines, and with diverse experience. The graduate engineers were asked about their experiences in the industry, then to describe a conflict they had experienced, how they resolved that conflict, and to identify the underlying capabilities (threshold capabilities) that aided the resolution of that conflict. The reflections of each graduate engineer pointed to the importance of conflict resolution and its need to be taught in engineering education. In addition, participants were then introduced to the three main types of conflict; task, relationship, and process conflicts which were identified by Behfar, Peteron, Mannix and Trochim (2008). The participants were asked to provide scenarios in which they experienced these conflict types, how they resolved these conflicts, and, to identify the threshold capabilities that assisted their resolution of these conflicts.

Qualitative thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. Through this approach, themes were identified and further refined to illustrate the core capabilities engineering students would require in practice. The identified threshold capabilities range from capabilities for identifying and handling conflict scenarios to communicating and alleviating conflict scenarios. These capabilities could be developed and assessed in engineering education.

The scenarios reported by participants could be adapted and simulated to develop learning resources, activities, and assessment mechanisms to teach and assess conflict resolution in an engineering degree program. The research provided a foundation for the development of learning resource and activities which may educate students on specific capabilities are required of them within the engineering industry in relation to conflict management.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of Australasian Association for Engineering Education Virtual Conference 2020
PublisherAustralasian Association for Engineering Education
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventAustralasian Association for Engineering Education Virtual Conference 2020: Disrupting Business as Usual in Engineering Education - University of Sydney and University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 6 Dec 20209 Dec 2020
Conference number: 31st


ConferenceAustralasian Association for Engineering Education Virtual Conference 2020
Abbreviated titleAAEE2020
Internet address


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