3.12: Everything Everywhere All At Once: Developing Interrelated Essential Skills

Jonathan Verret

Workshop Introduction

Call them essential, soft, or people skills, engineers have always had a need for a variety of interdependent skills from leadership to communication to teamwork. In this session, we’ll dive into a conversation about supporting the development of these interpersonal skills in engineering. Through an interactive dialogue, we’ll explore:

  • The history of essential skill development in engineering.
  • Methods to support the development of essential skills in engineering education programs.
  • How co- and extra-curricular experiences can be leveraged for essential skill development.


Presenter: Dr. Jonathan Verrett, PhD.

Jonathan Verrett is an Associate Professor of Teaching in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and holds the Bauder Professorship in Experiential Learning and Leadership at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver Campus. His teaching spans undergraduate courses from 1st to 4th year with a focus on the design of chemical and biological systems. His pedagogical interests include design education, professional skills development, open education, and peer-learning. He also supervises a number of engineering design teams and student groups. Since November 2022 he has been embedded in an engineering design team working on hydrogen fuel cell development at Ballard Power Systems.


The content shown is taken from a seminar recording presented by Dr. Jonathan Verrett with an accompanying PowerPoint. If you wish to access the full PowerPoint presentation, a PDF version of the slides is available at the link below. Clicking it will take you to a google drive containing the full PDF.

Key Takeaways

  • As a primer to this conference, it is important to know what is meant when discussing the concept of “soft skills”. Essential/Behavioural/People/Soft Skills are personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people – Oxford Dictionary
  • Historically, “Soft skills” and “Hard skills” were concepts devised by the military to evaluate troops. Technical skills were dubbed as “hard” skills, as they were easier to measure and provide feedback on. On the other hand, other essential skills that were less measurable were deemed to be “soft” skills, as they were less measurable much more challenging to develop. These terms are a bit outdated, as we have found other ways to more accurately describe them, but they are still popular today.
  • In present day, there is a push for an integration of behavioural and technical skills as the need for engineers with a good understanding of both have become more evident. This is also true for fields outside of engineering, as there have been studies done involving areas such as Management, Liberal Arts, and Architecture that all point towards the same need for stronger soft skill integration.
  • Methods of curricular integration of these skills include horizontal integration, where aspects of skills are taught across discuplines crossing disciplinary boundaries, and vertical integration, where courses and skills may build upon one another, or where taught theories can be brought into practice in courses.
  • At the University of British Columbia, students have historically reported a feeling of unpreparedness for capstone projects. To address this issue, some of the more science focused courses were replaced with design-centric courses, allowing for greater vertical integration across time. According to students polled about their self-reported competence regarding these capstone projects, this new curriculum prepared students much more effectively.
  • Getting students involved with curricular redesigns or course planning can also be beneficial, along with promoting and supporting co-curricular programs. These activities usually involve these essential skills through planning, logistics, and framing, just by being involved with these processes.