Development of a Scale for Measuring Students’ Attitudes Towards Learning Professional (i.e., Soft) Skills

  • Zinta S. Byrne
  • James W. Weston
  • Kelly Cave


Employers lament that science graduates, particularly engineering students, lack professional skills, despite increasing emphasis on teaching professional skills in their curriculum. Using the Theory of Planned Behavior as an overarching framework, one explanation for skill development gaps may be students’ attitude towards learning professional skills. Our study purpose was to create a scale that accurately and consistently measures engineering students’ attitudes towards learning professional skills. To create the scale, we used a rigorous measurement development methodology, beginning with survey item generation and critical review by subject matter experts. Data from a sample of 534 engineering college students were split into two sets to provide (1) a development sample upon which exploratory factor analyses and parallel analyses were conducted to form the initial scale, and (2) a confirmatory sample whereby we verified the scale structure and obtained initial validity evidence for distinct dimensions. A five-factor scale of 25 items for assessing engineering students’ attitudes towards learning professional skills (ATLPS) obtained high-reliability estimates. Validity evidence supported five distinct dimensions in leadership in teams, communication, civic and public engagement, cultural adaptability, and innovation. The ATLPS can be used to facilitate improvements in engineering education and research by understanding students’ attitudes towards learning professional skills. Furthermore, researchers can expand the scale to include additional dimensions of professionalism and modify items to fit STEM disciplines where professional skill training is essential.


Attitudes Professional skills Scale development STEM Engineering 



We would like to thank Alma Rosales and Alistair Cook for their early contributions to portions of this project, as well as Tom Siller and Anthony Maciejewski for suggestions on earlier versions of this manuscript.

Funding Information

This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation, Engineering Education and Centers, under Grant EEC-1519438.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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