While students gain in-depth knowledge in their chosen discipline, it is often soft skills that will help them land a job.
Soft skills are attributes that govern how an employee interacts with others in the workplace. Separated from technical skills, these characteristics relate more to navigating the world of work than to the actual practical part of a job.
âAs our workforce has diversified, there has been a need to be more adaptable, to be able to adapt to the environment and to technology. These skills may have become all the more important to employers, âsays Wendy Hilton-Morrow, who is vice president of academic affairs, provost and dean, and professor of communications studies at Augustana College in Illinois. .
“They need more than ever students who not only have disciplinary depth, but who will be able to change as the information we have or the technology we use changes, because that’s something we do. let’s definitely see more and more, “she says.
Technical skills – the abilities students acquire in college for a job – are important, but 92% of human resources professionals say soft skills matter as much or more, according to over 5,000 survey responses in the LinkedIn Global Talent Trends 2019 report.
In interviews with higher education and HR professionals, these soft skills emerged as essential for employers:
- Team work.
- Communication skills.
- Conflict resolution.
- Problem solving.
- Flexibility and adaptability.
- Social and emotional intelligence.
- Management of time.
According to experts, colleges have focused more on developing soft skills in recent years due to the emphasis placed by employers.
“Those who hire have noticed a lack of people who can get along and work harmoniously together, leave their egos at the door and seek a common goal,” says Kina S. Mallard, president of Reinhardt University of Georgia . “This is why we are talking a lot more about soft skills.”
She notes that a seminar for freshmen at Reinhardt teaches these skills early, focusing on issues such as professional communication. Students learn to send emails and texts – something they’ve been doing for years now – in a professional manner.
Soft skills are especially important in a tight labor market where companies compete for talent. The US Department of Labor reported a national unemployment rate of 3.8% for March, which means workers are in high demand.
Employers are looking for people who can come, listen, learn and be part of a team, says Jeremy Tolley, director of human resources for CareHere LLC, a national medical services company based in Tennessee, and an advisor to the Society for Human. Resource Management. .
âThe workplace is all about us and us, and what we do together,â said Tolley.
Students can develop desired soft skills both inside and outside the classroom, experts say.
A communication course is an example of a course that teaches soft skills, says Hilton-Morrow. But students can also learn these skills in any classroom that emphasizes problem-based learning, she says.
Using an anatomy class as an example, Hilton-Morrow suggests that whenever students have to work together to solve a problem, they learn to delegate and manage potential conflicts. She believes that students learn soft skills when they are pushed beyond their limits and forced to overcome challenges.
She notes that for many students, the answers were just “one click away”, so it is important that they challenge themselves early in their academic careers. As she steps out of their comfort zone, she believes students will learn more about themselves and their skills.
Mallard says that in addition to communication classes, acting classes can be a good way to learn to see different perspectives by becoming someone else through a character. Typically, she says, any class where students need to work with classmates or the audience will sharpen their soft skills.
Tolley adds that a public speaking class is also crucial in developing the communication skills necessary for the workplace.
Experts also stress the importance of experiences outside of the classroom, such as volunteering, participating in student organizations, study abroad programs and internships. They note that such experiences expose students to different people and cultures, preparing them for a diverse work environment where they will be able to communicate with colleagues likely from different backgrounds.
Tolley has some simple tips for high school or college students looking to learn soft skills: “Find a Job.” Even a job in the service industry, which Tolley says is much maligned, can help students develop soft skills early on.
âPeople who have ever had a job – even if it’s a part-time job in high school – these people tend to have acquired more soft skills just from having a job and have experiences. And I think the same goes for those who have done internships, those who have had to work collaboratively with other people, âsays Tolley.
When applying for an internship or a job, Tolley says it may be better to showcase the soft skills in an interview rather than on a resume. He adds that the list of experiences they have had – in and out of the classroom – will prompt interviewers to ask what the student has learned, thus opening the door to explaining how these formative opportunities developed the attributes desired by the students. employers.
Experts say that the more opportunities students have to develop soft skills, the better they can emphasize those soft skills during a job interview.
âI think the more they can take advantage of experiential learning opportunities, the easier it will be for them to highlight and talk about the skills they have learned,â said Hilton-Morrow.