Stronger Emphasis on ‘Soft Skils’

I’m serving on a Commission on the future for our very fine local community college, and I was at a meeting with business people and community college faculty, staff, and administrators.  In his closing remarks, the business man who is chairing the Commission reiterated what the various groups were saying about the needs of college graduates.

He said that the college needed to pay attention to ensuring that more students are preparing themselves in the STEM majors, but that they also needed to be prepared with what are sometimes called “soft skills.” Expecting to hear reasons why there is not more emphasis on those skills that student affairs works to encourage students to acquire, this very wise man made the following statement:

Soft skills may not get college credit, and they might not be accredited by the people who evaluate college courses, but we need to say, ‘The hell with that!’ We need to do what we know is right for students because it’s about learning and getting the skills students need to be successful.

If I had been in church, I would have said, “AMEN!” In my speeches and presentations, I’m focusing on what skills our graduates and alumni need in order to be prepared both for careers that currently exist and those that do not yet exist, and some of these skills are those skills called “soft skills.”

When I talk with employers, they say that college cannot prepare students for the specifics for most jobs, but they can give students the foundation that will be used in learning how to learn the specifics of the job. What students do not always have is the foundation that enables them to be excellent communicators across cultures. The employers are saying they need managers, and without the intercultural communication skills, our students will not be equipped.

These skills can be learned if student affairs will collaborate with faculty in offering what I call cocurriculum laboratories.

I will write about these in subsequent blogs and will respond to any questions or comments.

One response to “Stronger Emphasis on ‘Soft Skils’

  1. While many of us appreciate and enjoy exploring knowledge for its own sake, the reality is that we all need to find employment to support our desires and interests at some point In life. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 1.7 million new and replacement doctoral-level jobs and about 0.9 million master’s jobs will open in this decade, comprising 4.7% of the total openings for new and replacement needs. In addition, 8.5 million openings are projected for bachelor’s degrees, at 15.6% of the total.

    If we consider that over half of high school graduates enter college, “following their heart’s dreams”, most of them will be disappointed when they encounter a job market that can accept only one-quarter of ALL the jobs available, at best. Many will be stuck with huge loan obligations, while being over-qualified and under-paid in positions that only allow them to “just get by”.

    This is a major reason why I believe that we must redirect the STEM emphasis in the high school curriculum away from the “college-degree pipeline” into a more flexible approach that uses additional dimensions of “Basic Workplace Skill Sets”, and “Applied Career Preparation Pathways”. These would slice up the core content information and knowledge needed for each of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subject areas into additional levels of complexity, and into a variety of workplace applications.

    A ladder of “Basic Workplace Skill Sets” would clearly identify the methods, practices, and “habits of mind” needed for entry into several occupational levels. These six levels would be progressive in the complexity of the content topics, and in the mathematics preparation needed for each. The “Master/ Professional”, “Engineer”, and “Scientist” skill levels would require extensive post-secondary effort, of course.

    But if the STEM course content were also identified at a “Technician” level, students would know that being competent at that level is a requirement, along with post-secondary training, for that kind of career. Likewise, developing skills at the “User/ Operator” level would have expectations for graduates entering the workforce right after graduation. Finally, the “Home & Consumer” level would match the core content standards for ALL students upon high school graduation.

    By labeling or tagging each specific topic, lesson, or textbook page with an identifier of what the achievement expectation is for knowing that “nugget” of essential information, learners could set realistic occupational goals, and follow more efficient pathways in pursuit of their futures. They can become successes as they step up the achievement ladder, according to their efforts and interests, rather than being failures for not having exited out of the college pipeline into a waiting job.

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