While every industry comes with its own set of specific technical knowledge and proficiencies, there are universal “soft skills” that are applicable to any industry, and workers who lack them could be setting themselves up for failure. We’ve all seen the trend pieces criticizing recent graduates’ dearth of these skills, but consider that many graduates haven’t had a chance to practice them when they were in school.
If we want to set students up for success outside of the classroom, then they’ll need opportunities to learn and hone these skills BEFORE graduation.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are six soft skills that are necessary for professional success: Communication, Enthusiasm/Attitude, Teamwork, Networking, Critical thinking/Problem-solving, and Professionalism. Here are some ideas on how to incorporate these skills into your curriculum:
Good communication skills are imperative in every industry, and employers consistently rank effective communication skills at the top of their list for what they want in an employee. In addition, technology has changed the way workplace communication happens, so students need a variety of experiences to help them master this skill.
Multimedia presentations, persuasive essays and speeches, and using social media for course discussions all hit different aspects of professional communication and will benefit your students moving forward.
Enthusiasm and attitude
Most students will not get their dream job right after graduation, and they’ll probably need to slog through a few entry-level positions before moving up the corporate ladder, so attitude is everything. The DOL even claims that “many employers would rather provide job skills training to an enthusiastic but inexperienced worker than hire someone with perfect qualifications but a less than-positive attitude.”
Nobody wants to work with somebody who clearly doesn’t want to be there, so students who develop positive thinking will have an advantage. Assignments such as gratitude journals, essays about “famous failures”, and group discussions can help with this trait.
In the majority of workplaces, being able to work well with your team isn’t just appreciated, it’s necessary. Every member of an organization has a role to play, and every role is integral to that organization’s success. Needless to say, working as a group can be difficult, and conflict and tensions can easily arise if members aren’t able to manage themselves and their behavior.
Group projects with designated jobs and high stakes will force students to have to try on different roles and work with each other to make sure they succeed—just like they would have to in the real world.
Most hiring managers would agree that they would rather interview a potential candidate who has been previously recommended by somebody they know or work with, and networking is the best way to receive these recommendations.
However, for many, professional networking is an intimidating prospect. Practicing networking skills will help lessen the anxiety for many students and can be easily done in the classroom. Mock informational interviews and other social simulations are great options for helping students get comfortable.
Critical thinking/problem solving
Lack of problem-solving and critical-thinking skills are among the most common complaints many employers have about the current crop of young people entering the workforce, and one of the best ways to develop these skills is to put students out of their learning comfort zone and create assignments that resemble projects they’ll encounter in the workplace.
Complex projects that present problems you can’t (or won’t) answer for them force students to get creative, seek out information from different sources, and persist through obstacles on their own—and those are skills that every employer would appreciate.
Professionalism is an amalgamation of multiple skills rather than one specific skill, and while it’s probably the most difficult soft skill to teach, there are activities that policies you can use to help encourage your students to develop this quality. Role playing activities that put students in the shoes of a supervisor or manager and reflection opportunities about past work experiences are two options, but another idea is to simply have stricter classroom policies.
Demanding professional email etiquette, setting hard deadlines, and giving zero extra credit may seem harsh to some students at first, but holding them accountable in this way will give them a better idea of what the working world is actually like—and possibly help mitigate their culture shock when they graduate.
What soft skills do you think are imperative for professional success, and how would you teach them in the classroom? Share your experiences in the comments below!