Teaching Soft Skills: Why Demonstrating Their Value to Students is Critical

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Student Success

Article Summary

  • Nearly half of college graduates feel underqualified for entry-level jobs.|Soft skills like communication, teamwork and problem-solving are critical to help them navigate the professional world.|Demonstrating the value of soft skill mastery can be the key to increased student receptiveness and engagement.
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As you know, before your students can make a difference, they must understand the core lessons you’re teaching and how to apply the same lessons in their professions. That’s why ensuring your students possess soft skills that go beyond standard lesson concepts is critical to their success.

In a previous post, we demonstrated the importance of teaching soft skills. While this concept is well known to instructors, how can you convey the importance of soft skill mastery to your students entering fields that directly impact people’s lives? To help answer this question, we sat down with Division Chair of Social Work at Thomas University, Bill Milford for his thoughts on the keys to professional success.

Title slide of Bill Milford's "Making an Impact: Keys to Career Success in Social Work" session.

Read on as we explore the role of soft skills and how they can help address your students’ unique challenges and highlight a few tips for building these skills in your course.

The challenges facing your students

Consider this: in our recent survey, nearly half of college graduates reported they feel underqualified for entry-level jobs. While students may feel secure in their understanding of coursework, they often lack confidence in their ability to apply those concepts and lessons once they’ve entered their careers. Even before starting their career paths, students recognize the challenges associated with actually finding a job. Considering your students will one day need to demonstrate their value, experience and skillsets, their ability to synthesize and convey those skillsets is paramount.

“The Social Services community is very tight-knit across the country. Therefore, it’s incredibly important for [students] to learn good networking skills to help ensure they find the best fit for them.” – Milford

Given the challenges your students face as they leave the classroom and enter the professional space, skills like networking, reasoning and conflict management are critical to help them navigate professional challenges and apply the lessons you teach effectively.

Helping your students master soft skills

You’ve undoubtedly noticed the benefits of soft skills across your own professional experiences, but for your students, the concept may be a bit more abstract. Students have a lot on their plates, and without tangible examples of soft skills—and more importantly, an understanding of their value—it can be difficult for them to consistently work toward improving those skillsets.

Demonstrating the value of soft skill mastery can be the key to increased student receptiveness and engagement while teaching soft skills. In doing so, you’ll lay the critical foundations for students’ professional and personal lives—foundations that prepare them to apply the skills learned in your class to the real-world situations they’ll face.

We’ve compiled a list of useful strategies you can employ to demonstrate the benefits of soft skills alongside your lessons:

1. Use real-world scenarios to emphasize application

We understand that when it comes to your students, empowering them to achieve the best learning and professional outcomes possible is one of your top priorities. By using real-world scenarios to demonstrate how soft skills help students understand problems and formulate solutions, they’ll be better equipped to enter the workforce confidently. In Bill Milford’s experience in Social Work, the ability to communicate is of the utmost importance.

“[We] meet people where they’re at, create a partnership that’s trusted, use a distinct set of skills to collaborate with the client to make a plan, then commit to that plan and help them move forward.” – Milford

2. Provide opportunities to use soft skills in the classroom

With soft skills like communication and teamwork being among ResumeGenius’s Top Ten List, giving your students the opportunity to practice these skills in conjunction with your lessons can help them associate their soft skill mastery with what they’re trying to achieve after graduation. With this in mind, Brown University has assembled a few useful activities:

  1. Think-Pair-Share Activities: First, pose a question or situation for the class to consider. Then, have the students form groups of 2-3 people. Next, have them discuss the problem, share opinions and reach a consensus. Finally, regroup the class and solicit responses from each group. Soft skills demonstrated: creativity, problem-solving, attention to detail.
  2. Role Playing/Interview Activities: Have students take up the role of a prospective figure related to your discipline. Then, breakdown the role into specific tasks to keep them organized and structured to address your lesson. Next, have the non-role paying student(s) act out and note their experience as they work toward resolving the subject’s problem or situation. Soft skills demonstrated: teamwork, adaptability, interpersonal skills.
  3. Interactive Demonstrations: Propose a situation your students can expect to see while in the field. Then, have them discuss what they think may happen or analyze the situation. Next, conduct the demonstration. Afterward, have your students compare and analyze their predictions with the outcome of your demonstration. Soft skills demonstrated: creativity, problem-solving, communication.

3. Use case studies showing the role of soft skills

It’s no secret that empathy and patience are critical to success in virtually all professional fields. Leveraging case studies that show these soft skills in action—and the impact they played in the case’s outcome—can provide students with a clear illustration of how soft skills can assist their efforts to better people’s lives.

4. Emphasize the importance of WHY

As your students navigate their academic and professional lives, soft skills will play a vital role in helping them reach the correct decision on what to do next. This is especially important as your students begin transitioning from school to career. With a clear understanding of why they should do something—why they need to network their skills to more people than just employers for example—your students will be equipped to make the right decisions when finding a job and apply the right strategies once in those jobs.

“The ability to know WHY you’re doing WHAT you’re doing. I’m not so interested in people figuring out the “what” piece—anybody can do that. If you can read—if you can intuitively go on the net—you can figure that out. It’s the how piece. HOW to think about things that will discern how to go about [your tasks].” – Milford

Empower students with the confidence to make an impact

Like you, your students are here to make a difference. While you know the role soft skills can play in this endeavor, demonstrating their applicability within your students’ field of study gives them the tools they need to put your lessons into practice with maximum effectiveness. Moreover, soft skills provide your students with the confidence and competency to enter and navigate the workforce effectively.

Interested in learning more about the challenges facing students as they begin to enter the workforce? Download our free eBook, “Are Students Career Ready? Four Myths Debunked” for facts on what employers are looking for today, as well as the four myths keeping students from the jobs they want.