Are your college students learning the skills needed to enter today’s workforce? To find out what students themselves consider valuable, we asked over 3,ooo college students: “What skills do you believe you’ll need to enter today’s workforce?” Learn what skills students think they’ll need and some tips to share on how to develop them.

workforce skills for studentsQuite surprisingly, the majority of college students selected every option above when it came to skills they believe they’ll need in the work place. They’ve got a lot of skill building ahead of them! These skills were all ranked highly among college students, but the slight variation will allow us to prioritize what students value most.

The number-one, most sought after workforce skill for college students is verbal and written communication skills.

Closely behind this is computer and technical skills, critical thinking skills, and time management skills. Then comes interpersonal skills, leadership skills, and specific skills relevant to the job or field. After these seven, students also believe they’ll need presentation skills, project management skills, and math skills.

Verbal and written communication skills

Whether you are writing letters of application, résumés, or professional email, you should always be concise, avoid digressions, and try to sound as natural as possible.

In their book The Pocket Wadsworth Handbook, 6th Edition, authors Laurie Kirszner and Stephen Mandell recommend the following rules to help improve your written communication skills in a professional environment:

  • Write in complete sentences. Avoid slang, imprecise diction, and abbreviations.
  • Use an appropriate tone. Address readers with respect.
  • When emailing, include a clear subject line that identifies your content.
  • Make your writing as brief as possible. This doesn’t mean leave important information out; it means practice making your writing as concise as possible.
  • For longer documents, use lists and headings to focus your discussion and to break it into manageable parts.
  • Reread and edit your written work after you’ve finished — every time.
  • Do not forward an email you receive unless you have the permission from the sender.
  • Watch what you write. Keep in mind that email written at work is the property of the employer, who has the legal right to access it. Not to mention, emails are sometimes forwarded on to other people.  (347)

We often speak much differently with our family and friends than we do with our colleagues or other professionals. But this can take some getting used to, and students can benefit from practicing this just like any other skill. One sure-fire way to practice is to host mock-interviews or other professional scenarios in the classroom.

Our friends don’t mind if we ramble on in a conversation, but our colleagues or boss might not be as amused. According to Jeff Butterfield in his book, Verbal Communication: Illustrated Course Guides, 2nd Edition, there are key tips for keeping your verbal communication professional and concise, summarized below:

  • Start with what your listener needs to know. Your listener is most likely to remember the first and last parts of your message. Start the conversation with what your listener needs to know, then move to the supporting information.
  • Eliminate unnecessary words. It can take more concentration to understand spoken words than written ones. When you use complicated language or unnecessary words, you make it difficult for your listener to interpret what you are saying. 
  • Make your messages relevant. Although it is natural to discuss subjects you consider important, if your listener has different priorities, your message might not be well received. Frame your ideas so they are relevant to your listeners. Adopt their point of view, then explain or show how your subject is beneficial to them. 
  • Take a direct approach. To help your listeners and your case, take a direct approach by introducing your subject, explaining what you want, and identifying your expectations. Be polite and tactful, but don’t make your audience guess what you mean.
  • Plan for short breaks. Pause occasionally so your audience can absorb your message, especially after you make an important point, request action, or introduce a new subject. However, avoid long pauses, which can make your listeners feel uncomfortable. (Objective 1, Part 1)

For more advice on improving public speaking, conducting mock-interviews, and preparing for the workforce, visit our recent blog post, “Entering the Workforce: How to Prep Your College Students.”

What advice worked best for you when you first entered the workforce? Share your thoughts with our community below.

Reference: Kirszner, Laurie G. and Stephen R. Mandell. 2015. The Pocket Wadsworth Handbook, 6th Edition. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
Reference: Butterfield, Jeff. 2013. Verbal Communication: Illustrated Course Guides, 2nd Edition. Cengage Learning.