4 soft skills employers look for in college grads

Is it a lack of technical skills employers are most concerned about when they consider hiring college graduates? Nah, those can be learned. It’s the lack of soft skills employers are concerned about. 

What do the following skills have in common: writing, presentation, teamwork, and critical thinking? According to an article on Glassdoor.com, What Employers Wish You’d Learned in College, these are valuable skills lacking in most college grads with technical degrees. True, they have the technical knowhow but, “When soft skills are lacking, there’s a direct effect on the bottom line,” the article asserts.

Written communications: We all realize that writing is an important skill, but what does it have to do with being an engineer? A lot, according to HR director Amanda Pollack who is quoted in the article: “A big part of what we do as engineers is write reports and specifications for our plans, and we find that writing isn’t something that is really taught to engineers.”

Verbal communications: In addition to written communications, we can’t neglect to mention the importance of verbal communications, listening skills, and body language. These all contribute to effective communications. College students should be taught proper communications and have to practice it in real-life situations. Would it be too farfetched to require college students to attend Toastmasters or an organization similar to it?

Little emphasis was placed on presentation skills when I attended college, yet delivering workshops is my job. Somewhere along the way I learned the art of public speaking, but it was a long journey. Similarly, project managers are expected to present to upper management the progress of the projects they oversee. Sales people rely a great deal on their ability to speak persuasively to their potential customers. Some employers claim that communication skills, verbal and written, are the most important transferable skills an employee can possess.

Collaboration: Another skill held in high regard by employers is being able to function as a team. “Most importantly, employers are looking for teamwork,” said Brian Tabinga, a program manager who is quoted in the Glassdoor.com article. No surprise here. Companies are working with less, while trying to produce more. Tabinga, who works with military members, says there’s no difference between the military and private sector in terms of trying to meet their collective needs.

How can colleges teach teamwork? Some elementary and middle schools are attempting to teach teamwork through collaborative projects—I’m surprised yet delighted with the number of group projects my kids work on. More projects that are graded based on participation within a team is one way to ensure that students learn teamwork in college. Should there be courses offered on teamwork or, perhaps, minor degrees in “Collaboration?”

Critical thinking/Problem solving: The last skill the article mentions is critical thinking. Again Tabinga is quoted on the importance of this skill: “Critical thinking means being able to look at a problem from multiple angles. A lot of times you are trained to go from A to B in a straight line, and that’s not always what’s needed. Critical thinking means taking a step back to look at multiple solutions,” The says.

All is not lost. The article gives four suggestions to help graduates develop these skills once in the workforce:

  • Get a mentor, someone in the office or outside work who can spot your shortfalls and coach you to improve them.
  • Listen openly to feedback from your supervisor.
  • Join young professional groups like The United States Junior Chamber (Jaycees), where peers get together to improve their career skills

To me, this seems a bit late. If colleges are interested in preparing students for the competitive labor market, they should do something about it before they release young students, strong on theory but needing improvement on their soft skills, into a world that requires employees to hit the ground running.

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