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The Importance of Soft Skills

CCNA-Collin_096The National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) often hears esteemed members of its Business and Industry Leadership Team (BILT) express concern about a lack of “soft skills” among new hires.  Employees with fresh community college degrees and certificates almost always have considerable technical competency and know-how.  But they sometimes lack abilities that don’t easily fit into a curriculum: punctuality, oral communication skills, office attire and deportment, a willingness to work in a team, problem solving.

We recently came across a study entitled “Are They Really Ready to Work?” that explores this topic in detail, driven by interviews with over 400 employers across the U.S. regarding workforce readiness of new hires.  The results won’t be necessarily surprising, especially to our BILT members, but the amount of hard data to back up “conventional wisdom” about soft skills is compelling.

The most important overall skills cited by the surveyed employers:

  • Professionalism/work ethic
  • Oral and written communication skills
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Critical thinking and problem solving

When the surveyed employers assessed new hires by education level, here are three findings regarding two-year community college students:

  • 70% of respondents rated the workforce preparation of two-year college graduates as only “adequate” for entry-level jobs.  By contrast, 10% rated their preparation as “excellent.”
  • 71% of respondents called written communication a “very important” skill for new hires coming out of two-year colleges, but 47% believed two-year college graduates were “deficient” in that area.
  • 45% of respondents called leadership a “very important” skill for new hires coming out of two-year colleges, and 42% believed two-year college graduates were “deficient” in that area.

The good news is that a key strategy the CTC urges community colleges consider – hands-on team projects that incorporate real-world, practical challenges and help boost soft skill development – appears in the study as one possible remedy to these workforce readiness concerns.  The study calls this “project-based learning.”  Students learn problem solving, decision making, and collaboration in real-world scenarios outside of the classroom.

Here are a few resources from ATE regarding problem-based learning.


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