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Which Skills do Students Need to Be Successful?

It’s Time to Emphasize the ‘Soft Skills’

I recently read a post on LinkedIn by Oliver Schinkten. He talks about the skills needed by college students to be successful in the "real world." Here is a summary of those skills from his post.

  1. Adaptive Thinking:Things change quickly in the digital age and students need to keep up, learn new things quickly and efficiently.
  2. Communication Skills:The perennial complaint of recruiters is college students can’t communicate. Well, they can’t communicate very well in person or in a memo because their experience has been communication on social media. Students need to put their devices away for two hours a day – read books, type memos, and just talk to someone. Dealing with conflict situations requires an ability to communicate new ideas that influence the outcome of decision-making
  3. Collaboration Skills:Students need to learn collaboration skills. Collaboration occurs in the workplace within and outside the organization, often using a number of new technologies.
  4. Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills:Students need to learn how to think critically, analyze all sides of an issue, and understand the consequences of their actions. In a rapidly changing world, employers need employees who can solve problems, provide ideas and help improve the organization.
  5. Inquiry Skills: The large majority of academic assessments ask students for answers. Rarely do we assess students on how well they can ask questions. The ability to ask great questions, however, is a critical skill that is desperately needed in a culture which requires constant innovations.
  6. Technology Skills: In the digital age, technology is everywhere. Schools, however, have been slow to adapt to this change. Rarely are students required or taught to learn technology efficiently. This needs to be emphasized.
  7. Creativity and Innovation:Students need to gain the ability to ask good questions and the ability to problem solve. Employers will be looking to employees more and more for creative and innovative solutions to issues that exist. Confidence is the key. Assignments in the classroom that are assessed based on meeting certain objectives of learning is a good way to build confidence.
  8. Soft Skills:Schools rarely spend time teaching students’ soft skills, including skills such as time management skills, organizational skills, the ability to look someone in the eyes when talking to them, or using a firm handshake. As most of my readers know, the soft skill of ethical reasoning is crucial to creating an ethical organization culture.  Soft skills

More than six years have passed since Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa rocked the academic world with their landmark book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Their study of more than 2,300 undergraduates at colleges and universities across the country found that many of those students improved little, if at all, in key areas—especially critical thinking.

Since then, some scholars have disputed the book’s findings—notably, Roger Benjamin, president of the Council for Aid to Education, in a 2013 article entitled “Three Principle Questions about Critical Thinking Tests.” But the fact remains that the end users, the organizations that eventually hire college graduates, continue to be unimpressed with their thinking ability.

In 2010, the Noel-Levitz Employer Satisfaction Survey of over 900 employers identified “critical thinking [as] the academic skill with the second largest negative gap between performance satisfaction and expectation.” Four years later, a follow-up study conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found little progress, concluding that “employers…give students very low grades on nearly all of the 17 learning outcomes explored in the study”—including critical thinking—and that students “judge themselves to be far better prepared for post-college success than do employers.”

As recently as May of 2016, professional services firms PayScale and Future Workplace reported  that 60 percent of employers believe new college graduates lack critical thinking skills, based on their survey of over 76,000 managers and executives.

Clearly, colleges and universities across the country aren’t adequately teaching thinking skills, despite loudly insisting, to anyone who will listen, that they are.

How do we explain that disconnect? Is it simply that colleges are lazily falling down on the job? Or is it, rather, that they’re teaching something they call “critical thinking” but which really isn’t?

I believe colleges are teaching critical thinking skills – or trying to anyway. One lesson I learned long ago is you can teach students many things but unless they are willing to learn and put the time in to do so, most skills won’t be internalized by students and, therefore, they will not guide behavior and decision making.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz on March 28, 2018. Visit Steve’s website and sign up for his newsletter.