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Lack of Soft Skills Problematic for Our Industry

Catherine Curtis, Director of Education, ICHRIE

I am sure that many of you encounter the same situation that I am about to present to you: you walk into class on a regular class session, (not an exam day), and it is quiet. I can tell you from my perspective, this was not the norm when I was in college. Matter of fact, it used to take professors a few minutes to get all of us to simmer down and focus. So why is it so quiet today?  I am sure you can answer that; it is because most of the students are looking down at their phones and do not interact with their classmates, at least in a face-to-face manner that I can witness.

I am thinking about this because in the past few weeks I have had conversations with colleagues at my university and other institutions and a common theme was generating collectively that our students lack soft skills. This is a comment that I have heard many times from recruiters who are looking to hire graduates. As a matter of fact, at our recent advisory board meeting, one of our board members lamented this very sentiment and urged our faculty to take action.

The soft skills required for the workplace are daunting to many new workplace entrants, but based on recent conversations with employers, they are saying that it is more of a deficit than prior generations. As we are preparing our students to enter the workplace, we must make sure that they are work ready. We have etiquette dinners to teach people how to eat in a formal setting, we have seminars on how to dress professionally, we have classes in public speaking, but it seems that we are lacking in general interpersonal skills.

In my prior career before I entered higher education, I was a public-school teacher. I have a distinctive memory of a movement we embraced in my school district called character education. Character education is a positive movement that emphasizes “whole-child education, service-learning, social-emotional learning, and civic education” (character.org, n.d.). Within those parameters, it seems natural that interpersonal skills would develop.  Maybe this is something that needs to be addressed in the K-12 setting also.  I am not trying to put more work on K-12 teachers, but if we are recognizing that the lack of soft skills is problematic, we should start practicing these skills as early as possible. In higher education we need to address these needs and when we construct our curriculum become mindful of our preparation of our graduates. Years ago, when we had instances of large scale ethical violations by big business, we saw a return or resurgence of business ethics courses. I would prefer not to be in a reactive state and offer remedies to quell a symptom, I would rather look for root causes and find a cure.

Character.org (n.d). What is character education?  Retrieved from http://character.org/key-topics/what-is-character-education/

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