What are Soft Skills and Why are They So Important?

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EICC_soft_skillsSometimes the best tools for your career are those that you gain in addition to the technical rigors of the classroom.

Softskills9Known simply as ‘soft skills’, they are key components to any career and are not technical or task-oriented. Good examples of soft skills include the following:

  • Effective communication
  • Compassion
  • Honesty
  • Trust
  • Understanding
  • Strong work ethic

And these are the skills that employers want. According to a recent NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) Job Outlook survey, communication skills and honesty/integrity are most important. In addition, the survey reported that motivation and initiative, along with strong interpersonal skills and a strong work ethic, are key attributes.

Integrating Soft Skills into Technical Career Training

Softskills6Given the importance of soft skills, Eastern Iowa Community Colleges work to develop training for students that includes ways to integrate soft skills into our curriculum. In a new effort, EICC is incorporating the Right Skills Grant which is sponsored by the Lumina Foundation.

The Lumina Foundation has long worked toward an education attainment measure called “Goal 2025”, which calls for 60 percent of Americans to hold a college degree or other high quality post-secondary credential by 2025. Its Credential Framework is designed to improve all of the following in regards to varying college credentials as a way of building clearer pathways to those credentials:

  • Equity
  • Transparency
  • Comparability
  • Portability

Softskills1The Framework can also lead to better informed choices about employment and the hiring and promotion of workers by creating a more consistent understanding of the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful in the career marketplace. Soft skills fit into this framework in terms of a focus on skills that all individuals need to succeed, regardless of education discipline or occupation.

Susan Lammers, Program Director for Eastern Iowa Community Colleges’ Supply Chain Management and Logistics program, has been heavily involved in the launch of the Right Skills grant at EICC. “I was fortunate to be the director for the first career tech program to focus on the credentialing framework and the grant,” she says. “I was already in the process of revisiting our program offerings to better meet the needs of our customers. The result was a comprehensive modification which allowed us to integrate technical competencies with personal skills and social skills.” She explains that the soft skills addressed by the grant include:

  • Softskills replace photo 2Critical thinking and judgment
  • Acting in an independent and responsible manner
  • Problem solving
  • ‘Big picture’ thinking
  • Effective communication
  • Working with others, including people from diverse backgrounds and points of view

Showing leadership and initiative

“I initially focused on strengthening communication skills, both in speaking and writing,” she says. “Many of the courses tests were converted from the typical true/false type exam to ones that used testing formats that emphasized proper grammar, word choice, sentence sequence, etc. Working with students through the transition brought about remarkable improvement in a very short time,” she comments. “Students have shared that they’ve noticed the manner in which they speak has improved as well.”

Softskills4Lammers’ own work experience and background in working with her students and with area companies has strengthened her commitment to the importance of developing soft skills among students. “I emphasize that their ability to convey that they will show up to work on time, contribute fully to the workplace, be a team player, communicate well, contribute to solving problems, and demonstrating a desire to continue learning will bring them success,” she explains. “Many times, it is their personalities and positive behaviors that will be the determining factors that get them hired.”

Employer Support for Soft Skills Training

One of the best things about offering so many career programs is our opportunity to work directly with area businesspeople to keep our curriculum relevant so it continues to meet labor market needs. Our faculty maintains relationships with local employers and listens carefully to how we can best ensure that the work skills they need are the skills we are focusing on in our classrooms, labs, and student expectations.

Softskills2Although technical skills are critically important, local companies are looking for employees that contribute positively to their bottom lines; not just through their technical skills but their work ethic and attitude as well. What we’ve heard is that employers highly value the soft skills and are actively looking to hire people who exhibit those behaviors, including during the application and interview process.

“An employee with a great attitude toward work and willingness may have more opportunities to be utilized and cross-trained in other facets of the business,” says Sondra Meyers, Human Resource Manager, Katun Corporation N.A.D.C. and member of the Advisory Committee for the Supply Chain Management and Logistics program at EICC. “Good soft skills set an employee up for success. They become a valuable resource for the company. When an employee demonstrates well established soft skills, the work is more enjoyable to them and their co-workers, work stress becomes less, and problems become achievable daily challenges.”

Softskills replacephoto1It’s widely known that people often lose jobs not because of lack of technical skills but because of many other factors, including lack of responsibility, poor time management skills, no tact, weak communication skills, lack of motivation, lack of work ethic and unethical behavior. “’Hire for attitude and train for skills’. Today this saying has more meaning than ever with the rapid change and technology on many jobs,” comments Steve Thomas, Purchasing Manager, Genesis Health System, and another member of the Advisory Committee. “This requires workers to be flexible and adaptable. They must have the ability to communicate effectively in many forms . . . and they must also be team players and have a desire to be fully engaged in their work,” he adds. He also agrees with Meyer that employees who practice good soft skills are the ones most likely to rise up through the ranks to become future managers. “Students looking to excel today in business can set themselves apart by not only being highly adept technically, but having interpersonal skills that employers desperately need to succeed in today’s economy,” says Thomas.   

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