This recent article by the Community College Journal reveals that employers are always interested in new graduates’ technical skills but, according to a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), new graduates’ problem solving skills, abilities to work in a team, and communication skills are among the top attributes employers are looking for.
John Kinney, head of claims at The Hartford Insurance, said that one of the most dramatic shifts over the last ten years has been the rise in customer expectations. “Not only must our claims employees satisfy the technical aspects of the job, but they also have to serve as the face of our company in people’s time of need,” Kinney says. “How do we provide a level of service to our customers that will encourage them to promote our brand to their friends and family? You need somebody who is really good at building rapport.”
This shift is true in a variety of different trades and industries, not just insurance and sales. Similar sentiments are echoed by Stan Sherrill, Vice President of utility company Duke Energy. Duke recently transitioned their electrical grid from an analog to a digital infrastructure and needs line workers that not only possess the technical skills to do the job, but have good problem solving and communication skills as well. "One of the main roles of a line worker is to troubleshoot potential issues with a customer," says Sherrill. "They must be able to assess the situation, identify and diagnose the issue, and find solutions to the customer’s concern. This process takes independent problem solving and critical thinking skills to be successful."
Companies, including Duke Energy and The Hartford, are currently working closely with community colleges to develop curricula that reflects their rapidly changing industries and meet evolving needs. While addressing the technical aspects of their fields and what information their employees need to know is easy enough, teaching and assessing these soft skills is more challenging.
Ideas, such as micro-credentialing or awarding badges, are currently being explored at community colleges in order to help employers identify candidates who have the soft skills they’re looking for. The most widely applied method for helping students grow their soft skills is through experiential learning opportunities, like apprenticeships and internships. Lincoln Electric, a Cleveland-based manufacturer of welding products and equipment, frequently offers apprenticeships in trades such as welding, machining, and industrial maintenance and they’ve found this method works well for training potential new employees to replace those who are retiring and to fill new roles. Geoff Lepnivicius, Senior Manager of workforce development at Lincoln Electric, says apprenticeships often lead to find those potential new employees. "We’re finding that it suits multiple purposes to have students come into our environment, work, and get some real experience," Lipnevicius says. "It gives both parties an opportunity to interview each other and determine whether it’s a good fit."
To learn more about what partnerships and opportunities are being explored in community colleges in the US, in addition to the survey results, read the article in full on the Community College Journal’s website.