If you want to thrive after college – and who doesn’t? – what are the most important intellectual and practical skills for success? Some timely research highlights three crucial factors in employers’ checklists, both of which appear to be underrated in educators’ own list of priorities.
The data was presented yesterday by Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. She spoke at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, which has convened a committee to look into non-traditional ways that students’ success is shaped. That means exploring the realm of what the National Academy calls “intrapersonal and interpersonal capabilities.”
Schneider said she’s concerned that on a broad scale, “higher education is under-performing.” Employers are expressing a growing interest in students’ mastery of personal and social responsibility, with 96% of them saying they want college to develop problem-solving skills in diverse settings. Such inter-cultural skills are prized by only 79% of university respondents.
It’s a similar story when it comes to students’ communication skills. In the working world – where rising stars need to be able to lead meetings, pitch to clients and deliver public speeches – it’s no surprise that oral communication skills are most highly prized. Some 85% of employers say they strongly or somewhat agree that every college student should master such skills, regardless of his or her chosen field of study. Writing skills are a close second, at 82%, but don’t rank quite as highly.
In academia, though, writing is paramount. The AAC&U surveys show that 99% of educators regard writing skills as crucial, while only 82% insist on oral-communication skills. Practices are likely to vary across departments, with business majors getting plenty of chances to sharpen up their oratory, whereas engineering students may hardly ever need to do so. In later careers, though, being inarticulate in any professional setting carries a heavy price.
The third area of divergence: teamwork skills. Employers crave this. In the AAC&U surveys, it’s the No. 2 priority, just behind oral-communication skills, with 83% of employers say they want teamwork in diverse groups to be a top priority in college students’ educations. On educators’ lists, there’s nothing directly comparable. The closest match, intercultural skills, ranks fifth, at 79%.
Teamwork is a tricky concept in undergraduate education. Grading systems that have been built up over many decades are most highly attuned to individual work. When several students collaborate, it’s harder to know whether everyone in the group worked equally, or whether some members’ contributions deserve higher grades than others. What’s more, sharing information in certain collegiate settings is regarded as an honor-code violation or outright cheating.
It’s little wonder, then, new-job orientation for college students often includes some unexpected advice about the wisdom of asking a colleague for help. As this account of General Electric’s work with New Orleans college students shows, what’s off-limits on campus starts to become essential in real life.
This article was written by George Anders from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.