Universities must include soft skills
Since the recruitment website totaljobs.com conducted a survey last year of 448 graduates and found that 44 per cent of them did not think their university had prepared them for the working world, questions have been asked about the steps that universities are taking to make their students employable.
Undoubtedly, many graduates are finding it hard to get a job. Some blame the weak economy; others are wondering whether they chose the wrong degree. Yet even business graduates – who have studied finance, law, marketing and HR – are hitting a brick wall when it comes to landing a job.
The problem, for many graduates, is that employers are not just looking for technical or academic ability; they’re looking for candidates who will be a good fit in their organisation. Usually this translates as: will they get along with other people? Can they cope with life in the workplace? This, it seems, is where many graduates are falling down.
Those of us in L&D will recognise that we’re talking about soft skills here – the skills that relate to a person’s ability to interact effectively with others. These skills are vital for even the most basic business and management tasks such as working in teams, giving and receiving feedback and running meetings.
In the corporate world, there’s no shortage of supply when it comes to soft skills learning. Countless providers offer a plethora of development options. But soft skills are rarely taught at universities or business schools. Hence the accusation that universities could be doing more to improve the job prospects of their alumni.
Part of the reason why soft skills are not taught at universities is logistical. Educational institutes have found it difficult (by which I mean expensive) to access and provide soft skills learning for large numbers of students.
However, all of this may be about to change – thanks to streaming video. Streaming video allows you to view moving images over the Internet in real time. In other words, you don’t have to download the video. If you’ve watched a clip on YouTube or a programme on BBC iPlayer, you’ve used streaming video.
In the US, universities use streaming video within lectures to stimulate the students’ interest. Entire lectures are also filmed and streamed, for both on-campus and distance learners.
In mainland Europe, this idea has been taken further. For example, digital learning content from Video Arts is now streamed to 18 universities, higher education colleges and research institutes in the Netherlands, via an online information repository and knowledge network, operated by SURF, a collaboration of higher education institutions. Faculty staff, students and administrators can all access this content online.
Up until now, universities and business schools in the UK have resisted the pull of using streaming video as a means of delivering soft skills learning. Now, however, Lancaster University Management School is pioneering the approach. In a UK first for higher education, LUMS is providing soft skills learning content, via streaming video, to students on its business, management and marketing programmes.
Dr Peter Lenney, a senior fellow of the university, said: “Our goal is to get our students as prepped and ready for the world of work as we possibly can. The reality is it’s not easy to be a good manager. We pride ourselves on our teaching in this area; however, we’re always happy to supplement our capabilities with an alternative approach if it will enhance the learning experience. Streaming video makes it easy to deliver specific learning to groups of students. The soft skills that they’ll learn are not only essential for corporate life, they’ll also help them to work more effectively together in teams and on projects while they’re still at university.”
As anyone in L&D will know, soft skills can actually be the hardest skills to learn. If this learning is really going to take place, there is, of course, an onus on students themselves to take personal responsibility for developing the skills and attributes that will make them more employable. Still, universities and business schools should also incorporate soft skills into their course curricula. They must accept that the purpose of higher education is not just to broaden the minds of students but to equip them with the real skills they need to succeed in the workplace.