Monday, January 30, 2017

Soft Skills Revisited

It is a delight to write on learning in college stuff instead of you know what.

This piece from Inside Higher Ed caught my eye. Soft skills are very important, no doubt. Mid career executives learn these skills in the process of doing their jobs over a very long period of time, perhaps a decade or more. In contrast, this is the description of what Reinhardt is doing.

"Reinhardt’s program, the Strategic Career Advantage Platform (S-CAP), was launched in fall 2016. Each month, the college offers a Saturday session focused on a different topic -- for example, one four-hour January session focused on emotional intelligence. Others so far have covered impression management, listening and mediation.

At the end of the session, the students are not tested on the material. Instead, they write and reflect on what they learned and how they could realistically communicate that to an employer, said Reinhardt President Kina Mallard. The idea is for students to recognize real-life scenarios in which they have used those soft skills -- such as conflict resolution, mediation and listening -- and to then highlight that on their résumés or in job interviews."

I would call this soft-skills lite or perhaps the more pejorative, soft-skills appreciation.

Ten years ago I wrote a piece called Soft Skills Are Hard that was reacting to a piece from the Chronicle about discord in MBA education. The employers wanted soft skills. The students, however, wanted to focus on technical proficiency, because the latter was much easier to demonstrate while the former was more difficult to acquire. It should be noted that most MBA students have substantial work experience before returning for the MBA.  So they are different from undergraduates, who may have done an internship or two but are still pretty green in regard to work. 

Beyond those issues there are other concerns, perhaps more fundamental, such as what Sherry Turkle has pointed out.  Students need to engage in face-to-face conversations with peers, quite a lot of it, to learn empathy for others, how to schmooze, and to develop a taste for discussions of this sort.  If you don't try to certify this, college offers a great opportunity for it to happen on its own, through bull sessions with housemates.  

If these sort of sessions were happening would the the more formal approach that Reinhardt is taking be useful in addition?  I don't know.  Perhaps it would.  If those sessions are not happening, however, my guess is that what Reinhardt is doing is largely a waste of time.  In that case the students wouldn't be bringing enough to the table ahead of time.  

The holy grail, then, is getting students to engage in lots of one-on-one or small group conversation, where they can be comfortable, open up, feel a sense of vulnerability, and then engage in exploration of ideas with peers.  This is what college should be about rather than what it seems to be about now, grades and certifications.  

Perhaps Reinhardt will find its way to this by starting down the path it is headed in.  I wish them good luck on it.  For the rest of us, how do we get there?

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