Are Those Pesky Soft Skills Really Important?

Not only are soft skills important, they are critical for success in college and career. Soft Skills are People Skills and have too often been thought of as vague and hard to evaluate. The 21st century has put the focus onto soft skills for success in today’s changing world and educators and employers are beginning to define them as behaviors that can be assessed.

We like Tony Wagner’s list of what he calls Survival Skills:

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Initiative and entrepreneurship
  • Effective oral and written communication
  • Accessing and analyzing information
  • Curiosity and imagination*

Whether a student is planning on a career after high school or community college or is preparing to apply to a 4 year college or university, demonstrating these skills will help him achieve his goals. More and more high school and college classes today require students to work collaboratively in project teams and show ways in which they can demonstrate these skills in the classroom. A good teacher is not only interested in the project outcome but wants to observe and guide students as they work together to help them develop these critical skills. But is that enough?

Internships Move Skills into the Real World

It’s great for students to work on a team with friends in a classroom but in the real world their friends aren’t around and they find themselves on a team with adults. As interns they are able to observe how these skills are used in the workplace by successful employees. As interns they are expected to demonstrate these 21st century people skills. And as interns they are able to practice them, not just once but many times in their work setting.

An intern is under the umbrella of a school or college so the internship is a learning experience. And often interns say that what they learned most are people skills. And a quality internship program will be able to evaluate the intern’s learning through projects, portfolios, presentations and exhibits. A quality internship program will give the intern an opportunity to show what she has learned through evidence based interviews.
Internships not only help prepare students as they go forward to college and career but they strengthen those “soft” skills allowing them to navigate their way through the changing world of the 21st century.


Closing the Gap: Leveling the Playing Field with Internships

While high school graduation rates are slowly improving there is still much concern about the low rates of graduation of students from a two year college program. Current research shows that fewer than one-third of freshman in a community college complete a certificate, associate degree or transfer to a 4 year program. And it is worse for minority and low income students with only 24 per cent completing their 2 year program.

This is of great concern today because, as the Harvard study, Pathways to Prosperity points out, a certificate or an associate or bachelor’s degree will be critical in getting that well paying job in this new economy.

Too often low income and minority students may not have been exposed to a wide variety of industries and professional opportunities. They may not see the career choices that are available. And they do not see how their education will benefit them throughout their life, not only financially, but in building their self-belief, allowing them to take advantage of new opportunities.

While many community colleges are addressing this problem there is one solution that will keep students on track to graduation.  We know that students who do a quality internship see the value of their education in the real world. Internships today are not only for those students who are in a vocational program but benefit all community college students.

But the internship must be well designed and managed by the college. It must have opportunities for the student to learn new skills that will be transferrable as he moves through life, offer challenging and stretching goals and learning activities, enable the student to build those all important adult-to-adult relationships in a professional environment, allow him to demonstrate his learning and give him exposure to new professions and industries that he may not have even considered.

Every community from small towns to large cities has internship opportunities for community college students. Employers and organizations want to ensure that the next generation has the skills that will lead them to success in the future and are eager to partner with their local community college to ensure that this happens.

Check out these articles that discuss the issue of Improving Community College Graduation Rates.

Community Colleges’ Most Challenging Task: Increase Completion Rates

Washington Post
Report Shows Wide Disparity In College Achievement

Education Trust’s “Charting a Necessary Path: The Baseline Report of Public Higher Education Systems in the Access to Success Initiative,” December 2009