At the turn of the century, the Canadian Labour Council surveyed the top 500 companies in Canada. They asked these companies something along the lines of what do you look for in new employees. About 80 % of the skills were soft skills like effective communication, logical thinking, problem solving abilities, collaborative skills and active listening skills. The other 20% was on competency skills – the tasks involved in doing your job. Although this was a Canadian survey, I imagine we would see similar results through out all the industrial countries.
When you reflect on how most college programs are taught, they focus 80% of their time on those 20% competency skills. Are we doing the students a disservice by not giving them more of the soft skills? I think so. The problem is we only have so many hours with the students. What do you take out in order help them develop their soft skills.
The solution is actually fairly simple. You don’t take out the content on learning the competency skills but alter how you teach these skills. For example, I was teaching an advanced photography course. One of the objectives was that the student would be able to critique pictures (highest level in Bloom’s taxonomy). So for this assignment, I posted several pictures that the students had taken inside of a document stored on Google Docs. The class was divided into teams of four. The teams would go online and write in their comments on the photo and what should be done to improve the picture. There was an excitement and energy in the air as they collaborated and critiqued the pictures. Once the collaboration was over, we reflected on what they learned. (Those results will be in another blog so stay tuned.) So in this class where they applied the skill of critiquing pictures, they also learned a new way to collaborate and learned how to effectively online communication.
The end result is we need to alter the way we teach and facilitate to help the graduates fit better into today’s work world. As one student told me “if you’ve been teaching the same thing over and over for the past 10 years – RETIRE”. I think we should look at it as “if you’ve been teaching the SAME WAY for 10 years – RETIRE.”
(you can follow Phil on Twitter @CanadianPacMan)