Spring is education's busiest season. High school students, acceptance notices in hand, weigh final decisions on where they will attend. Graduating college seniors send out resumes and complete job applications.
These are life-changing events in a person's life. Where a student attends college (regardless of the field of study) and what he or she makes of college life have a lifelong impact, but not necessarily in ways that most students think.
A recent survey by The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), a nonprofit group that links college career placement officers with employers, recently surveyed hiring managers about the top skills they look for when recruiting from the class of 2015. While majors and graduate degrees were important, the top skills that matter most are leadership, the ability to work in teams, and communication.
Taking a deeper look at these three key assets, we see that learning opportunities to gain these skills are found on any college campus and in the surrounding community.
Leadership. The NACE study found that "leadership skills can make or break a hiring decision," as those candidates who possess leadership experience will have the edge over those who have not. If employers will gravitate to those with these skills, it is essential to start developing them at the outset of one's college career. While some are natural leaders, others must work at it. Speaking up in class, learning a foreign language and studying abroad are some of the experiences that can bolster one's self-assurance and one's resume. These assets also demonstrate tangible and practical achievements that can attract employers.
Extracurricular options, such as student clubs, are also hotbeds for building leadership skills. Joining the campus theater club, for example, and offering one's services to support campus productions, help students to think on their feet. The same can be said for team sports, debate societies or volunteering for other campus event-based projects.
Ability to work well on teams. Collaborative workgroups are now a basic structure of today's workplace regardless of industry and professional level. Software such as Sharepoint, Blackboard, Basecamp, Google Docs and DropBox allow us to create sharing platforms that can be accessed by any team member anywhere, any time. Beyond the technology, today's workforce is also far more diverse than even a generation ago. As such, team members are likely to have widely disparate cultural, ethnic, religious, political and gender differences. Public urban campuses that possess highly diverse student bodies, such as The City College of New York, provide excellent previews of the makeup of the 21st century workforce. Daily campus interactions with fellow students and faculty representing all demographics enable students to develop understanding and tolerances that make for a harmonious and, consequently, more productive esprit de corps.
Communications skills. According to the website statisticbrain.com, three quarters of us fear public speaking (for which there is a clinical term: "glossophobia"). That fear ranks higher than those of either death (almost seven in ten) or spiders (less than a third). That brings to mind Jerry Seinfeld's quip that, "if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy."
Communicating effectively, whether in oral or written form, is a fundamental workplace requirement. While not everyone will be called upon to give a public speech in his or her life, everyone does need to know how to speak and write clearly. Confusing, muddled directives may have disastrous consequences. For example, healthcare professionals must ensure patients understand treatment regimens. Human resource professionals are required to develop clear communications about workplace policies. Sales executives need to communicate the benefits of their products over those of their competitors. Educators must impart knowledge to a class of students with varying degrees of interest.
Campus-based community initiatives, especially those that involve working with youth organizations, are ideal opportunities for students to hone communications skills. There is no better test of effective communications than talking to a group of middle schoolers who are quick to let you know what they think -- and in no uncertain terms!
The college campus is a microcosm of the world at large. It is an institute of higher learning, a business that needs to be managed, and an integral component of the community in which it is located. Whether incoming, outgoing, or somewhere in between, students would do well to leverage all campus assets to develop essential communications, team player and problem solving skills. They may not appear on a college diploma, but they will most certainly be what employers seek in a college-educated person.
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