CC will evaluate ‘soft skills’

“Soft skills,” such as punctuality and teamwork will be factored into grades for many students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina, reports Inside Higher Ed. Next year, the college will issue workplace readiness certificates in addition to traditional credentials.

Located in Asheville, N.C., A-B Tech, as it is commonly known, has developed a template that helps faculty members determine how to incorporate eight primary workplace expectations into grading, including personal responsibility, interdependence and emotional intelligence. Soft skills should count for 8 to 10 percent of grades in courses that adopt those guidelines, college officials said.

“We’re teaching our students to walk the walk,” said Jean B. Finley, an instructor of business computer technologies.

A-B Tech will grade students on how they work with classmates in study groups and interact with instructors in professionally worded e-mails.

The main goal is to encourage students to take personal responsibility and display a strong work ethic, said Melissa Quinley, A-B Tech’s vice president of instructional services.

. . . Quinley said local employers are generally pleased with the technical and academic accomplishments of A-B Tech students. But soft skills can be a problem. For example, she said the college recent held a focus group with welding companies, where some participants said A-B Tech graduates were talented and got the welding part, but that some showed up late for work too often.

Students don’t pick up “soft skills” by osmosis, writes Community College Dean. Teaching students “the rules of the game”  is the egalitarian thing to do.

I’ve been to more than my share of employer advisory boards over the last dozen years, at three different colleges.  They’re remarkably consistent; every time, the feedback is that we’re doing well with the specific technical skills, but that many students arrive with serious gaps in communication, presentation and general employee conduct.

Students need to understand the importance of punctuality, meeting deadlines and communicating frustration in an acceptable way in the workplace, the dean writes.  “The odd blend of surface egalitarianism and deep hierarchy that defines many workplaces can be a minefield if you don’t know how to read it.”

Years ago, I did a series on welfare reform for the San Jose Mercury News. Two of the long-term welfare mothers we followed found jobs — and ran into trouble because they didn’t know unspoken workplace rules.