Higher education, like much of the post-COVID world, is poised for significant change. Traditionally, colleges and universities focused on providing students with quality academic pursuits, but an increasing number of these students are entering higher education with an intention of getting career training. This focus on career development is an opportunity for higher education to capitalize on students’ changing needs.
More and more emerging professionals are entering the workforce without the soft, or interpersonal, skills that they need to manage their professional relationships and growth. Soft skills are practiced in school only informally, never converting them from social skills to social instincts. Students are wishing they had more opportunities to formally hone these skills while in school, giving them a safe space to practice without risking their careers.
HR professionals and recent graduates have come together to agree that higher education is the best place to prepare students to make the leap from classroom to career, closing the skills gap that many have complained about for centuries. To explore this idea, Mursion commissioned a survey report of both recent graduates and hiring managers, both parties agree that soft skills are of the utmost importance and that higher education is the perfect place to teach them.
The Value of Soft Skills
Both sides of the survey audience agree that soft skills, an intangible set of skills that professionals use to navigate the social complexities of the working world, are foundational for career success. HR professionals believe in this so much so that close to half of respondents (44%) said that they would hire an applicant with superior interpersonal skills over one with more traditional job-specific skills.
44% of HR professionals said that they would hire an applicant with superior interpersonal skills over one with more traditional job-specific skills
While both parties have agreed that the concept of soft skills are important, they are divergent on which ones. It appears that HR managers are looking to build a team — 65% of HR professionals believe teamwork is the most foundational soft skill. But, the young emerging class is looking to build a resume, saying the most important skills to them were presentation skills (41%) and negotiation skills (40%).
HR professionals are concerned about the concept of soft skills overall — only 9% of hiring managers to believe that the emerging workforce is fully equipped with the social instincts they need to succeed in their careers. They believe that recent graduates are wholly unprepared for the realities of the working world.
COVID’s Impact on Soft Skills
Tenured employees are not exempt — a majority of professionals (68%) believe that pre-pandemic, their existing employees’ soft skills were lackluster. This professional world issue has been exacerbated by the global health crisis, and close to half of the HR professionals believe that upon the (eventual) return to the office, their employees’ soft skills will have eroded.
Similarly, remote learning impacted recent graduates. Former students reported missing out on important in-person interactions with peers and professors. Recent graduates fear that because of remote learning, they are missing out on crucial career-building opportunities and chances to flex their social skills such as networking events and on-campus career resources. Without these activities and resources, 40% of recent graduates believe they missed out on networking opportunities, and 34% believe that they missed out on working experiences that could have helped them get a job in the future.
The ROI of College Degrees
With the cost of higher education rising, current students and recent graduates are expecting a high return on their academic investment. The lion’s share of graduates (90%) believed that the time and money they spent at university would result in a job in their anticipated career field. However, even with expectations set high, 61% said that after graduating, they still feel unprepared for their career, and more than half are concerned that they’re lacking the soft skills they need to manage their success.
Coming together once again, both HR professionals and recent graduates believe that higher education is the best party to close the skills gap. A majority of HR professionals believe that without formal education on soft skills, the soft skills gap will not improve, and in fact, it could get worse.
Higher Education’s Role in Bridging the Gap
Higher education holds a responsibility to prime students for their futures, and, no matter their chosen field of study, that future entails an entry into the working world. To succeed in that working world, they need sharp people skills. Currently, they don’t have that — 90 % of HR professionals believe that emerging professionals are entering the workforce only somewhat prepared.
Both students and HR professionals agree that higher education is the best option for future professionals to learn to practice their soft skills; 93% of recent graduates and 74% of HR professionals believe that higher education should formalize opportunities to practice people skills. HR professionals are willing to go as far as suggesting soft skill-specific classes: 37% of HR professionals believe that higher education should implement more classes geared toward navigating the workplace.
The Future of Soft Skills
While the evidence of people skills varies across industries, social instincts are crucial in succeeding in all types of careers. The lack of formal training and education in these abstract skills is increasingly obvious to both recent graduates and those looking to hire them. They believe it is time to balance the scales.
To close the skills gap, both students and HR professionals are looking to higher education’s expertise — hoping the education professionals will embrace the opportunity to better prepare their students for their futures. Colleges and universities play a vital role in the lives of their students, and it is the responsibility of those institutions to equip students with the skills they need to succeed.
Creating a bright future for young professionals requires all of us to work together — to find out more about this ever-important skills gap, download this free report here.
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