Under the U.S. Department of Education's new Gainful Employment regulations, graduates of career colleges must exceed specific earnings-to-debt ratios for their institutions to continue to receive federal student aid. One challenge colleges seeking to meet these requirements face is employers are often looking for skills not taught in textbooks. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2015 survey, the skill set most frequently sought by employers screening candidates' resumes is leadership and teamwork.1 And Hart Research Associates found that 93 percent of employers weigh skills in areas such as critical thinking, communication and problem-solving more heavily than an academic major when considering candidates.2 These findings suggest that career colleges should incorporate such job skills into their curriculum to improve their graduates' gainful employment outlooks.
Leadership and Teamwork
Harvard Business School researchers have put together a Handbook for Teaching Leadership designed to assist educators.3 The authors draw a vital distinction between teaching theoretical concepts about leadership versus emphasizing the actual development of skills and cultivation of a leadership identity.
Educators can apply this by including practical opportunities for students to exercise leadership and practice teamwork. For instance, students can lead class panel discussions or research projects, activities that promote both leadership and teamwork. Such activities can be incorporated into both general classes and specific business management classes on leadership and teamwork.
The NACE's survey found that written communication skills were the next highest in-demand skill set. Verbal communication skills also ranked high. While most classes give students ample opportunity to practice academic writing, practical business writing skills and verbal communication are not as frequently emphasized. Ways to give these skills more attention include offering courses in business writing and public speaking and giving students opportunities to speak in class. In an online environment, virtual training and tools can support these communications training approaches.
Problem-solving was the next most-sought skill identified by NACE's survey. Educators encounter problem-solving most explicitly in math and science contexts, but in the workplace problems may involve non-mathematical issues such as meeting deadlines, resolving disputes and handling customer complaints. Rather than attempting to teach these applications piecemeal, educators in all disciplines can seek to instill problem-solving skills by modeling these skills in their presentations, asking students to identify problems and encouraging them to verbalize and explain their problem-solving strategies.
A strong work ethic came in next on NACE's list of desirable employee qualities. Attendance, class participation and homework requirements are some of the most fundamental ways educators can help instill a good work ethic in students. Teach goal-setting and time management skills to cultivate good working habits. For instance, let students know how many study hours a week they should expect to put in if they want to achieve an A.
Employers in NACE's survey also placed a high value on analytical and quantitative skills. Educators can help students develop these skills by assigning activities that require classifying information, interpreting analogies, analyzing essays, reading charts and graphs, making logical inferences and testing theories. Studies cited by Gwen Dewar of Parenting Science show that students learn these skills best when educators explicitly verbalize the rules of reasoning underlying them.4
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Resources: Photo Credit (1) The Skills/Qualities Employers Want in New College Graduate Hires (2) It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success (3) Teaching Leadership: What We Know (4) Teaching critical thinking: An evidence-based guide