It has long been understood that “soft skills” can provide a competitive edge – an edge which distinguishes a “good” employee from a “great” one. In today’s COVID challenged world, those words ring truer than ever before, especially when considering today’s tightening job market. Are you searching for a job or internship or know someone who is? If so, take just a moment to think about what employers really want. A college degree, relevant training, previous experience? Yes, Yes, and Yes. But don’t forget the skills that might actually get you from the interview chair to the office chair. In the world of work, these skills are known as “employability skills.”
Leadership, communication, critical thinking, problem solving, global fluency, and professionalism are just a few of these skills which are worth their weight in gold. As reported by the NACE Center for Career Development and Talent Acquisition, when asked what they seek most in job candidates, employers have overwhelmingly expressed a need for individuals with the ability to “bring solutions to the table, communicate well, and collaborate to solve complex problems.” Other characteristics most sought after include “the ability to think on one’s feet, take initiative, and demonstrate innovation and creativity.” Not surprisingly today’s global marketplace also attributes great value to candidates “who speak multiple languages and have the ability to function effectively across cultures and stakeholders.”
When it comes to assessing how graduates measure up for success in the workplace, perceptions vary widely among employers, academic institutions and students. Revealing a jaw dropping difference in perceptions, Gallup and the Lumina Foundation brought major attention to this issue beginning in 2014 when their study revealed that “a whopping 96% of chief academic officers said their institution is very or somewhat effective at preparing students for the world of work.” Compared to 11% of business leaders and 14% of Americans who felt that college graduates “have the skills and competencies needed for the workplace,” these numbers revealed a huge disconnect in what is needed to prepare students for the real world.
With an emphasis on building tomorrows talent, the Universities at Shady Grove’s (USG) Career and Internship Service Center (CISC) has worked to identify and respond to what employers really want both nationally and in the local region. Through their “College to Career” campaign, USG has launched an initiative to build career competencies across the student community, giving them the competitive edge. Adapted from the National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) career readiness recommendations, USG has identified nine critical competencies deemed essential for the world of work:
- Oral & Written Communication
- Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
- Teamwork & Collaboration
- Professionalism & Work Ethic
- Global & Intercultural Fluency
- Personal Development & Well-being
- Career Management
- Digital Technology
How well do you stack up? Recognizing that these competencies are developed on a continuum and over time, USG’s campaign encourages students to take advantage of a wide variety of experiences both in and out of the classroom. By doing so, students can take part in meaningful, hands-on experiences which will increase their level of proficiency and give them the opportunity to learn through action. Indeed, moving the needle on career readiness will require a real commitment and action across all stakeholders: developing curriculum which provides relevant exposure to critical thinking and application of knowledge, emphasizing student development activities which give students access to skill building and mentoring, and developing partnerships with the business community which build a talent pipeline while providing meaningful internships and real world experiences.
While just one part of a complex solution, USGs “College to Career” campaign lays the groundwork for students to achieve the trifecta sought by employers – a high quality degree, meaningful practical experience, and critical competencies needed to thrive in the world of work. With an eye on the future, USG seeks to empower students to become the best version of themselves, yielding a powerful edge on the competition.
For a complete list of defined competencies, tools for self-assessment, or more information on USG’s College to Career campaign, visit shadygrove.umd.edu/careerservices.
About the Author: Julia Rader, Director of USG’s Career and Internship Services Center (CISC)
Julia graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a B.A. in Psychology with a specialization in Speech Communication and completed a M.S. in Management with a specialization in Nonprofit Administration from University of Maryland University College. Julia is also a graduate of Montgomery County’s Leadership Montgomery CORE program. Julia currently serves as the Vice President of the Board of Trustees for Future Link of Maryland and serves on the Board of Directors for Montgomery County’s Corporate Volunteer Council. In addition, she is a member of the MCPS-MC-USG Partnership Collaboration Committee and a founding member of the MCPS-MC-USG “Career Experience Opportunities” Taskforce. Throughout her career in higher education, Julia has held numerous professional roles within the University System of Maryland including Coordinator of the Federal Work-Study Community Service Program, Education Finance Coordinator and Associate Director of Student Services. Julia is particularly interested in the causes of student advocacy, building community partnerships, and growing volunteerism among our community.
Spreading the word about career competencies is a personal mission of mine, and I am thrilled that USG’s CISC is taking up this charge. Way to go CISC team!