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Guest Post: Soft Skills for Your OM Students in a Facebook World

January 20, 2019

Beverly Amer is Principal Lecturer in the W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University. She is also author of a workbook for college students on practicing soft skills and director of the 45 videos we provide with our text.

Colleges have long been regarded as the preparation grounds for students to gain the necessary technical skills and knowledge required to enter meaningful careers, but not the “softer” side of working in a professional role. Until now. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, employers are putting more time and money into learning about the “soft skills” of job applicants: namely, communication skills, problem-solving aptitude, and just plain ability to get along with others on a team. Professional groups surveying their members have also found these skills much in demand.

So what are we, as OM educators, to do? Yes, the technical skill and knowledge we teach in our class is critical. However, employers are now looking to us for help to round out career readiness in our graduates. Yet if you have ever looked at your students while conducting class discussion, you have likely seen social media vying for your students’ attention (no, they are probably NOT taking notes, and yes, this is a breakdown in soft skills!). And most instructors are reluctant to add soft skills to their already “full” courses.

There are small steps that we can do to assist our students without affecting the course content already in place. For starters, try holding students accountable for deadlines, requiring thoughtful remarks in class discussion, demanding logical arguments in support of opinions, and making them do the dreaded group work. To address communication skills, provide students guidance on what you consider acceptable etiquette. For example, my students are told how to format a business email message, complete with opening salutation, respectful body, and proper closing.

For problem-solving and critical thinking skills, require those challenging individual assignments that go beyond simple matching of the exercises worked in class. Require students to take personal responsibility for meeting deadlines on computer-based homework. Teamwork skill can only be developed through practice, so in-class small group discussions and out-of-class larger projects will lead to valuable lessons in how to deal with different personalities and value systems. Use small groups regularly discuss this blog’s OM in the News events.

Will your students thank you? Not right now, perhaps. However, their employers will. And wouldn’t it be great if our students were considered first with recruiters because they have the entire package: both technical skills AND soft skills?

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