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A Hard Focus on Soft Skills

Even as college graduates become more proficient in hard skills like data analysis, employers report gaps between what they need and what recent grads possess when it comes to essential “soft skills.” According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook Survey from 2018, the top five attributes employers seek are: problem-solving skills, the ability to work in a team, oral and written communication skills, leadership, and a strong work ethic.

An employee who possesses these skills is ready for the future, especially in today’s rapidly changing workplace. The Bryan School is taking steps to ensure that all students have the skills they need to stand out.

For more than two decades, the Bryan School has required an introductory first-year experience course (BUS 105) focused on student career readiness and professional success. Last year, the Bryan School set out to extend its legacy of graduating career-ready, desirable employees by redeveloping this signature course into a four-year curriculum focused on personal and professional development.

Businesses want to hire employees who are ready to contribute immediately and possess the soft skills named in the NACE survey. “Just covering these topics in class, and only a single freshmen class, is not enough,” says William Brown, associate dean for Internal Affairs and professor of finance.

Faculty at the Bryan School are designing four new courses as part of the Blueprint Series, which will align students’ personal and professional development with the stages of their academic career. The Blueprint Series will be paired with Bryan Gold, a co-curricular, gamified career-readiness program, which draws students into experiences designed for both personal and professional growth. Together, these programs help students graduate as leaders with strong work ethics, prepared to take their places on professional teams.

During their first year, students develop a sense of self and interpersonal skills that will help them in both their academic and professional careers. In their second and third years, they learn skills related to career planning, resume creation, and interview preparation while developing resumes and interviewing for internships and jobs. In their fourth and final year, students will develop their leadership style and learn how to navigate the job search.

Along the way, students can engage with professionals in their chosen fields, take personality and career assessments, and participate in leadership training. Bryan Gold even makes their progress in eight key areas – from communication skills to time management – visible to prospective employers.

“By senior year, their job search should be well underway with anticipation of accepting a job offer before they graduate,” says Brown. “Then we can focus on skills that lay the groundwork for getting the most out of their employment and provide them with an understanding of how to develop leadership skills in those positions.”

 

Building Career-Launching Platforms

“We hope the program’s holistic approach will make these students more well-rounded candidates,” says Tyler Wiersma, assistant director of undergraduate professional development. “We want to help students not just get a job, but get the right job.”

Brown and Wiersma will oversee the new curriculum and share instructional duties for the BUS 216 transfer course. A staff member and industry professionals trained by Wiersma will teach the first-year course. Lasse Palomaki ʼ19 MBA will serve as the school’s new professional development advisor, and he will oversee the team leader mentorship program and Bryan Gold engagement opportunities.

The new four-year curriculum starts students on their professional development path immediately, but also continues nurturing these skills throughout their academic career. By graduation, students will be prepared both to understand employer needs and to meet them.

“One of the biggest challenges for both employers and employees is the rapid pace of change,” says Brown. “This is not to downplay the importance of specific knowledge or specific skills provided by education, but to realize that much of that knowledge and those skills will become obsolete over one’s career.”

What won’t be obsolete, Brown explains, are employees who are adaptable lifelong learners, able to solve a wide range of problems. Brown adds, “Because the Bryan School has a history of focusing on both problem-solving and student professional development, we are in a position to react to these demands in a timely manner.”

Building on the work of forward-thinking faculty and longstanding curricular commitments, the Bryan School’s legacy of graduating career-ready business leaders only continues.