Graduation cap and a job application indicating the need for life skills.

Teaching life skills is the latest trend in higher ed

Employers characterize recent grads as both innovative and lazy; emphasize the importance of strong life skills for success

Recent college graduates need life skills more than they need technical skills to succeed in the workplace, according a national poll from High Point University (HPU). In fact, teaching these life skills is one of the biggest growing issues in higher education.

HPU asked 500 C-Level executives a series of questions about their experiences in hiring recent college graduates. Those executives indicate that life skills such as motivation, emotional intelligence, and the ability to solve problems are more important to their organizations than technical skills such as training on a specific software or subject.

Sixty-five percent of executives say they’d rather colleges equip students with life skills, opposed to 35 percent who say they’d rather colleges instill technical skills. But executives’ preferences don’t match up to what students actually learn–67 percent of executives believe today’s colleges are better at teaching technical skills than life skills. This could be a result of the fact that it is often difficult to assess students’ life skills.

Life skills also seem to account more for new hires’ failure to succeed. Executives say new hires fail for reasons such as motivational skills (38 percent) and emotional intelligence (29 percent), while technical skills ranked near the bottom with 11 percent.

“By asking national executives for their perspective, this data empowers our students and informs university leaders as we continue to enhance our holistic educational model to answer the demands of the global marketplace,” says HPU President Nido Qubein.

When asked which aspect of a graduate’s resume matters, 77 percent say hands-on experiences such as internships and work experience, or supervisory and leadership roles, while 13 percent say degree of study and 10 percent say high GPA.

One reason executives may desire life skills over technical skills comes down to workplace teachability–when asked which trait is easiest to develop in an employee, 69 percent say technical skills, compared to 18 percent who say personal initiative and 12 percent who say team player. When asked which trait is the hardest to develop in a recent college graduate, 59 percent say personal initiative, 24 percent say team player and 17 percent say technical skills.

As far as work ethic in new college graduates, 71 percent of senior executives say their generation has a stronger work ethic than new college graduates. Twenty-three percent of executives say both groups have the same work ethic.

The survey included a series of open ended questions, including: “What’s the best piece of practical work advice you could give to a recent college graduate entering the workforce?” Responses included: “Always be willing to learn and take on more than asked of you;” “Be coachable and flexible;” “Come to work and be ready to work. Leave your cell phone at home or in your pocket. I am not paying you to text your friends;” and “Nobody owes you anything. You worked for that degree and you have to work for that pay.”

The survey also asked employers: “If you could use one word to describe the newest generation of college grads, what would it be?” Responses included, “Ambitious,” “Innovative,” “Lazy” and “Overconfident.”

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Laura Ascione

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