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Developing Soft Skills at CCC

I have a rhetorical question for you to contemplate: Why do we use the term “soft skills” to describe skills that are so difficult for many people to demonstrate in the work world?

I constantly hear from our partners in business and industry that they need workforce training in soft skills above anything else.

According to Dennis Pierce in Community College Journal, “Employers across a wide variety of industries say the so-called ‘soft skills,’ such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication and collaboration have grown in importance…”

I firmly believe these skills are every bit as important as the so-called “hard” skills of math, science or technology. The research bears that out.

Coconino Community College has heard that clarion call of need from the business community, and we are responding. The soft skills are defined as those personal traits and communication abilities needed to be successful for a job – basically, how people interact with others, particularly customers, but also co-workers and supervisors.

According to U.S. News and World Report and LinkedIn, research about skills that employers seek most discovered that several of those skills fit under the category of “soft.” In the top 10 skills sought by employers between 2014 and 2018 were the soft skills of oral communication, people management, time management and leadership. According to a report in Forbes, the top three skills being sought by employers are: problem solving, emotional control and purpose.

And, Pierce, citing a survey from the National Associate of Colleges and Employers, said, “problem solving and the ability to work well in a team are the attributes that employers most desire among hew hires … Yet, these are often the skills that employers struggle the most to fill.”

Finally, a study by professors at Boston College, Harvard and the University of Michigan concluded that soft-skills training boosted business productivity and increased retention of employees.

Daily, CCC’s faculty across all the campuses work diligently to incorporate soft-skills development in their course curricula. And, in the community of Page, staff at CCC Page have in the past conducted week-long workshops on soft skills to help businesses prepare employees to better serve their customers.

Additionally, CCC is working on the creation of a free, self-directed soft-skills course for students and employees in the community. The initial stages of the effort are being led by faculty and student leaders from the CCC chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) honor society.

“This will help students going into their careers,” said Laney Williams, CCC student and PTK officer. “I think there’s so much specialized training for each person’s degree that there’s not really the everyday skills for the workplace. The idea is, instead of throwing them into it blind, they can get a little preparation to make the transition easier from college into the workforce.”

Sandra Dihlmann, CCC English faculty and PTK advisor, said, “In this course, students will be exposed to communication, critical thinking and leadership skills needed for employment in our local workforce.”

Students will complete sections of the course at their own pace. The project is currently in the initial stages, with CCC seeking input from employers, faculty, students and residents on what the course will look like. A pilot course is tentatively planned for Spring 2020.

To me, they are all “hard” skills, and it is our responsibility as a community college to teach and to prepare students in all skills necessary for success in the workforce for Coconino County.

I look forward to another stellar year at CCC, and I wish all who come through the doors of our campuses continued success in achieving their goals and making their dreams become reality.

It’s a great day to be at CCC.

Onward! FBN

By Colleen Smith

Colleen A. Smith, Ph.D., is the president of Coconino Community College.

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