8 Skills Students Need to Be Workforce-Ready

When graduation rolls around for college seniors, there are two things you want to focus on: Perfecting your grad cap design and polishing up your resume to land your first job out of college.

And while making your grad cap may seem daunting, finding that first job is becoming more difficult as the demands of the workforce are rapidly changing. Will robots start replacing us, or do we still need to work on technical skills? How should I format my resume? Should I build my own robot?

Employers still (and will always) value technical skills, but there are others skills that are just as desirable. And these essential skills are gained through involvement outside of the classroom, like taking on leadership opportunities in different organizations on- and off-campus, participating in internship programs, and presenting your research at conferences.

Some institutions, like Reinhardt University, are taking the learning of essential skills one step further. Inside Higher Ed reports that “Each month, [Reinhardt] offers a Saturday session focused on a different topic — for example, one four-hour January session focused on emotional intelligence. Others so far have covered impression management, listening, and mediation.”

Traditional essential skills include leadership, communication, and teamwork, just to name a few. You may think of these and say “Oh, right — soft skills.Here at Presence, we believe that those skills aren’t soft; they’re essential. So, throughout this article (and always), we’re going to call them essential skills.

Employers are now finding that college grads are lacking the basic skills necessary in the modern workplace — but students are graduating thinking that they do have those skills.

If the point of students going to college is to prepare them for the workforce, why don’t students have the skills the workplace requires of them? And why is there such a disparity between the skills that students think they have and what employers feel they actually have?

Studies have shown that 40% of college seniors fail to graduate with complex reasoning skills, regardless of whether they attended public or private universities. That means that there is a huge disconnect between what employers need of their new employees and the readiness of college seniors.

While students may be extremely educated in their field of study (like engineering or business), they don’t have transferable skills, which are more important to some employers.

In another survey done by The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), employers rated students lower than they judged themselves on these essential skills, giving some scary statistics for recent graduates. The report states that 80% of employers believe that it’s important that recent college graduates demonstrate the ability to apply learning to real-world settings, but only 23% of employers say that recent graduates are well-prepared, and 44% of employers say they are not at all prepared.  

This survey also found that the majority of employers agree with support for general education and a curriculum that extends beyond job training— meaning that experiences outside of the classroom are essential for students to help build the complex skills that employers desire.

Free guide: The Complete Guide to Co-Curricular Learning

A piece-by-piece guide to planning and building a co-curricular framework for your campus Download For Free

College grads can begin to change this perception by building their practical skills while in college. Attending events like career fairs and resume workshops, or participating in philanthropic events like Dance Marathon or Relay for Life can all help boost your ability to work on a team or improve your ability to take initiative.

Here are eight more ways to build up your essential skills before you cross the stage:

1. Sharpen your creativity

Creativity is a huge asset in the workplace — being able to approach a challenge differently than those around you will help to find solutions that other people wouldn’t think of.

Thinking outside the box has become even more important in recent years, as technological innovations mean that the world is changing faster than ever. You can foster your creative thinking skills by regularly brainstorming, surrounding yourself with creative people, and finding your outlet in cooking, journaling, or playing an instrument.

(P.S.- research has demonstrated that being creative is actually good for your health!)

2. Learn to listen

While being able to effectively communicate your ideas is important, being able to listen to others is just as — if not more — important. Active listening in the workplace means fewer errors and less wasted time, as well as ensuring understanding of certain concepts and improving relationships.

You can work on this skill by letting a person finish their thought before you ask a question and by making eye contact with them while they’re talking. Remember, you should always be listening to understand, not just to respond.

3. Be flexible

Murphy’s Law states that “everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Being able to roll with the punches when something goes tragically wrong is one of the most important skills you can learn.

In the workplace, people who are flexible are regularly more understanding, reasonable, tactful and strong leaders.

4. Collaborate

We know. Group projects can be frustrating, and one person often ends up carrying the team’s weight. But spending all of your time working solo can harm you in the long-run.

People who succeed only when working alone will struggle when they get to the workplace, as most careers require teamwork. While you’re in college, make an effort to work in team settings, so you can gain more experience working with different personality types and leadership styles.

5. Plan efficiently

Being a student means your life gets busy, and being able to knock out several tasks in one sitting becomes more and more important as more things get added to your plate!

Grouping together related duties, making thorough to-do lists, and using your downtime wisely will only benefit you in the long run, and allow you to get through your work faster.

6. Manage your time wisely

While multitasking is a great skill, being able to effectively plan out your day and week is even better. If you don’t already, find an organizational method that helps you keep track of everything you have to do.

That can be a digital method, like Evernote or Google Calendar, or a pen and paper way, like to-do lists or an agenda (I personally use a Passion Planner and love it!). Learning how you best manage your time and prioritize tasks will help you stay focused during long-term projects, when things might start to seem a little murky.

7. Think critically

Weighing all the options presented to you and making an informed decision based upon those will be something that you do in both your professional and personal life.

You can practice this skill by thinking about everyday decisions (like voting or what to make for dinner) holistically before making your final choice, or even debating and discussing current events with your family and friends.

8. Learn from criticism

This tends to be challenging for some, as it can be difficult to accept criticism. However, if you look at these situations as learning opportunities, it won’t be as scary.

Set meetings with your mentors and supervisors, and learn from their experiences to how you can improve further your skills. Just remember to be appreciative of their time, feedback and thinking if you do reach out!

Developing essential skills will set you apart from the crowd during a time of year when college graduates are applying for entry-level jobs in droves. How will you stand out?

Free guide: The Complete Guide to Co-Curricular Learning

A piece-by-piece guide to planning and building a co-curricular framework for your campus Download For Free
Rita Zwiefel

About the author: Rita was formerly a Campus Outreach Coordinator at Presence, having recently graduated from Florida International University with a degree in Spanish and International Relations. She is committed to coffee, building community, and advocating for women’s rights. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

Check I'm Here is now Presence. Learn more about this change in our blog post here.