Saint Mary Students Develop What Employers Want
Long gone are the days when a college education was an automatic passport to your dream job. Now, employers want more. While the bachelor’s degree may act as the strongest symbol someone is ready for the job market, today it has a lot of noise around it. As “New York Times” best-selling author Jeff Selingo explains, “Employers don’t trust it [a bachelor’s degree] as much as more and more people have it.” The hard and fast technical knowledge students learn in class is only part of hiring equation—the other factor? Soft skills.
Did You Know? According to the Federal Reserve, 56 percent of 22 year-olds are underemployed. Meaning—they’re in jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.
Soft skills are a cluster of personal qualities, habits, and attitudes developed through socialization, learning, and a lifetime of experiences. There’s no universally-accepted list of must-have soft skills, and if you asked two leaders to settle on a top-ten list, they’d be discussing for days. But one thing is certain—soft skills are more important now than ever. According to CareerBuilder, 77 percent of employers say soft skills are just as important as hard skills.
In-Demand Soft Skills
The following were identified as the most “in-demand soft skills” by a LinkedIn study, which analyzed the soft skills listed on member profiles who updated their employer between June 2014 and June 2015.
- Good communicator
- Well organized
- Team player
- Always punctual
- Critical thinker
- Creative thinker
- Interpersonal communicator
- Easily adapts
- Friendly personality
This growing demand for soft skills has politicians, pundits, and higher education professionals asking a pivotal question: Are the nation’s colleges and universities providing students with career competencies and the skills required to excel in the workplace?
Critics of higher education would point to the skills gap—an idea which contends that the sluggish economic growth since the 2008 recession can be attributed to inadequate preparation of our youth in higher education. Opponents would argue, “Skills gaps are imaginary.” Liz Ryan, a Forbes contributor, writes, “If I go to T.J. Maxx hoping to pick up a diamond brooch for $29.95, the absence of that brooch in the store is not a failing on the merchant’s part. It’s delusion on my part.” She explains that just because hiring managers say they want a person who can fly, sing Italian opera, write code, easily adapt, and communicate well, that’s an unrealistic list of qualifications. Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, soft skill development needs more attention.
Hiring managers claim 59% of open jobs are unfilled because applicants lack the right soft skills.
Aware of this growing concern for soft skill development and an ever-growing demand for proof of soft skills among employers, the University of Saint Mary has grown its student-centric programming and multiplied opportunities for students to practice the skills employers want to see. Soft skills aren’t discrete, stand-alone skills—nor can a sixweek boot camp or one-time event mature them. “The key to developing soft skills is practice in real-world situations.” explained Kelly Stark, USM career services coordinator. “And the key to selling them? Being able to articulate very specific examples of times you’ve used these skills.”
Career Services offers a number of events to USM’s students throughout the year, while Athletics, Residential Life, Campus Ministry, and the Physical Therapy Program (and so many others) add to the long and growing list of opportunities beyond the classroom.
Senior Success Day
This year, 130 seniors attended Senior Success Day held on Feb. 21. Set up like a conference, students attended breakout sessions—each falling under one of the three themes: Graduate School, Career Focused, or Financial Literacy. Breakout session topics ranged from Job Hunt Strategies to Financial Planning and Savings, from All About Credit to How to Write a Personal Statement and Building Your Online Identity. In addition to the workshops, over 50 mock interviews took place and stations were set up to critique and review resumes.
Third-Year Professional Day
For our third-year Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students, this was a day dedicated to their professional development. Students attended two workshops— Salaries, Benefits, and Negotiations and Marketing Yourself and Your Company, and then, students had the opportunity to mock interview with a potential employer. There was a Career Fair, open to all DPT students, with almost 20 physical therapy companies in attendance.
Every spring, 40 students are nominated to attend the prestigious University of Saint Mary Leadership Seminar. For four weeks, these students have the opportunity to meet and hear from some of Kansas City’s brightest leaders. This year, sessions included: Building Your Personal Brand, Create Your Roadmap: Breaking Through the Leadership Assembly Line, Persevering Through Pain, and Leadership as a Process: Adaptive Leadership.
Focus on Career Week
Held every fall and spring, this week of programming focuses on life after Saint Mary, whether that be continuing onto graduate school or starting a career.
During the spring, USM held a Mocktails and Fashion Event—a two-part series with a fashion show and a networking event. The fashion show was a hit—five companies loaned clothes to our student models while they showed the difference between casual, business casual, and business professional. The following evening, young professionals from the LeavenworthLansing area came to support A Night of Networking, including Kansas Rep. Pittman, who taught through simulated networking situations the dos and don’ts of networking. Other events during Focus on Career Week included:
- A corporate tour of Freightquote, a powerhouse shipment and delivery company out of Overland Park, Kan.
- Resume Madness, an opportunity for all students to review their resume with a hiring expert
- Mock Interviews, a safe chance to sit in “hot seat”
- “Caring for Your Clothes” seminar led by Theatre Professor Emily Kasprzak
Saint Vincent Clinic
The Stefani Doctor of Physical Therapy program supports the non-profit, Saint Vincent Clinic in Leavenworth, serving residents of the Leavenworth County who fall at or below 175 percent federal poverty level. First- through third-year DPT students volunteer one afternoon a week to treat nearly 40 patients a month with reoccurring injuries. Students not only have the opportunity to practice assessment and techniques, they build confidence and become more comfortable with patients and the clinical setting.
The Adulting Series
Residence Life and Career Services co-sponsor an Adulting Series—geared towards growing up … or “adulting.” From cooking lessons to the basics of leasing your first apartment, the interactive series has proven to be the perfect mix of fun and informative. And every session is broadcasted on Facebook Live.
The Honors Program
USM Honors Program students dream big and develop the leadership skills to achieve big. Though they study hard, the rewards extend beyond the classroom and gradebook, into lifelong success. Honors Program students enjoy performances at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and are invited to special dinners with honorary guests from the International Relations Council and the United Nations. They attended etiquette workshops and applied what they learned while enjoying a meal with our USM Board of Trustees. This year, the program has 39 students—one being Bailey Hightower, a senior English major, who says her favorite part about the Honors Program is: “The freedom of choice the program allows and the opportunity to have an active hand in what and how I am learning.”
Focusing on soft skills only strengthens our mission to develop students into self-directed lifelong learners. USM is grounded in over 90 years of academic excellence—and our changing world now requires Saint Mary to make a strategic focus on maturing our students’ soft skills within the Catholic liberal arts education we so firmly believe in.
As Stark mentioned, soft skills mature with practice—and as one professor in a recent article published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers explained, “Soft skills are ‘habits of mind.’” They are pattered and habituated ways of thinking and reacting to situations. Though our Organic Chemistry students will still study alkanes and alkynes and students in English Comp will still focus on the forms of writing, growth will be measured by much more than a percent in a gradebook at Saint Mary. Growth will be more than a statistic kept on file and not necessarily part of a formal annual assessment. Instead, measuring the growth of a Saint Mary student will look where their hard and soft skills collide.
Benefits for Life
Alumni Always Connected to Career Services!
Career assessment, job board, resume critique—the privileges don’t stop at graduation. The University of Saint Mary Career Services is your inside track for continued learning, professional networking, and personal growth … for the rest of your life!
As alum, we also invite you to be a part of our Career Services events. Interested? Visit stmary.edu/CareerServices for offered services and volunteer opportunities.