For Generation Z, student success looks drastically different than it did with previous generations. Soft skills are just as important to today’s employers—if not more important—as the hard skills students bring to the table. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are seven essential soft skills that are necessary for career success: communication, enthusiasm, teamwork, networking, critical thinking, problem solving and professionalism. 

So help get your students ready for their dream jobs by referring to these five tips, all of which emphasize soft-skills training.

1. Bring in industry experts

Guest lectures can help expose students to diverse perspectives and advice—and the widespread adoption of video conferencing means the possibilities for inviting guest speakers have been blown wide open. Think outside of your own backyard, and consider inviting someone who can describe what a typical role in your profession looks like, whether a colleague or alum. A more intimate chat can help students realize why a particular role may (or may not) be the right fit for them. 

Bringing in guest speakers may also reduce your workload. Jasmine Roberts, a strategic communication lecturer in the School of Communication at The Ohio State University, mixes up guest lectures with group discussions to maintain a lively classroom while reimagining student engagement. Give your students enough time to prepare questions for your guest in advance, and consider using an anonymous discussion board, or social media, to keep the conversation going outside of class.

2. Promote networking and mentorship opportunities

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” goes the old adage, and that may never be more true than during a job search. 

By some estimates, up to 70 percent of jobs (at least) aren’t even advertised, instead being filled by social and professional networks. With positions being snatched before a posting even goes live online, networking can give your students a leg up while helping them gain new information about the industry they want to pursue. These informal interactions can be a welcome byproduct of inviting guest lecturers to class, while co-op placements can further strengthen connections between students and industry professionals.

Networking can often translate to mentorship, too. Educators can fill that role—but according to a Top Hat survey of 3,052 postsecondary students in spring 2021, only 43 percent indicated that they have at least one educator they view as a mentor. Try simple tricks to forge connections with students from day one: arrive to class early to answer any questions students may have, or swap traditional office hours with “Ask Me Anything” sessions.

3. Spotlight your campus’ career resources and diverse course offerings

From job fairs to resumé critiques or cover-letter writing workshops, familiarize yourself with your campus’ career services and highlight them on your syllabus. Consider setting up a discussion board for students to share any additional career-specific resources. 

And help your students become well-rounded learners by encouraging them to take courses outside of your discipline. For example, if you teach a STEM course, encourage students to take an introductory communication or business course to help them develop a marketable skill set—beyond their technical skills—that they need to thrive in any career.

4. Incorporate real-world examples into your course materials

When students see content that they can easily relate to, they’re more likely to retain it. Across your textbook readings, lectures and homework assignments, make sure your examples and case studies reflect real-life events and stories as much as possible.

When it comes to textbooks, digital, interactive books offer a more up-to-date alternative than print. Stephen Buckles, Principal Senior Lecturer of Economics at Vanderbilt University, took advantage of Top Hat’s interactivity and co-authored three digital textbooks in-app. In doing so, he’s also able to intersperse real-world news clips, case studies and articles throughout his text, helping students make relevant connections and further hone their problem-solving skills.

5. Design lesson plans and assignments with soft skills in mind

Our spring 2021 student survey shows that 79 percent of students believe it’s important that their educators create opportunities for them to develop transferable skills such as communication and collaboration. Help students get one step closer to landing their dream career by teaching soft skills through purposeful assignments and activities. Here are some examples to help you hone students’ employability skills.

  • In a business course: Taking the form of a group project, ask students to form a ‘proof of concept’ for a new product of their choice. Group work will help students become effective communicators and critical thinkers, and improve their people skills. This activity will also leave students with something to add to their professional portfolio at the end of your course.
  • In a public-speaking course: Start each class with a few rounds of improv to get students communicating in front of one another. This can even strengthen teamwork and problem solving. Depending on the game, you could ask students an open-ended question and have each ask a question in response to the one before it, going around in a circle.
  • In an arts course: Create an assignment where students redesign their resumés and cover letters. This will help them sharpen their creativity skills, while familiarizing themselves with digital technology tools like Adobe Illustrator or InDesign.

For more strategies on how to support students when returning to campus, download our free guide with 20+ tips from six innovative educators.

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