For Generation Z, student success looks drastically different than it did with previous generations. Workforce readiness has been a buzzword in higher ed over the last year—and rightfully so. A Harvard University study recently found that 85 percent of entry-level job success is tied to a candidate’s soft skills.1 In your own classroom, start by connecting the dots for students between their assessments, the skills fostered throughout their learning process and, most importantly, how they might position these skills when interviewing for their first major job.
Help your students thrive post-graduation and land their dream jobs by placing greater emphasis on five key skills in your course.
Skills to promote workforce readiness
Going directly from the classroom to the workforce isn’t easy. Students must show that they’re responsible, diligent and can oversee several projects at once with a high degree of efficiency. Students are encouraged to hone their project and time management skills and approach all scenarios with respect and dignity.
Example (Arts majors): Create an assignment where students redesign their resumés and cover letters. This will help them sharpen their project management skills, while familiarizing themselves with digital technology tools like Adobe Illustrator or InDesign.
Communication skills are a core part of workforce readiness. Whether it’s communicating via code or presenting solutions to a client, students need to effectively convey their ideas using digestible language and supporting aids. In the corporate world, presenting ideas, providing project updates and making the case for investments are often a day-to-day occurrence. With a little creativity, there are endless opportunities to get students to put their verbal and written communication skills to practice.
Example (Biology majors): Ask students to submit a podcast episode on a course concept of their choosing, such as the stages of mitosis. Encourage students to discuss their topic in two minutes or less, prompting them to think creatively and critically about how to illustrate the most important points.
Collaboration and teamwork
The majority of jobs involve working with others to share knowledge and address a business need. The adage, ‘you’re only as strong as the weakest link,’ holds true here. Give students the opportunity to learn from one another, take on varying roles within groups (i.e. not just being a notetaker in every group project) and demonstrate cooperation and initiative when working with others.
Example (Public Speaking majors): 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.
Do you search for a solution to a problem immediately or pause to collect as much information as possible and ask peers for their opinions? Risk assessment, data analysis and collaboration are all core tenets of this soft skill. Students make sound decisions by objectively reviewing several sources of information.
Example (Business majors): 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.
Empathy, integrity, care. It’s what goes into learning with an emotionally intelligent lens. Students are able to recognize and manage their own emotions and influence the emotions of others. In the workplace, students may need to put their emotions aside in order to resolve conflicts, coach and motivate their peers and create a culture of collaboration. Practicing giving critical feedback to a friend in class, for example, could be a great way for students to build up this skill.
Example (English majors): Have students grade each other’s essays using a rubric that ensures they are evaluating students on fair criteria. The process of peer-grading will promote collaboration and teamwork as well as emotional intelligence—making sure students give empathetic feedback that focuses on growth as opposed to shortcomings.
Class activities to support workforce readiness
Nurturing the five skills above will do wonders in helping students prepare for their first job out of school. Aside from skill development, there are several other tactics you might use to make learning more applicable and relevant to the professional aspirations of your students.
1. Bring in industry experts
Guest lectures can help expose students to diverse perspectives and advice—and video conferencing software means the possibilities for inviting guest speakers have been blown wide open. 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. To help bridge the gap between your classroom and the workplace, consider inviting a past student to deliver a guest lecture. In addition, you might spotlight job fairs occurring on campus or in your city for students to attend and expand their network.
3. Spotlight your campus’ career resources
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. You might consider incentivizing students to attend a writing workshop offered on campus by giving them an extra point or two on an assignment if they can prove their attendance.
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. Stephen Buckles, Principal Senior Lecturer of Economics at Vanderbilt University, did just this when the GameStop stock saga made headlines in January 2021. By incorporating this case study into his Top Hat textbook, he was able to make explicit connections between his course material and the world beyond his course. Buckles also added stories exploring the effects of COVID-19 on employment, income and prices—especially captivating for students who were watching these stories unfold in real time.
- Essential Job Readiness Skills That Every Graduate Needs To Develop. (n.d.). GradSiren. https://www.gradsiren.com/career-advice/essential-job-readiness-skills-graduate-needed/