Should community college students be assessed on their workplace readiness skills at the same time they are earning a degree? One North Carolina community college is considering it.
College students learn plenty in the years they spend on campus. But do the lessons learned at school prepare them for a professional life after their studies? Maybe not, according to at least one community college, which has plans to give their students a healthy dose of work readiness skills at the same time they are earning their degree.
Workplace Readiness Certificates
Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College has provided students with many of the skills necessary to land jobs in the local workforce. Next year, the school will add a new type of certification to their repertoire – a workplace readiness certificates. Students will earn this certificate by demonstrating “soft skills” that employers tend to look for as well, such as punctuality, teamwork and time management. According to Inside Higher Ed, those skills will also begin to play a role in the grades students earn in some of their classes at the college.
The North Carolina school is leaving nothing to chance as it prepares faculty to evaluate students for the skills employers are looking for. The school has designed a template to assist professors in assessing primary workplace skills, including:
- Communication – use of oral and written skills to clearly communicate thoughts and ideas
- Effort – demonstration of strong work ethic and preparedness for assignments
- Quality of Work – applicable to classroom work and academic performance
- Attendance – ability to manage oneself
- Time Management – punctuality, preparedness, handing in assignments on time
- Professionalism – image put forth by student in terms of actions, appearance and attitude
Professors that choose to incorporate soft skills assessment into their coursework will make these assessments worth approximately eight to 10 percent of a student’s final grade. The assessments will lead to workplace readiness certificates that the school will begin to issue during the next academic year. These certificates will come with explanations for prospective employers, alerting them to the soft skills the student possesses that will be beneficial for any job position. Sue Olesiuk, the dean of academic success for Asheville-Buncombe, told Inside Higher Ed that the new certificates will help students land jobs and the skills learned will help them keep their jobs.
Response to Local Employers
Melissa Quinley, vice president of instructional services at Asheville-Buncombe, told Inside Higher Ed that the idea came in response to some of the feedback received from local employers who have hired previous graduates of the school. Welding companies in North Carolina have told the school that while students have demonstrated competent welding skills on the job, they often arrive to work late. This led to the incorporation of soft skills into degree programs offered by the schools, with many courses deciding to assess the skills in the regular grading system.
These skills tend to be cultivated in students at four-year schools, where orientation may be mandatory and attendance is more closely monitored. However, many community college students tend to be older than the average student at a four-year school, with many coming from the professional world back to academics to pursue a degree program. The assumption has been that the majority of these students may already possess workplace readiness skills when they enter community college. However, experiences reported by employers suggest that assumption may be incorrect.
Opposition to the Plan
While many faculty are onboard with the additional assessments, not everyone is looking forward to the new system, Quinley admitted to Inside Higher Ed. She is confident that in time, the rest of the faculty will come around, since she believes the new soft skills will also improve academic performance for many students. The decision to incorporate the soft skills will rest with the heads of individual departments at the college. However, if a department determines that it will use the new assessments; all the courses in that department will need to fall into line.
Daniel Luzer recently wrote an op-ed piece regarding the new assessments for the Washington Monthly. In his editorial, Luzer noted that the average age for a community college student is 28 – much older than the students attending four-year schools on average. Those adults may not see the need for soft skills assessments – particularly those that have already spent a number of years in the professional world. In addition, while assessing soft skills in programs like nursing might be relatively simple, evaluating those same skills in programs like mathematics or liberal arts might be considerably more challenging.
Other Schools Emphasizing Workplace Readiness
While Asheville-Buncombe may be the first school to provide actual grades and certificates for workplace readiness skills, they are not the only one to emphasize the importance of these skills to their students. Ozarks Technical Community College in Missouri also lists a number of workplace skills students will need to have to be successful in the business world. These skills include:
- Teamwork – ability to support team members and display sense of team commitment
- Work Ethic – responsible for completing work well and on time
- Dependability – sense of follow through so others can count on individual to get job done
- Honesty and Integrity – willingness to admit fault when appropriate
- Flexibility – willingness to change or try new ways of doing things
- Goal Setting – ability to set goals, monitor progress and see them through to the end
The Houston Chronicle also states that these types of skills are sought by employers. In fact, some implement training programs to teach employees these skills. Students that have the ability to hone these skills while they are still in school may have a leg up on the competition after they graduate and head into the workforce.
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