Graduates from the CALS at the University of Arizona are technically competent, but insufficiently prepared in some important broader skills required for career success. This has been the feedback from employers (including government and nongovernmental organizations), internship supervisors, and graduate programs and is common across American higher education as reported by Chamorro-Premuzic et al. (2010), Evers et al. (1998), and Grugulis and Vincent (2009). This feedback tells us that we are doing well at training our students technically, but our graduates require more training in communications, critical thinking/problem solving, and leadership/management to be competitive in the job market. Matteson et al. (2016) noted that in the literature these skill sets are called “people skills,” “human skills,” “interpersonal skills,” “teamwork skills,” “management skills,” and most often “soft skills.” Because of their long-term importance to each student’s employment options and career success, we refer to them as “career skills.”
The concept of career skill development is not new to higher education and accrediting agencies. For example, the American Society for Engineering Education and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education have encouraged it for quite some time (Zhang, 2012). These skills are important, but not the emphasis of curricula. Our curricula already have the maximum number of courses to fill a 4-year program covering the technical skills required for an academic field. Requiring additional courses to cover career skills is not the answer given the rapid escalation in the cost of tuition and associated pressures to reduce the time to complete a degree.
There is no widely accepted set of career skills (Hurrell et al., 2012). For instance, Robles (2012), ranked (from most important to least important): integrity, communication, courtesy, responsibility, interpersonal skills, professionalism, positive attitude, teamwork skills, flexibility, and work ethic. Grugulis and Vincent (2009) list: communication, problem solving, teamwork, and ability to improve personal learning and performance, motivation, judgement, leadership, and initiative.
Chamorro-PremuzicT.ArtecheA.BremnerA.J.GrevenC.FurnhamA.2010Soft skills in higher education: Importance and improvement ratings as a function of individual differences and academic performanceEduc. Psychol. Intl. J. Expt. Educ. Psychol.30221241
EversF.T.RushJ.C.BerdrowI.1998The bases of competence: Skills for lifelong learning and employability. Jossey-Bass San Francisco CA
HurrellS.A.ScholariosD.ThompsonP.2012More than a “Humpty Dumpty” term: Strengthening the conceptualization of soft skillsEcon. Ind. Democracy34161182