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Highlighting the Value of Human Skills in Higher Ed.

A brief look at how human skills help capture the value of the college experience

October 22, 2020 by Remie Verougstraete

In the discussion about skills, hard or technical skills (like programming languages or accounting concepts) tend to get most of the attention. But research continues to show that businesses value human skills (also known as soft skills, 21st century skills, etc.) at least as much as their hard/technical counterparts, even during economic downturns like the one we’re in currently. 

For colleges and universities, this presents an opportunity to highlight how the unique learning experiences your institution provides can help students develop these essential skills. For example, an environmental science degree may include long-term, collaborative fieldwork that fosters human skills like “Teamwork,” “Communications,” and “Project Planning” in addition to deepening students’ technical domain knowledge in areas like “Soil Science” or “Watershed Management.” Of course, COVID may hamper such experiences for the moment, but many institutions are already finding ways to improvise and adapt until these invaluable learning activities can resume.

As with technical skills, there’s a particular way that employers and job seekers often talk about these human skills. Emsi’s open skills library captures and catalogues these terms so that institutions can apply this insight to their own curriculum and course descriptions (otherwise known as skillifying). As a result, colleges and universities can identify where these skills are taught in their programs. Just as important, they can help learners recognize and articulate this important aspect of their education, in the language of the labor market.

Case study: The value of study abroad skills in the U.S. job market

Access the free report at NAFSA.org

A recent report from NAFSA provides a real-life example of how human skills can help capture the value of an otherwise hard-to-quantify learning experience. In partnership with Emsi, NAFSA identified relevant “soft skills” (e.g. Adaptability, Creativity, Prioritization) and “global skills” (e.g. Culturally Sensitive, Foreign Language, Intercultural Communication) that students develop through a study abroad experience. Emsi then mapped these skills to employer demand in the U.S. as exhibited through job postings.

The compelling findings demonstrate how study abroad experiences not only enrich students’ lives, but also make them more competitive in the job market by fostering key skills that employers value. You can access the NAFSA report for free to see for yourself!

Technically human, humanly technical

As skill-based approaches to education and hiring continue to go mainstream, it’s important to maintain a holistic perspective that values both the technical and human aspects of learning and work. After all, as Emsi and Strada have pointed out before, human skills play an important role in work readiness by enabling learners to transfer their knowledge from domain to domain in the face of job obsolescence, and to learn new skills over the course of their working lives. Highlighting these critical skills in course and program descriptions is a key way for institutions to communicate the value of the education they provide, in the classroom and beyond.

Want to learn more about translating your academic programs and experiences into the shared language of skills? Fill out the form below and we’ll connect with you soon to answer questions and explore how our data can help.

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