Recently, LinkedIn’s Learning blog reported on their research into the top skills (out of the 50,000 they’ve found to exist!). When I read the post (which was basically advertising for their online learning platform), I couldn’t help but notice that Communication Studies teaches most of the soft skills mentioned and even a few of the hard skills. Creativity, persuasion, collaboration, and adaptability are all taught in multiple classes for the Communication Studies degree. I want to stress the term “taught” in that last sentence, because these skills may be developed indirectly in other majors and experiences, but Communication Studies is one of the few places where you are taught how to effectively work in groups collaboratively (rather than just being assigned to work in a group), where you are taught theories of persuasion (rather than just being told, “sell me on an idea”), where you are taught about fostering creative thinking and encouraged to look at things in new and different ways and where you are taught about audience analysis and adapting to that analysis. The time-management skill was the only one that isn’t directly taught in our classes as part of the curriculum, but I believe that any college experience is teaching students (by try-or-die at times) that skill.
I have heard a number of people saying “sure companies want soft skills, but they want them in combination with hard skills not without them,” when discussing skills or majors. This may be true in some high tech professions such as engineering, IT, etc., but I think there is still a call for all of those professionals to have the skills to communicate well. So, why don’t we spend more time “teaching” these skills to students, from K-12 through college? I believe that part of it stems from that assumption that because we are always communicating, we don’t need to actually teach people how to communicate. But, I believe our current society is an example of what happens when we spend too much time teaching people “hard” skills without correlating it with instruction on how to get along with others, be supportive, deal with conflict, and persuade instead of coercing. “Might makes right” or “lie as long as you don’t get caught” have too long been an acceptable means of getting others to do what you want/need them to do. But, without instruction as to what the ethical and healthy alternatives are, people model what they see work for others.
So, I’m glad that LinkedIn has recognized the need for these skills, but I would ask why we need to be paying high dollar amounts to enroll in online learning platforms to teach us skills that should be included in every curriculum across America, K-12 and beyond? Is anyone asking that question? We used to have an Oral Communication standard in K-12, but it was done away with as budgets became tight and the focus was put squarely on test performance (we don’t have verbal testing). We have an incredibly minimal general education requirement for Oral Communication at the college level. Most take one class and that is it. And often-times, the one major that has a focus on communication, Communication Studies, is chided as the “easy major” or the major for extroverts only. Until we begin to recognize that one single class in our 16-year educational experience is not enough to teach people the skills they need to succeed, we will continue to be asked or forced to pay for these supplemental trainings after college graduation.