How to Equip Students with Workplace Ready Skills
How to Equip Students with Workplace Ready Skills
Workplace-ready skills are also called soft skills. These include interpersonal and social skills, behaviours, and attitudes.
According to the National Careers Service: ‘Soft skills are general skills that most employers look for when recruiting and are needed for most jobs. They are sometimes called transferable skills or employability skills by employers.’
Whilst young people already have some fixed soft skills, they can further develop them as part of their course. Developing them will help students to interact successfully with their supervisors, seniors, and co-workers, and to feel more engaged in their workplace.
As part of FE courses, students need to be familiarised with a range of workplace skills and have the opportunity to improve any weaker areas. In the following article, I have collected some guidance to help FE teachers equip their students with these vital skills.
Communication skills: Students need to understand that effective communication is a top priority for employers. People with strong communication skills are more likely to be promoted and given more senior responsibilities. Communication skills could enable students to establish a positive reputation within their workplace and to make a genuine difference through their work. Coaching can be an effective way to develop students’ communication skills further. Students often do not realise that they interrupt others, they may avoid eye contact in conversations, and they may not actively listen to others. Teachers could act as coaches, and provide students with some individual feedback in terms of how to polish their communication skills.
Developing effective communication skills is however not a one-off event. It is a skill which needs to be continuously improved throughout our lifetime.
Critical thinking: Critical thinking means not taking things at face value. It means questioning the sources of information, asking searching questions and being able to look at situations from different perspectives. People with strong critical thinking skills avoid jumping to conclusions and instead seek to find reasons. Academic courses often focus on developing students’ critical thinking skills and students are generally aware of how to apply critical thinking in an educational setting. However, most students are not aware that this is a skill which is essential in the workplace. FE teachers and mentors can provide students with some role play activities to help them further develop their critical thinking. When students receive some realistic scenarios, such as a work issue they need to solve, they can practice their response in a safe and non-judgemental classroom environment.
Reflection: An article in the Harvard Business Review suggests that ‘Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning.’
Reflecting on a regular basis helps us to step back from our experiences and learn from the challenges we encounter. Reflection helps us see complex work situations more clearly and to find solutions to difficult situations. Students need to be able to regularly reflect on their work situations and continuously seek learning opportunities. Reflection can be developed via journaling, taking regular walks in nature, and sharing our experiences in a supportive setting e.g. talking to a coach or a mentor.
Journaling allows us to externalise our feelings. It is powerful because we are able to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and look at our circumstances more objectively. As part of the academic journey, teachers can encourage students to start reflecting on their everyday experiences and journaling their feelings. Regular journaling can help students to draw insights from their challenges and to learn from their work experiences.
In addition to journaling, teachers can provide signposting to valuable professional development resources such as podcasts, books and online courses.
Resilience: According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, resilience is the ability to be happy, successful, etc., again after something difficult or bad has happened. Resilience means being able to bounce back from challenging life events. A resilient person is able to regain their mental health, adapt to difficult situations and recover from setbacks. Resilience is essential for students who step into their first jobs. They might experience pressures to meet strict business deadlines, receive challenging feedback on their performance, and at times navigate complex organisational politics.
Emma works in a leading FE College in the Southeast of England. She helps her students develop their employability skills to successfully join the workplace. Emma has recently got her students to develop a Personal Resiliency Plan. She encouraged her students to list 7 strategies they can practice if things got difficult at work. Some students listed strategies such as discussing challenges with their parents and their mentor, journaling their feelings or engaging in physical activities.
Time management: Many students do not realise how important time management is in the workplace. Employers expect staff members to arrive on time, to take their breaks in a timely manner, and avoid clock-watching. Students also need to be aware of who to phone if they face unforeseen events on the way to work (such as delays due to unusually heavy traffic).
The college environment can provide some helpful opportunities for developing students’ time management. Teachers and mentors can set ‘classroom rules’. Arriving at college on time and returning from breaks promptly are skills which can be easily transferred to the workplace. Meeting assignment submission deadlines can lead to students’ ability to respect workplace deadlines and meet these successfully.
Teachers can also introduce helpful time management techniques such as the Pomodoro technique as part of the lessons. According to the Pomodoro method, you would break your study time up to 25 minutes-long intervals and follow it with a 5-minute break. This approach can help students to become more focused, organised and productive on a daily basis.
Many people would agree that developing some workplace skills can be harder than learning technical skills. However, these soft skills can be useful in different workplace settings. People can enjoy the benefits of strong soft skills for the rest of their working life.