Educational institutions play a crucial role in helping students of all ages prepare for the world of work. In addition to the grounding they receive early on in both hard and soft skills, many choose to pursue higher education to help prepare them for a career in their chosen field of study. However, the world of work changes constantly and rapidly, and the curricula offered by educational institutions don’t always cover evolving trends.
So what kind of knowledge should educational institutions offer to better prepare graduates for the new working world? We asked the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust about some often-overlooked subjects or skills that would help students as they enter the modern workforce. Here are the skills they believe students should hone while they’re still in school.
1. STEM subjects
The critical skills necessary for even basic 21st-century jobs and lifelong security involve some level of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) literacy. The pivotal, life-altering decision to advance those skills must be made in middle school; if you’ve waited until high school to engage student interest, you’ve waited too long. Schools should incorporate STEM activities in elementary school. – Paula Grisanti, National Stem Cell Foundation
2. Critical thinking
Today, information is at our fingertips. By using an intentional approach to critically think about things we see and hear, we are less susceptible to misinformation, stagnant personal growth and manipulation. More critical thinking leads to a more “common-sense,” thoughtful approach to solving problems. – Kenneth Croston, Electronic Locksmith, Inc.
3. Time management
Today’s students would be better prepared to enter the workforce if there was a class taught on time management. Being disciplined with your time is an important skill, as is developing ways to focus on those tasks that are high in priority in favor of those tasks that are lower in priority. – Anita Kiehl-Quarles, A. Quarles CPA, PLLC
I believe educational institutions need to do a better job of teaching core problem-solving skills. My children come home with a lot of assignments that require rote memorization. In the business world, there are many problems and situations to solve that don’t have obvious solutions. The more practice students can get solving different problems, the better prepared they will be for the workforce. – Matt Rosen, Allata
A hard skill all students should learn is marketing. No matter the industry, clients must be acquired, and who better to recruit new clients than your own family of employees? From a soft skill perspective, students must learn how to problem-solve. The employees who stand out the most to me are the ones who say, “We have this problem, but here is a solution I have come up with to fix it.” – Shannon Laine, HealthWorks! Kids’ Museum St. Louis
6. Business basics
I have a student in college now and an often-overlooked approach is real business scenarios that students can work through to show their creativity. There are wasted resources in areas and classes that will not impact a future employee or potential owner of a business. Fostering a true understanding of the core basics of business and not just the theories is often missed. – Phil Gibson, CatylystOne
7. Teamwork and collaboration
Work is all about collaboration with people, both in person and virtually. It’s important for educational institutions to foster teamwork and communication and to teach students how to set mutually agreed-upon team goals at the beginning of a project. An individualized approach to work will not take an employee far unless they are trained to be a team player first and then, eventually, a team leader. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising
8. Written communication
Students should master communication skills, particularly in written form. The ability to convey information persuasively is an essential component of any business relationship. Whether you’re writing an introductory business letter, an informational email or intriguing website copy, the ability to employ proper grammar, syntax and punctuation is critical in creating effective written communication. – Robert Antes, TradeTrans Corp.
9. Public speaking
The Speech 101 class that I took in college had a big impact on me — in business, on stage, in church and in the boardroom. The challenge today is that many people have grown accustomed to virtual communication via texting or social posting. Gone are the experiences of a phone conversation or getting up in front of others and sharing thoughts. Get a leg up on your peers and take Speech 101. – Keith Woods, KB Woods Public Relations
A basic psychology course — including current best thinking on personality typing and understanding the different preferences and skill sets of colleagues and teams — would help, as would a course on the history of how politics influences business. As global history repeats itself both politically and in our public health crisis, it’s important to learn from and not repeat mistakes of the past. – Cheryl Williams, Hudgins Williams Associates
Sales is something that needs a lot more focus in school. It has been 20 years since I was in business school, but we didn’t have a single class on sales. This has always struck me as odd. Sales is the lifeblood of any company, no matter the business. Even if somebody doesn’t directly work in sales, the skills learned from it will come in very handy when it comes to career advancement. – Ben Buzbee, Today’s RDH
Empathy, often considered a soft skill, is key to success in the workforce. With different demographics all competing for similar positions, understanding where someone else is coming from can be a game-changer. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management
As the world evolves into a hybrid of technology blended with everything else, people who understand the basics of technology will find themselves at the top of the workforce. Coding will be as essential in the next 20 years as basic word processing programs became over the last 20 years. – Brock Berry, AdCellerant
Finance — both business and personal — should be taught to every student. Understanding how money is made by organizations and what you need to do to manage your personal finances are skills that will help you succeed in any career. – Laura Doehle, Elevation Business Consulting
15. Real-world experience
Real-life training and application of education is the missing link in many educational environments. As important as it is to hone your skills in time management, working with others, setting goals, achieving your benchmarks, etc., it is equally important to have real-world experience in your area of study so you know what lies ahead and you can be better prepared. – Merrill Stewart, Marketing & Business Solutions LLC