Posted on: February 24, 2021

The skills college graduates need that most people don’t talk about

The skills college graduates need that most people don’t talk about

Last week, I highlighted the findings of a survey we did with our Corporate Advisory Council, a group of business leaders who help shape our curriculum and student experience.

They helped us discover which power skills – those abilities that are universally applicable no matter the job or industry – are most valued across their diverse industries and positions. These ranged from critical thinking and problem solving to empathy and conflict resolution.

Though we’re on the right path, there were other findings that have helped us reorient where we’re headed. We asked the CAC to identify any additional power skills that had not been included in the initial list. Interestingly, there were a number of responses that were echoed by many on the Council – giving additional legitimacy to the identified competencies.

They made us aware of five additional competencies that we might’ve completely ignored had we not asked, another testament to their place in making FXUA a relevant and successful university.

These are the five identified power skills, along with how FXUA addresses them:

Enhanced communication skills

Communication, as an existing power skill, was an already-identified power skill that was ranked as the fourth most important ability in the survey we did. However, several CAC members identified predominant sub-skills that they wanted to highlight separately, which we’ve labeled as enhanced communication skills. They are:

  • An ability to listen; tolerating another person’s opinion
  • Strong client and customer-facing interaction skills
  • Being able to read the organizational culture for cues on how to act and interact with other employees and supervisors
  • Following through on promises made
  • Influencing skills

These are all a subset of skills utilized by traditional management consultants. To accommodate, the FXUA curriculum has a consulting capstone project that allows students to learn and leverage these and other consulting skills.

In addition, FXUA is exploring the idea of creating a Consulting Club operated out of the Student Success Department. Not all of our students will or have to embody a consulting lifestyle, but the skills learned here have great transferability into any corporate endeavor.

Communication agility

Being able to communicate effectively is one thing, but being able to adapt to the style of communication utilized by different generational players is another. Organizations may lack the awareness of such nuance and send out singular messages on a static platform, creating a positive response with one group but missing the mark with another. Someone with communication agility recognizes that each generation has a different basis for communication means and content understanding, so they’re able to adapt to the audiences they’re dealing with.

This was a new finding for FXUA, so we are now in the process of incorporating it as part of the organizational agility power skill in our competency programs.

Initiative

Curiosity, experimentation, innovation, self-awareness, autonomous critical thinking. These were some of the ways that initiative was labeled during our interviews. In the end, the common idea was the ability to take measured chances in a way that improves productive output – an act that has been in short supply during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The core goals of our “Learning to Be” curriculum are self-fulfillment and social performance; initiative is a primary factor for a student to achieve them. We argue a wide range of learning experiences contribute to and support the development of initiative, which is why we’re emphasizing experiential learning – learning from doing, as opposed to just from memorization, tests, and PowerPoints.

We know someone has learned when they can now take actions that weren’t available prior to their learning experience. That’s why we’ve also identified and implemented several course skills related to initiative including passion and persistence, confidence, advocacy, activism, and creativity.

Technology proficiency and utilization of capability

Employers don’t just want someone who knows how to type or use a select few programs. They want someone who is proficient with technology and can maximize the utilization of the entire and relatable technology spectrum.

While teaching technology proficiency may be outside the realm of any university, the ability to communicate future and predicted changes is something FXUA can take on.

More specifically, we’re considering incorporating the services of a Chief Technology Officer, an individual who provides a predictive and futuristic application of anticipated new technologies and their possible impact on business. Once a year, FXUA would produce a paper and offer a webinar on a predicted technology, and we’d look at the impact of potential career paths when new technologies are introduced through our Student Success Department.

Strategic/future thinking

CAC members, and certainly all employers, desire someone who can look at possible scenarios of outcomes based on events of today and tomorrow.

Fortunately, our Learning to Be curriculum emphasizes this skill in two core courses:

  • Designing a Life of Possibilities – Concepts, Tools, and Processes of Thinking
  • Designing a Life of Possibilities – Career Planning and Leadership

Both courses emphasize the theories of thinking and their applications to individual performance and career and organization success. It will also be incorporated into the business curriculum through courses on business strategy.

Conclusion

Several CAC members identified design thinking, a service mindset, and coaching as other necessary power skills for any employee. We agree, so we’ve already incorporated them into our new curriculum.

I share these findings knowing that these aren’t the normal skills discussed in higher education but are still valuable like the rest. It’s a testament to the need for input from business leaders in higher education, so that universities can be exposed to insights we otherwise might miss.

About Zeeshan Malik

Zeeshan MalikZeeshan Malik is the Director of Marketing at the Fairfax University of America. His background includes working across 41 countries to launch international campuses abroad, public-private partnerships between top tier universities and education management firms, and consult for universities and independent organizations in their startup phase.
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