(Dallas) – Some digital media students at Eastfield College may have thought that just knowing how to use a computer to design graphics would be enough to get a job. However, industry groups in North Texas and around the country say that they are struggling to find employees who have soft skills – those intangible assets, such as communication and critical thinking, which help workers become more productive.
A recent study by professional networking company Linkedin.com found that “soft skills are increasingly crucial” for job-seekers. According to the report, 59 percent of the hiring managers they polled found it “difficult” to find workers with soft skills. In addition, 58 percent said the lack of soft skills has limited “their company’s productivity.”
The LinkedIn.com study revealed that some of the most in-demand soft skills are communication, teamwork, punctuality and critical thinking, and teaching those skills has become an essential component in classrooms across Dallas County Community College District campuses.
Alan Pedraza, a digital media student who is finishing his last semester at Eastfield, said he is by nature very quiet. He also knows that to work in the design industry, he must be able to communicate and work as a team member to improve his effectiveness.
“Since I was a kid and all through high school, I wouldn’t talk to anyone, and I just kept to myself,” Pedraza said. “But I found out in my first job while I was in high school that I had to learn to communicate with others.”
Slowly, Pedraza has shed some of his shyness. Last summer he had an internship with the media department at Eastfield, where he had the opportunity to work on his design skills.
“I had to communicate with the rest of the supervisors. I would do the logos and animations and turn them in, and then I had to describe what they were,” Pedraza explained. “I think it has to do with confidence. If you’re not confident, then you don’t think you can do it.”
David Danforth, digital media program director at Eastfield, said students in his classes have to present and sell their work in front of other students.
“A lot of them are not comfortable doing that. We tell them, as graphic designers, that they have to defend their work,” said Danforth. “If they’re talking with a client, and the client has an idea but it’s not a good idea, they have to find a way to approach the issue. They can’t just say, ‘No, that idea sucks,’ because that client is going to walk away and find someone who thinks his idea is a good one.”
Danforth explained that the program instituted softs skills, in addition to the technical aspects of digital media, based on industry needs.
“We have an advisory committee that meets once a year with us, and they tell us every time, ‘They know the software. They know design. But it’s the communication skills they are lacking,’” Danforth said.
“I think it might be generational. Millennials don’t talk much to each other. They’re used to texting. They’re used to emailing each other or ‘snapchatting’ each other,” added Danforth, who also cautioned that it’s important for Eastfield’s faculty and older students to adapt to millennials’ style.
“At some point, everybody is going to end up working with people from that younger generation, and you can’t just tell them they have to do it this way or that way. What happens if you try to get a job and your boss is a millennial – and that person wants to communicate with you in a certain way? You might be 50 years old, so you have to adjust to that style,” Danforth explained.
Gemmy Allen, a business management faculty member at North Lake College, said the advisory committee for her program recently told the college that local businesses wanted students to acquire soft skills in addition to the hard skills they already were learning.
“In the past, people trained on the job, or businesses expected colleges to train new employees. But now, for example, we also have to explain to students why punctuality is important to productivity,” Allen said.
Oslynn Williams, digital media instructor at Eastfield, said he teaches that the concept of timeliness is important in the business world.
“We emphasize not only communication but also how to meet deadlines. We apply logic and creativity to solve problems,” Williams said. “Soft skills can make you or break you in a job interview.”
Preston Pope, who expects to graduate in December with a degree in digital media, said he thought all he had to do was learn how to use a computer to create graphics and that he would get a job.
“I’ve learned the hard way that you do need to communicate with people,” Pope said. “I never told teachers about the issues I was having in some classes, and that set me back. Now I’ve learned, in digital media, that people have to communicate and solve problems together to put a product out.”
Emylee Lucas, who expects to graduate with an associate degree in digital media in May 2017, said no one has specifically used the words “soft skills,” but some instructors have taught the top issues mentioned in the Linkedin.com study.
“I have done some job interviews where they asked about my hard skills,” she said. “But they also wanted to know about my interpersonal experiences. They wanted to make sure I could work well with other employees and with customers.”
“Soft skills are intangibles,” North Lake’s Allen added. “A lot of the tests we give are just about what’s in the textbooks, and the students are just repeating it. They’re not coming up with something new. With soft skills, they learn critical thinking: how to help to solve a problem.
“They think they can do the job with technical requirements, but we tell them they have to get along with people, such as the boss and their peers, and they have to act like professionals and have interpersonal skills. Those types of things are never tested for in school,” said Allen.
Juan Serrano, who also is studying digital media at Eastfield, said he wants to start his own business in graphic design and photography, and he has been working in music distribution. As a result, he has learned how to talk to people like promoters and venue owners.
“I have a sales mentality,” Serrano said. “I know when to talk ‘slang’ with my friends and when to speak professionally.”
Michael Cooley, dean of the construction program at North Lake, said his program does not offer a specific course on soft skills, but they are incorporated in all of his courses. Those skills include technical writing, speech and communication, and they are – in addition to the academic classes – required for an associate degree.
Soft skills are in such high demand that they are taught to future chefs enrolled in the Food and Hospitality Institute at El Centro College. Steve DeShazo, director of the program, said those skills are sprinkled throughout the curriculum.
“Soft skills are fully embodied in our co-operative education classes, which comprise the capstone for all of our associate degrees. We teach them so that students can go out and have a successful career,” DeShazo said.