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How to develop the soft skills employers look for

The age-old college major dilemma: Choose something you love or something that will get you a job? Many students interested in a liberal arts background and the humanities fear declaring a major without a paved career path. After all, getting a job post-grad is the goal, right?

But according to LinkedIn’s latest Global Talent Trends report, a background in liberal arts could be what sets graduates apart from the competition. The report stresses the importance of "soft skills" for new employees, and liberal arts grads have what they're looking for.

Unlike hard skills, which are often job-specific and quantifiable, like writing code or speaking a foreign language, soft skills are harder to define and even harder to evaluate. 

LinkedIn says poor soft skills contribute to 89 percent of bad hires, even when new employees have the required tech skills. 

While these human-focused skills have always been important, the rise of automation and artificial intelligence has made them essential. 

Companies say they need employees with soft skills like creativity, persuasion, collaboration and adaptability, but they struggle to find them. The good news? These skills are all fundamental elements of a liberal arts education.

Courses focused on reading, writing, analysis and discussion encourage students to listen with respect, seek understanding and foster creativity. In turn, students think critically, present effective arguments and operate from a place of empathy. 

While these human-focused skills have always been important, the rise of automation and artificial intelligence has made them essential. 

But that doesn't mean college students should forgo hard skills and career prep courses altogether. 

"We are passionate about showing students they can pursue any career path with the right experience and the right preparation."

Rebecca Marion-Flesch

At Augustana, career coaches in CORE provide balance through career readiness assessments. Using the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Career Readiness Guide, coaches help students prepare for life after Augustana, and track their progress while in college.

By assessing for technical and interpersonal skills, CORE also helps students see gaps in their skill set that may hinder their ability to land (and keep) a job.

The CORE office looks for a student's completion of nine college learning outcomes: disciplinary knowledge, critical thinking and information literacy, quantitative literacy, collaborative leadership, intercultural competency, communication competency, creative thinking, ethical citizenship and intellectual curiosity.

An Augustana liberal arts education develops these skills in all students, no matter what major they choose — whether in the arts, humanities, sciences or pre-professional programs.

"We are passionate about showing students they can pursue any career path with the right experience and the right preparation," says Rebecca Marion-Flesch, a career coach in CORE. "The career readiness assessment helps students understand their existing skills and areas for improvement. We also have discussions around transferable skills and how they can leverage their experiences to enter the workforce."

Rapid changes in technology aren't likely to slow down soon, which means technical skills alone won't be enough for future grads. But adaptability, creativity and empathy will always be valuable, and a background in the liberal arts ensures Augustana students have what it takes to be robot-proof. 

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