The false divide between what the “real world” needs and what we teach

I am a speech teacher–that is my academic background, public speaking is the course I have taught most often, and despite the fact that students generally dislike or even fear public speaking (google “public speaking and fear of death” sometime), I thoroughly enjoy teaching speech and helping students become better speakers.

That is why articles such as the one that appeared in last week’s Inside Higher Education resonate with me. The author noted that, once again, in meeting with potential employers of students, what those employers really need are graduates who have the abilities we emphasize in a traditional liberal education–the ability to communicate accurately and effectively, the ability to think and analyze, and the ability to solve problems.

Those of us in the education business are often told that we are not preparing our students for the “real world.” You can find any number of articles that talk about a skills gap for college graduates entering the workplace.

Yet when employers are specifically asked what they want, and what they mean by “skills gap,” what comes to the top are not the specific skills for a specific job, but instead the broad-based skills we spend most of our time teaching our students–how to read, analyze, problem-solve and communicate.

So where is the gap?

The longer I have been in education, the more I tend to believe that we do best for our students when we help them master (not just learn once) the needed skills for their future–whether in additional education or in the workplace. Education is not a one and done phenomenon, and I truly do believe that we do best when we prepare our students to learn how to learn, and to keep on learning once they leave us. Those are the skills our students need and those are the skills the future employers of our students desire–and those are very clearly at the heart of what we teach. We may call it general education or UCC (we may even use the (to me) somewhat disgusting term “soft skills”), but we do teach this–and maybe we need to emphasize these skills a little bit more.

On a specific note related to this issue, I look forward to our implementation of our UCC Assessment Plan, so we can see where we are doing well in teaching these skills and where we need to do more.