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Bridging the Soft-Skills Gap: Career Success Courses Teach Valuable Interpersonal Skills

July 23, 2015

Attention, recent college graduates: You probably need some work on a few personal attributes that weren’t covered in the classroom. And there’s a good chance it could be holding you back in your career.

If you want to get ahead in the workplace — or nail an important job interview — brushing up on your “soft skills” could be the smartest career move yet.

Responding to growing frustrations from business executives who say too many recent college graduates are lacking in problem-solving, team-building and other fundamental business skills, UCI Extension has launched a new on-demand program called Career Success that tackles subjects often overlooked in colleges and universities.

“A relatively constant criticism from employers across the country is that new graduates lack certain kinds of skills to enter or succeed in the workforce,” said Gary W. Matkin, UC Irvine’s dean of Continuing Education, Summer Session and Distance Learning. “Skills such as how to get along with people, project management, negotiation, and time management are not addressed in the college curricula but are very crucial to succeeding in a job.”

These skills aren’t taught in most degree programs, Matkin said. That’s why UCI Extension developed a nine-course program that puts grads on the right track and helps them pull ahead of others in job interviews — and on the job, as well.

The free online courses include Communication in the 21st Century Workplace; High-Impact Business Writing; The Art of Negotiation; Finance for Non-Financial Professionals; Work Smarter, Not Harder: Time Management for Personal & Professional Productivity; Fundamentals of Management; Project Management: The Basics for Success; Essentials of Entrepreneurship: Thinking & Action; and Effective Problem-Solving and Decision-Making.

Classes are offered through Coursera, an educational technology company that works with universities to make college-level courses available online.

“Since the program is available on demand, you could join anytime and go at your own pace,” Matkin said. Each class features four to eight hours of videos, reading assignments and quizzes.

UCI Extension’s initiative comes at a critical juncture, as business leaders nationwide decry potential employees’ lack of communication and team-building skills. A Hart Research Associates study on behalf of the Association of American Colleges & Universities found that 85% of employers queried agreedgraduates need to have the ability to effectively communicate orally; 83% agreed graduates need to be able to work in teams; and 81% agreed graduates need to be good critical thinkers and apply analytical reasoning skills.

A recent analysis by the Irvine Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Vitality Council, however, found that jobseekers often lack these attributes.

The Career Success courses turned out to have a broader appeal than originally thought. “We knew that these courses would be attractive to recent grads or entry-level professionals, and they are, but it also turns out that we’re attracting a lot of midcareer folks who are looking to improve on their soft skills,” he said. “An astounding number of people have enrolled.” The program launched in April — and by end of June, has registered nearly 285,000 enrollments.

Although the courses are free, those seeking a certificate pay a $35-per-course fee. The sequence of courses concludes with a capstone assignment designed to apply and showcase the skills students learned from the program.

Matkin said the program will continue to evolve and courses could be added to make sure UCI Extension is meeting the needs of students and the business community.

“The development of these courses is another step UCI Extension is taking to provide relevant coursework that addresses the gap between employer demands and workforce skills,” he added.

– David Ogul, Tribune Content Solutions