Kusick: Academia’s lack of emphasis on soft skills yields unprepared workforce

I am a staunch supporter of a diverse, liberal education. The open curriculum at Geneseo allows and encourages a dizzying variety of scholarship. Geneseo offers classes in everything from biology, Spanish, English, chemistry, physics, math, music and politics to theater.

To broadly learn critical thinking, every student must take the Humanities sequence and classes from each of the spheres of academia. Yet, students are also expected to know critical professional skills that determine their success after graduation. How does one construct a curriculum vitae? What does a graduate school or job interview involve and what kind of “thank you” letter should be sent after? Every graduate needs to know this––it’s astonishing that Humanities I and II are obligatory courses while resume writing is not. The same holds true for specific disciplines. Grant-writing is part of the daily life of a researcher, but I’m three years into my biology major and I’ve never heard it mentioned in a classroom setting.

These practical skills are formulaic to a certain degree; they wouldn’t be hard to teach. Soft skills can be just as important as problem solving and critical thinking.

They come naturally to some people. For the introverted academic, however, it is easy to dismiss interpersonal skills––“emotional intelligence”––as concerns of personal life. That is what secondary school and college admissions teach us.

“Success” lies just beyond a series of filters that pass or reject based a list of accolades. “Leadership” is just a category of accolade, and we never learn how to become a leader. After graduation, the ability to get along with colleagues and appeal to superiors more often separates the haves from the have-nots.

If aptitude and grit can’t replace charm and know-how, schools are sending out some brilliant students that are destined to fail because they don’t know how to operate in a professional environment. It is a loss for the companies and institutions that do not notice the potential of employees that spend all of their time working instead of getting themselves noticed.

In some ways, Geneseo is the exception to the rule. I’ve had the good fortune of taking a workshop on competitive applications and writing personal statements, but it is a class of eight students. On a broader scale, the school’s Geneseo Opportunities for Leadership Development program offers a chance to develop crucial pragmatic interpersonal and leadership skills. Business administration majors are required to take a series of GOLD workshops, adhering to the widespread misconception that only they need to be able to schmooze and market themselves. It should be obligatory for every student. Until then, it is each individual’s responsibility to become a go-getter.

Some students dread writing an essay less than writing an email, and speaking with people can be more difficult than lecturing at them. To those who feel this way: remember that slaving away in monkish isolation isn’t the solution to all problems. Outside the world of ideas and critical thought, there is a world of personal interaction and soft skills that is impossible to escape. You may as well learn how to thrive in it.