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The Skills College Graduates Need for White-Collar Jobs

During a recent career fair, an HR head of one of the multinational companies in attendance shared a valuable nugget of wisdom to the applicants on hand. “When we graduate, we think our time to study and learn is over. The best part of working is that you continue to learn. Working is the beginning of another university. Enjoy learning because this is how you grow. Enjoy being a lifelong learner,” she said.

Depending on one’s perspective after reading this article by the Wall Street Journal’s Douglas Belkin, such piece of advice may be viewed as comforting and encouraging or a stern warning to aspirants, employers, and employees alike. Belkin details the results of an exam called the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus that, once you’ve digested its findings, may encourage readers that the lifelong learner route is an essential option to take. The reason lies below:

Four in 10 U.S. college students graduate without the complex reasoning skills to manage white-collar work, according to the results of a test of nearly 32,000 students.

The Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus measures the intellectual gains made between freshman and senior year. The test doesn’t cover subject-area knowledge; rather it assesses things like critical thinking, analytical reasoning, document literacy, writing and communication—essentially mimicking the baseline demands for professionals.

No matter what area code you are in while looking for work, we now know why skills such as critical thinking, communication, and problem solving are important. “But how does this affect me? It’s a US-based study!” one might add. But wait! Interestingly, a 2012 study by the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP) shares that four of ten fresh graduates and young job seekers are not hired due to the lack of three key qualities — critical thinking, initiative, and effective communication skills. “Firms across various industries consider those three qualities as ‘soft competencies’ job seekers must possess to get hired,” said PMAP director for academe-industry linkages Gigi Alcasid. Sensing a pattern here? It’s not just a U.S. thing.

As far as wake-up calls go, this may be a pretty loud one. The findings add weight to perhaps the most important factor why applicants remain in the unemployment line, and it’s not necessarily because they came from a certain school. A cause for concern? It depends on one’s disposition. The best attitude to take right here, right now, regardless if one has a dearth of soft skills or not, is to take on the hard work of building these skills one step at a time and to focus on highlighting these competencies during the job interview and eventually, at work. It’s better than being too hard on yourself, right?

Critical thinking exercise: What are your personal soft skills that need to be developed further? What is your plan for improvement?  Discuss. You can also share in the comments section below.
Image By: Tomasz Stasiuk