Cummings: Communication courses necessary

Kelsey Cummings

As deadlines for summer internships come to a close and employers begin the interviewing process for summer and fall positions, many current college students and recent college grads are left clueless as to how they have failed yet again to get hired. Yet even with a college education and an emphasis on specific job-related skills, today’s young adults might not be qualified enough for most employers. Many studies are concluding that students are lacking communication skills — skills they need in order to be sufficiently prepared for the workplace.

A simple Google search will indicate how popular searches like “what do employers look for” and “what to put on my resume” are within the job hunting community. But today’s generation either isn’t putting the right keywords on their resume or simply don’t have the skills that businesses want. One Time magazine reporter explains that what most college students today are lacking are “soft skills,” or skills that can be applied to any job. In fact, she cites a survey which says that “more than 60 percent of employers say applicants lack ‘communication and interpersonal skills.’” Additionally, employers are seeing less motivation, punctuality, flexibility and appropriate appearances in today’s applicants.

If students are unable to navigate a typical office environment employers are much less likely to consider them, says one CNBC article. According to the same article, three quarters of employers believe college students are not ready for the workplace. Instead of focusing on complicated skills in order to stand out from the pack, students need to work on their basic communication skills to impress potential employers. And with adults aged 18-34 making up half of America’s 10.9 million unemployed, they need to work on them soon.

But how does one go about instilling basic soft skills into a generation of students used to communicating by abbreviated text talk? If job-specific knowledge and skills are taught in students’ chosen fields of study then the soft skills they are not being taught need to be taken care of in some other way. It is possible that the decision to take technical communication courses could be left up to the students, but they are likely to choose courses that they find more interesting or that fit better with their schedule. Given the necessity of communication skills in the workplace and colleges’ desire to see their students find jobs quickly, it would seem that technical communication courses should become a requirement for every major.

Most degrees do not provide a sufficient amount of communication-related coursework in their plans. While just about every major will require students to become proficient in essay writing and reading reflections, rarely will a major provide enough real world work-related communication assignments such as reports, proposals, memos and even proper emails. Even for English majors, students whose main goal is to write effectively, only three credits of advanced communication are required to graduate here at Iowa State.

All majors could benefit from taking technical communication courses, too. Students looking to work at a global company would need to be able to communicate effectively with people who may not communicate the same way they do — definitely a skill worth learning. Students who will work in labs need to be able to create well-written equipment instructions and proposals for research money. Even a properly written email message can be the difference between a million dollar deal and a missed opportunity.

Universities should seek to educate their students for the practical workplace. Having subject-related knowledge can only get you so far and it certainly doesn’t guarantee that you will be a good worker. Preparing students for the job market means making them better communicators and, as a result, better employees. Making communication courses required for every major would ensure the success of each student in the outside world.

Our generation is often described as being unable to hold a face-to-face conversation, resorting to improper speech and writing habits, and assuming we are “entitled” to certain jobs because of our knowledge. Whether or not these accusations hold true for all of us, getting a leg up on what employers are looking for while we’re still in college might just save us from becoming another sad percentage point in a difficult economy.