College Guide


December 14, 2012 10:00 AM Measuring Soft Skills

By Daniel Luzer

Not confident that its students are prepared to succeed by merely completing the courses required for graduation, one North Carolina community college has ordered staff to factor “soft skills” into grading to try and measure workforce readiness.

According to an article by Paul Fain at Inside Higher Ed:

Grades earned by many students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College will soon factor in “soft skills,” such as whether they show up for class on time or work well in groups. And next year the college will issue workplace readiness certificates alongside conventional credentials to recognize those skills.

It’s apparently really specific

A-B Tech… has developed a template that helps faculty members determine how to incorporate eight primary workplace expectations into grading, including personal responsibility, interdependence and emotional intelligence. Soft skills should count for 8 to 10 percent of grades in courses that adopt those guidelines, college officials said.

There’s no indication that this “workplace readiness” certificate will result in an actual job. Furthermore, ready for what work?

As officials at the community college acknowledge, it’s a lot easier to measure soft skills in something like nursing or culinary arts, where the academic programs essentially are jobs training, than in liberal arts programs. If you’re taking a math class, what the hell does it matter how well the student works in a group? You either learned calculus or you didn’t.

The goal is apparently to train people to hold jobs successfully:

The main goal is to encourage students to take personal responsibility and display a strong work ethic, said Melissa Quinley, A-B Tech’s vice president of instructional services. That’s because the college wants its students to believe that “I’ve got to give it my very best,” she said, both in class and on the job.

Wow. A-B Tech “wants its students to believe that ‘I’ve got to give it my very best.’” A-B Tech has not indicated whether or not failure to “give it my very best” will result in time outs or being forced to sit out recess.

The average student at the community college is 28 years old. Obviously working hard is an important factor in career success, but there’s no indication that real local businesses care at all if the school incorporates “workplace ready certificates” into grades.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Joshua leroy on December 21, 2012 9:19 AM:

    The condescending attitude of the author is astounding. Apparently, he has not set foot in a classroom in a long time. As a program chair for a college in the Midwest, I see student after student fail not because of ability to learn the didactic material, but because of the inability to manage their time, communicate with others appropriately, follow through, and manage their emotions well. We have meetings and planning sessions over the impact of this deficiency on our adult students and how to better help them. How do we provide the help to our students for a problem that was decades in the making? This is a problem in education. I'm glad to see other schools are addressing it, also.

  • Anonymous on December 21, 2012 10:40 AM:

    And what has been the impact of these "meetings and planning sessions over the impact of this deficiency on our adult students and how to better help them"?

  • Gloria E. Singleton on January 03, 2013 8:24 PM:

    I agree with Mr. Leroy's assessment (certainly not about Mr. Luzer who is entitled to an opinion)of a soft skills deficiency in too many adult learners. In the more than 30 years I have been involved in workforce development, I have observed and experienced students as well as incumbent workers with excellent job-specific skills, yet they found themselves chronically un- or underemployed because of the lack of soft skills.

    My question then was, 'How would they know? Who taught them good work ethic, that even if they are 5 minutes late, they are still late? Who taught them Standard English and that body language is also a visible form of communicating? Who taught them to call their supervisor if they are late? Who taught them that a negative attitude is totally unacceptable in the workplace? Who taught them great interpersonal skills are crucial to their success; to work in a team; to leave their personal "stuff" at home; that constructive criticism is meant to help them?' I can go on and on an . . .

    Let's not begin with any assumptions in educating and training students. Personally, it's less difficult to teach hard skills than it is to teach soft skills, but I do it because if people are to be successful, we have to take a holistic approach. I firmly believe in training the whole person.