Paula Griswold, PhD, MT(ASCP), and Jessica Dolecheck, PhD
Part of soft skills training, ULM College of Health Sciences faculty coordinated professional luncheons where healthcare employers and students interacted for meaningful, social connections.
Preparing students for careers in healthcare requires competencies in technical skills and acquiring an understanding of the field of entry. This is especially true of students pursuing a career in medical laboratory science (MLS). With more demands for better patient care and outcomes, preparing students for entry into the workforce requires not only proficiency in technical skills but also in soft skills.
Often overlooked, soft skills—or personal skills—are quickly becoming a core criterion for many healthcare positions, especially as patients are demanding a better level of service. Soft skills are defined as a collection of personal, positive attributes and competencies that individuals possess, which enhance their relationships, job performance, and value to the market (Loretto, 2018; Khanna, 2015; SkillSurvey Inc, 2019). These soft skills are characterized as personal skills such as meaningful communication, ability to work in teams, adaptability, empathy, and time management.
In today’s workforce, soft skills are considered essential to managing and working with people, customer satisfaction, and forming a positive work environment (Ravindranath, 2016; Taylor, 2016; Thompson, 2017). Soft skills have become exceedingly important for healthcare professionals to demonstrate and improve upon for workplace success. According to Robles (2012), business executives consider soft skills a very important attribute in job applicants because soft skills are critical for productive performance. Furthermore, these executives complain about the lack of soft skills in new employees and emphasize that knowledge alone is not enough to succeed. As healthcare educators, we recognize soft skills need further emphasis in university curricula. We further recognize the value of imbedding interactive, real-life activities for preparing health science students with critical soft skills to fully prepare them for today’s work environment.
How to Teach Soft Skills
Soft skills training requires a different strategy for teaching than other skills. Recommendations from the literature for the teaching and learning of soft skills are (1) engagement of students, (2) active learning, (3) reflection, and (4) exposure to real-world situations that encourage dialog and cooperative work (Taylor, 2016). Hence, the authors designed and implemented a soft skills project with multidisciplinary faculty and students in the College of Health Sciences (CHS) at the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM) that encompassed active student/faculty engagement, personal reflection, and participation in real-life situations.
“Soft skills have become exceedingly important for healthcare professionals to demonstrate and improve upon for workplace success.”
The faculty collaborated to design and teach a short course in soft skills within their respective courses and coordinated three professional luncheons whereby healthcare employers and students interacted for meaningful, social connections. The intent of the project was to create a collaborative opportunity for various health science student disciplines to interact with community leaders, display positive interactions, and build confidence in transitioning into their health professions career.
For the training part of the project, certain health science faculty and students were paired to train, interact, and learn about soft skills and their respective professions. For example, MLS and health studies faculty/students completed the soft skills training and interactive educational components in a collaborative manner. The soft skills training consisted of three modules covering topics on professionalism, teamwork, work ethic, attitude, professional interactions, etiquette, and professional business attire. These modules were designed to be inter-professional, engaging, and required a significant amount of self-reflection. The soft skills trainings were delivered face-to-face in the classroom and online, through our Moodle platform used for online course delivery at ULM.
A professional luncheon was hosted on campus after students completed the soft skills training. Thirty-three employers from the northeast Louisiana region who hire our CHS graduates attended the luncheon. The primary goal of the luncheon was to provide students a venue to apply what they had learned during soft skills trainings and to offer a “real world professional experience” prior to their graduation. Students practiced networking, meal etiquette, wearing professional attire, and professional business communication. To gather the students’ perceptions on the trainings, a pre- and post-soft skills training survey was administered. In addition, qualitative data was collected from all who participated in the training and luncheon regarding the impact of this event. The authors anticipate publishing the results of the surveys and the qualitative data in the near future.
The employers that attended the professional luncheon, as well as the students, acknowledged the significance of this event. Employers recognized it as a recruitment opportunity for future employees and a means to connect with faculty and the university. Likewise, the luncheon offered a meaningful academic experience for the students with a link to employers and the current job market.
Setting Students up for Success
In conclusion, both technical and soft skills are necessary for the success of today’s health professional graduate, especially the MLS major. By incorporating soft skills trainings into curricula, such as meaningful communication, ability to work in teams, adaptability to changing situations, empathy, and time management, students are provided an opportunity to gain skills necessary for success in the workplace and in life. The significance of this project raised awareness of the importance of soft skills for both students and faculty in health sciences. Furthermore, the findings of this project provided significant evidence that ongoing measures need to be taken to properly educate students in soft skills before they enter the job market.
Many students, faculty, and employers commented on how meaningful the experience was and the lasting impact it had on their learning. This collaborative project was an innovative, student-centered approach that focused on professional student development, which is critical in producing competitive and qualified graduates for the healthcare workforce. The health professions programs within the College of Health Sciences at ULM plans to continue to incorporate this valuable training into their curricula and evaluate its positive impact on career readiness for health science graduates. The success of this project at ULM could serve as a model to be implemented in other higher education institutions as well as healthcare organizations.
- Khanna. V. (2015). Soft skills: A Key to Professional Excellence. International Journal of Research in Engineering, Social Sciences, 5(1). ISSN 2249-9482.
- Loretto, P. (2018). The Top 12 Soft Skills Employers Seek. The Balance Careers.
- Ravindranath, S. (2016). Soft Skills in Project Management: A Review. IUP Journal of Soft Skills, 10(4), 16-25.
- Robles, M. (2012). Executive Perceptions of the Top 10 Soft Skills needed in Today’s Workplace. Business Communication Quarterly, 75 (4). 453-465.
- SkillsSurvey Inc. (2019). The Hard Truth about Soft Skills Interactive Book.
- Taylor, E. (2016). Investigating the Perception of Stakeholders on Soft Skills Development of Students. Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning. 12, 1-18.
- Thompson, J. (2017). Communication Skills Lacking in Today’s Workforce. Fort Worth Business Press.
Paula Griswold is Associate Professor, Health Studies, and Interim Associate Dean in the College of Health Sciences at the University of Louisiana Monroe. Jessica Dolecheck is Associate Professor, Health Studies, and Health Studies Program Coordinator in the School of Allied Health at the University of Louisiana Monroe.