'Soft skills' a good sell; Employers angle for clear-thinking grads.

Author:Spencer, Susan

Byline: Susan Spencer

Faced with a competitive job market, college students might want to choose majors in hot career fields such as business administration or exercise science.

But a recent survey of employers suggests that anthropology, philosophy and other liberal arts studies may be just as good or better for students' long-term career success.

The Association of American Colleges & Universities released a report last month, "Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success,'' which found nearly all employers, 91 percent of those surveyed, agreed that for career success, "a candidate's demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate major.''

When hiring recent graduates, employers most highly valued skills and knowledge that cut across majors, including written and oral communication, teamwork skills, ethical decision making, critical thinking and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings.

The survey results ring true to Central Massachusetts-area employers and liberal arts institutions, which are working to help students apply broad fields of knowledge to problem-solving and skill-building in career settings.

"What sometimes is characterized as soft skills is often mentioned as most important to employers,'' Timothy P. Murray, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce said.

"You do need to be solid and expert and competent ...,'' he continued, "Equally important is the ability to communicate written and orally.''

The chamber launched a Higher Education-Business Partnership to help employers develop a workforce pipeline among the region's 12 higher education institutions and to give college and graduate students exposure to "real-world situations and expectations employers have.''

The initiative, which includes career fairs, internship resources, participation in the Worcester Student Government Association and a program to help entrepreneurs grow and expand, also is intended to "move that needle by letting students know there are world-class companies here and great futures in front of them,'' Mr. Murray said.

Assumption College student Courtney M. Woods, a senior from Tewksbury who is majoring in accounting, said that her broad course work, which included classes like theology, art and politics, psychology and English, added value to her accounting program.

But what really sparked her marketability, she said, was her leadership...

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