With an Online MBA, You Will Practice the Soft Skills Employers Need Most
It is common knowledge that education correlates with opportunity. College graduates earn more on average than those with only a high school diploma, and employers are increasingly looking for more highly educated recruits to do the sorts of skilled jobs the modern economy needs most.
But having a college degree does not automatically translate into having the skills that are most in demand. In fact, employers have been discovering for a while now that many workers may be highly trained in their respective disciplines, but lack the soft skills to take full advantage of their education. That is why Marylhurst University’s online MBA program incorporates elements that prepare students with both the technical training and soft skills development they will need to thrive after graduation.
What are Soft Skills?
Hard skills, also known as technical skills, tend to be more discrete: plumbers are expected to know how to fix pipes, coders to work with computers, and chefs to wield knives safely. Soft skills supplement this kind of training, bridge the gap between theory and practice, and enable individuals to solve problems by applying knowledge creatively in the real world. Soft skills include things like critical thinking, leadership ability, being a team player, and even just communicating with others from different personal and professional backgrounds.1 If hard skills are the toolkit, soft skills are the knowledge of when to use which tools to get things done.
“When I started my MBA in Sustainable Business through Marylhurst’s online program, I had worked for the same company for nearly 20 years, and was very internally focused. I remember being amazed by all of the sustainability information available on the internet and in the scientific journal articles that we used for our research. Because there was so much information available, we had to learn to distill things down to concrete facts and succinct arguments, and to hone our critical thinking and prioritization skills,” said Janet Friday, who graduated from the program in 2013, and now serves as the Director of Environmental Sustainability at Merck. “In my current role, I am continuously working to communicate complex issues in a way that people can understand and apply to the various parts of our business. I have used my skills to research, quantify and summarize a business case for sustainability, and convey that information to a variety of stakeholders and decision-makers in the company.”
Soft skills have become more important as the workplace has become more complex: technology, globalization, and the speed of transformation all mean that individuals now more than ever need to be flexible, willing and able to work with diverse teams, and able to apply their training to unique and unprecedented challenges. Work ethic and self-motivation, patience and enthusiasm–these are often as important as technical skills when it comes to dealing with change, disruption, and complex tasks in the 21st century.2
Multigenerational and automated workforces need a new kind of leadership to guide them into an uncertain future. As such, job descriptions are increasingly being written to include the need for such soft skills, and recruiters are emphasizing their importance almost as much as the more technical skills needed for a given role.3
There are many ways to define soft skills, but the one that employers tend to agree on is, the sorts of skills that too often aren’t taught in school, and can’t be learned from a text. Part of the soft skills gap in the professional sector has been attributed in part to a lack of training–not to be mistaken with a lack of education.4 Soft skills are often better expressed through practical experiences than rote memorization or instructional mediums. For example, a discrete test is usually an individual challenge, whereas a group project requires each member to communicate, coordinate their actions, collaboratively problem solve, and exhibit some degree of teamwork in order to be successful.
Collaboration in the modern workplace isn’t just a matter of communicating with team members, but having the capacity to work with other departments, and professionals from diverse disciplines. While technical training can lead to expertise in one area, some amount of cross-disciplinary learning can be helpful in enabling this kind of interdepartmental collaboration. The liberal arts have become highly associated with these kinds of soft skills because of the way they emphasize interdisciplinary education and creative problem solving.5
Soft skills, like the liberal arts, prepare individuals not just for repetitive tasks or clearly-defined roles, but equip them to adapt, and apply understanding to each situation as needed. In short, they enable leadership through continuous learning and development on the job.
The Blended Online Experience
The online learning experience at Marylhurst combines independent study with a surprising amount of social and collaborative elements to balance the needs of students to develop hard and soft skills. By connecting through various mediums, students engage with both faculty and classmates to support each other’s learning.
“The personal dynamics within the various groups are ironically reminiscent of workplace dynamics,” says Anna Spindler, a Marylhurst alum and graduate of the online MBA program. “I feel having to navigate through the groups to deliver a project helped me develop my leadership and management skills further.”
At the same time, a largely self-paced curriculum requires students to diligently prioritize their work and studies, manage their time strategically, as well as use personal and online resources when they recognize they need help.
The experiences of the faculty and students alike inform the entire program. Through the exchange of commentary and individual lessons, as well as the application of theory in a final capstone project, students are compelled to find real world relevance for their experiences and new knowledge, blending the range of hard and soft skills they will use in their careers.
Employers aren’t just looking for solutions to the problems they have today; they are investing in leaders who can continue to respond creatively and collaboratively to the unknown challenges of tomorrow. To do this, they need the soft skills that come from getting hands-on early and often, working with others, and engaging with learning material critically.