Soft Skills in Higher Education and Graduate Employability: A Delphi Study

December 2023
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Student employability after college graduation is much debated, as new hires are having trouble not only obtaining a job but maintaining one. Research indicates (e.g., Baird & Parayitam, 2019; Bear & Skorton, 2019) that employers across industries want and need access to a workforce comprised of candidates with a shared knowledge of hard skills and soft skills, as many employers are frustrated with the skills gap in new hires (Jackson, 2008; Robles, 2012). Students in higher education need to be properly prepared for a workforce that demands both technical skills and soft skills. Soft skills are of special interest because researchers (e.g., Majid et al., 2019, Tulgan, 2015) have determined that many new hires are lacking in critical skills like communication, teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, and dependability. If human capital encompasses the accumulation of skills in the workforce, then new graduates should be imbued with these skills throughout their time in university so that they are a worthwhile investment as part of a skilled labor force. The purpose of this Delphi study was to describe the current state of business graduates’ soft skills in Texas universities as identified by students, employers, and faculty. Three rounds of questionnaires were answered by 33 expert respondents to narrow down those soft skills considered most vital in the workplace and to ascertain to what degree new hires/ new graduates in the business professions had soft skill competencies. Most respondents agreed that soft skills were essential in the workplace. However, while faculty and employers expressed frustration and dissatisfaction with the v soft skill competency in new hires/ new graduates, students voiced confidence in their skill acquisition and believed themselves to be ready for the expectations of industry. The findings of this study demonstrate that soft skills are fundamental components of a competent, trained, and effective workforce. Further, there is effort required to develop collaboration between universities and industry so business college graduates are prepared with the requisite skills for success.

Education, Higher