Never Underestimate the Power of Soft Skills

Mark Grant

Mark Grant, Speech Communication instructor

Interpersonal Communication: What employers really want

Dakota County Technical College students do some amazing and dangerous things. Welders mold metal products with welding flames over 5600 degrees Fahrenheit, electrical linemen climb 40 feet to run 1000 volt power lines, and heavy duty truck technicians maneuver around 20 thousand pounds of equipment. But what really gets their hearts pounding? Metacommunication. In other words, talking about how they talk.

For every DCTC student seeking an A.A.S or A.S. degree, or a diploma program over 45 credits, students are required to complete general education credits within 10 goal areas. But two particular courses are “must-haves” in order to graduate: Interpersonal Communication and Composition.

Mark Grant, Speech Communication instructor, gets a variety of responses from students in the first days of his Interpersonal Communication classes. Some students are eager to talk about their relationships and others are desperate to test out of the course hoping they don’t have to endure it. Grant has 18 weeks to turn students who think it’s “an abomination” into professionals that are well-rounded communicators.

It’s not a money making scam and it’s not just because the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum requires it, it’s because employers ask for their employees to be knowledgeable in conflict resolution, workplace etiquette, and teamwork. “Companies understand that the skills we talk about in Interpersonal Communication is in their best interest if their employees can perform them successfully,” said Grant. A degree and portfolio will get a candidate an interview, but interpersonal communication skills will get that personal through the interview, job security, and promotions.

According to a 21st Century Skills report, the top four soft skills that employers want to see in all new employees are:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Communication (oral and written)
  3. Teamwork and collaboration
  4. Professionalism and work ethic

Research also shows that soft skills also keep people in a good work environment and a happy work environment means happy, healthy workers. “Ultimately we spend so much time at work, so our ability to make these connections is what makes a difference,” Grant said.

Students get a chance to explore: perception, how people see the same thing but walk away with two different perceptions; language and the role it plays in relationships; the value of physical behavior; intimacy; and a class favorite, deception detection and lying.

Grant eventually sees less resistance throughout the class’s 18 weeks and receives some very positive feedback at the end of the semester. Some think the class changed their lives and some wish they had taken the class five years earlier. And from others, some of the best feedback a teacher could ask for, “I really thought this class would suck, but it didn’t suck nearly as bad as I thought it would.”

To learn more about General Education at DCTC, contact:
  • Gayle Larson
    Dean of Technology, Business, and General Education