Michigan State University Has a Soft Skills Problem — Opinion

Why Michigan State needs to implement a campus-wide plan to spur soft skills development.

Collaboration. Communication. Decision-making. Leadership. A few of the many incredible and multi-faceted, yet common character traits known as soft skills. They’re vital in creating healthy relationships throughout our personal and professional lives, and the difference between success and struggle is often nestled within their bond. They’re also present across cultures, and in the case of nuclear war or alien invasion, act as our leading hope for resolve.

At Michigan State University, a longstanding academic institution that prides itself on ambition and innovation, one would think that learning about a skill set so crucial to societal harmony would be a top priority — even in the absence of a truly apocalyptic event. However, a lack of understanding and appreciation surrounding the importance of soft skills threatens to significantly harm both the school and its students.

Michigan State is currently experiencing a flurry of accusations that suggest it has consistently mishandled student sexual assault claims over the past two decades. As more information becomes available, a simple three-word question has begun to summarize the public’s attitude toward Spartan elite: “Are you listening?”

Listening, of course, being a fundamental soft skill.

With an earlier initiative to implement soft skill development, Michigan State administration would’ve been better prepared to listen to victims’ concerns and address the issue of on-campus sexual assault, preventing it from escalating to such extremes. But we are past the point of what-ifs — circumstances now demand investigation, accommodation, and rehabilitation. And the success of these complex processes will undoubtedly require strong soft skills like teamwork, empathy, problem-solving, decision-making, and outstanding leadership, among others.

There are plenty of external educational resources focused on specific disciplines, like emotional intelligence and interpersonal advancement, and these kinds of structured programs would prove highly beneficial to not only those tasked with healing Michigan State’s culture, but nearly everyone involved with the university. From the president, all the way down to the students, everyone should be expected to make a concentrated effort to enhance their comprehension of soft skills. In fact, these attributes — think collaborating, problem-solving, and presenting — transcend titles and majors, and recruiters from all industries view them as highly desirable.

Now more than ever before, Spartans need to retool how we work together, how we identify challenges, how we discover solutions, how we listen, and how we lead. Administration and faculty should become better-equipped to courageously face the issues of today, while young students build a versatile ability to stand up to the problems of tomorrow. If Michigan State were to organize and actualize soft skill training courses, the positive impact, although hard to measure, would be undeniable.

Progress is needed and it’s dependent on a new foundation of insightful, applicable knowledge. I encourage the leaders of our university to take a hard look at the state of State and propose steps to support soft skills.

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