Educating to Ensure Soft Skills

College can prepare you for the technical aspects of entry-level IT work, but what about the other half of good performance — professionalism? Where do you learn the soft skills that will help you get and keep a job?

That was the question Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill., set out to answer in late 2006 with the introduction of its Information Technology Essentials program, one of a suite of three semester-long Essentials classes intended to impart job and life skills to students about to enter the workforce.

“It’s really built around those skills that will not only help someone find a job but stay in a job,” said Pam Westerdahl, director of workforce services at Heartland. “We’re teaching them how they need to deal with their problems, what they need to do, who they need to see and how they need to problem solve.”

The Essentials idea began in 2002 after local employers and social service providers approached the college with complementary concerns.

“Employers are telling us they’re seeing a lot of people out there looking for work, but few qualified candidates,” said Robert Shaw, associate dean of technical instruction at Heartland. “And by ‘qualified,’ they’re not necessarily talking about high-level skills, just an essential core of skills coupled with workplace readiness.”

Meanwhile, social service agencies were saying they had quite a few people who could fill those open positions with the benefit of some training.

So Heartland developed its first Essentials installment –…



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