The power of soft skills in work-based learning: A University of California Riverside & Riipen case study
In the evolving landscape of education and professional development, the spotlight on the importance of soft skills (i.e. EQ skills, transferable skills, power skills, workplace success and/or employability skills) has grown exponentially. According to a LinkedIn report, 91% of talent professionals emphasize the importance of soft skills for the future of recruitment and HR. Furthermore, the report found that 89% of unsuccessful hires were deficient in these skills. This underscores a significant challenge, as 57% of companies reported difficulties in accurately assessing soft skills.
A more recent CNBC study supported these findings, with 93% of employers expressing a preference for seeing soft skills on resumes. The ability to communicate, collaborate, and adapt is no longer a mere supplement to technical knowledge, such as writing, project management, data analysis, etc.; it's a vital component of success in both the workforce and life at large. And, yet some of the most difficult skills to teach and measure.
An innovative approach to teaching Effective Performance Management
In light of these trends, the following case study showcases the collaborative efforts of Dr. Nidhi Shah, an instructor and Riipen adopter from the University of California, Riverside Extension, who is making a difference in an innovative way through her certificate-level course on Effective Performance Management, and Loralyn Mears, Ph.D., founder & CEO of STEERus, a professional development company dedicated to creating more productive and inclusive workplaces, to exemplify how these skills translate into real-world applications.
Riipen's innovative work-based learning platform bridges the gap between academia and industry, allowing educators and learners to go beyond theoretical understanding of subject matter, helping learners gain practical work experience and develop soft skills in authentic, real-life contexts. Through meaningful work-based learning collaborations, whether working independently or on a team (for soft skills development), learners become more adaptable, efficient and well-rounded professionals, ready to tackle the complexities of the modern workplace.
Real-life example: Soft skills-focused Riipen experiences
STEERus, a women-owned business, innovatively blends executive coaching with social-emotional learning, promoting engagement and aiding learning retention. Its e-learning platform offers alignment, inclusion, and cohesion in workplaces by pairing behavioral assessments with personalized course recommendations.
Over the last few years, STEERus has harnessed the power of learner collaborations through the Riipen platform for numerous projects and has collaborated with over 400 learners across 19 Canadian and American colleges and universities to date. One of STEERus' most notable partnerships was with Dr. Shah, who was keen on STEERus founder Loralyn's vision of integrating metrics into HR practices for Generation Z. This collaboration gave Dr. Shah's learners the opportunity to hone in on their own soft skills development and produce balanced scorecards focused on soft skills assessments, for the benefit of STEERus and other organizations. Moreover, these collaborations led STEERus to win a grant from Governor Murphy's New Jersey Commission on Science, Innovation and Technology to create a soft skills assessment tool and the opportunity to further explore the correlation between soft skills and the employability of Generation Z. This grant sets the foundation for STEERus to measure the impact of soft skills training and coaching plus, it enables STEERus to customize training based on that student's or organizations soft skills gaps.
Loralyn emphasizes, "We champion work-based learning opportunities, where learners earn credits and receive our mentorship. Our edge lies in deeply understanding our learners' needs. Authentic learner relationships help us tailor content to their specific challenges." Direct engagement with their audience, especially through Dr. Shah’s class, provided STEERus with valuable insights to refine their content and determine performance indicators. Loralyn values the diverse viewpoints learners bring, noting, “Engaging with learners is akin to an extended focus group. This mutual understanding benefits both our goals and prepares learners for the workplace.”
The impact of soft skills in Riipen work-based learning experiences
Riipen's work-based learning projects serve as incubators for the growth of essential soft skills that pave the way for professional excellence. Learners, under the guidance of instructors like Dr. Nidhi Shah, engage in communication, collaboration, and the exchange of shared knowledge, transcending traditional classroom boundaries through the completion of real work projects. Soft skills promote an inclusive environment where student learners, employers, employees, and educators feel psychologically safe to communicate what’s in their hearts and intellect. These experiences, characterized by diverse insights and peer-to-peer learning, foster a climate of trust and innovation between all stakeholders. This tapestry of skills woven into Riipen's experiences doesn't just enrich academia but extends its reach into the realm of workforce and life, equipping learners to excel in a myriad of real-world scenarios.
Communication and collaboration from a learner’s perspective
Effective work-based learning relies on essential soft skills, particularly in the domains of communication and collaboration. Erica, a learner in Dr. Shah’s course, reported becoming more comfortable with speaking up through her Riipen projects, saying, "The projects...helped me overcome the fear of public speaking and taught me to open myself to new ideas when collaborating with peers." The personal growth and self-confidence gained through her Riipen project were driven by the opportunity for Erica to share her thoughts with her colleagues and through direct engagement with the employer throughout the project.
Sanders, another learner in Dr. Shah’s course, acknowledged the improvement and understanding of demonstrating soft skills when working in diverse teams. He noted challenges in understanding a teammate whose first language wasn't English by stating "Soft skills helped...on a team [project], you must be big on communication... The classes and project broadened my perspective and aided in my career and personal growth."
Shared knowledge and depth of insight for learners
Through the implementation and integration of work-based learning in the curriculum, Dr. Shah is providing opportunities to help learners exchange and learn by having access to shared knowledge. With Riipen's virtual projects, learners can express empathy and see things from a team member's point of view, which is an important component of soft skills. Dr. Shah's learners, Ayumi and Forum, convey the value of learning from diverse perspectives. Ayumi shares, "Constructive feedback from others in the team project is useful in helping me know how I can improve." Forum highlights the richness of diverse perspectives, noting, "In a good team setting...Team projects help you learn from other people’s experiences...giving a broader perspective of life and lessons."
Different languages and peer-to-peer learning
The experience of Dr. Shah's learners, Theo Desplain and Dharini, further emphasizes the role of soft skills in work-based learning projects. Effective communication, especially in multi-lingual teams, is a critical aspect of successful collaborations. Theo shares, "Creativity and communicating effectively... Practicing public speaking in team projects improved my English and I learned a lot from the foreign experience." Similarly, Dharini emphasizes the importance of active listening and trust, sharing, "Communicating effectively and listening to team members improved trust... Critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, and decision-making contributed to soft skills in team projects as well as personal and professional growth opportunities."
Inclusiveness and creativity
Inclusiveness and creativity are two additional facets of soft skills highlighted by Riipen's work-based learning experiences. Soft skills play a pivotal role in encouraging creativity within projects. Soft skills create an inclusive environment where learners are able to articulate how they authentically feel without having a fear of being evaluated or rejected by others. Learners find that the ability to think freely, produce original ideas, and engage in discussions with corporate representatives is enhanced through the development of these skills. Furthermore, soft skills foster innovative thinking and problem-solving, equipping learners to tackle complex challenges with adaptability and ingenuity.
Collectively, these narratives reveal how Riipen's work-based learning platform serves as a catalyst for the development of essential soft skills.
The wider implications: Soft skills for career & life
How soft skills translate to personal and professional growth
Soft skills emerge as a critical driver for personal and professional growth within the framework of Riipen's work-based learning initiatives. Conquering the fear of public speaking serves as a notable illustration of how these competencies empower individuals, fostering heightened self-assurance. Additionally, the acquisition of soft skills through Riipen projects proves pivotal for career development, particularly in comprehending and effectively managing diverse teams to ensure professional success.
The impact of soft skills on relationship building and trust
Soft skills are fundamentally instrumental in establishing trust and nurturing robust interpersonal relationships. Equitable team dynamics that appreciate every contribution are conducive to fostering trust and promoting collaborative endeavors. The provision of constructive feedback, facilitated by the application of soft skills, stands as a cornerstone for personal and professional growth. Such feedback enriches interpersonal connections through a deeper sense of empathy and understanding.
Soft skills as an indispensable driver for success in the workforce and beyond
The experiences of learners within Dr. Shah's program aptly highlight the indisputable role of soft skills in achieving success in the contemporary workforce. The emphasis on effective communication within diverse teams underscores the enduring relevance of soft skills within a globalized professional landscape. Moreover, adaptability and proficiency in public speaking reveal a more expansive influence, extending their reach to personal growth and the cultivation of cross-cultural understanding. Further, the enhanced competencies in communication and active listening skillfully foster trust within teams and elevate collaborative efforts, thereby underscoring the pivotal nature of soft skills in both professional and personal accomplishments.
In sum, work-based learning experiences through Riipen are catalysts for soft skill development, offering learners not just the tools for success within the classroom but also the vital skills that shape them into well-rounded, confident, and effective individuals who are poised to excel in both their careers and personal lives.
To learn more about Riipen’s innovative work-based learning platform and how working with Riipen can result in improved learner engagement and employability outcomes, use this link to book a demo with the Riipen team.
About the author:
Jennifer Lussier is a bilingual Content Marketing Specialist based in Montreal, QC. With a multidisciplinary background and a desire to accomplish more for the betterment of society, she joined Riipen in 2019 as an Academic Account Manager and has since migrated to the marketing team as it is more closely aligned with her interests and expertise.