Teaching professionalism

By Stephanie Specchio

A New York community college makes teaching soft skills a priority.

Many community college students come to campus with some work experience. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the soft skills now required by many employers.

“College graduates are expected to be self-motivated and bring an entire repertoire of soft skills to the cubicle on day one,” said Deb Dunbar, associate professor of business at Corning Community College (CCC) in New York. “It’s not fair to expect these skills if we don’t teach them. My class does that. I teach students how to behave appropriately in the workplace.”

Dunbar’s class, “Professionalism,” fills every semester. It’s hands-on, interactive, and team-based. Like any exemplary supervisor, Dunbar makes sure her employees (the students) know her expectations. Assignments with due dates are distributed. Teams are assigned and cubicles made available.

After discussions with local employers, Dunbar developed the course content to include in-class activities that explore conflict resolution, stress management, cultural diversity, ethics and a person’s professional presence, which includes everything from wardrobe choices to Monday morning attitudes. As such, the course teaches myriad concepts around professionalism, but Dunbar noted that one of the most important concepts is probably accountability.

“In the real world, employees don’t get paid if they don’t work,” said Dunbar. “I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to help them understand this concept.”

Student Caroline Cabot thinks that makes perfect sense.

“She is completely fair,” Cabot said. “She gives us her expectations well in advance so that we can fit all of the work into our schedules. She balances the class with lectures and activities. We’re working in teams, just like we will once we’re hired. It’s practical, which is exactly what I want.”

A graduate of South Seneca Central School, Cabot is a first-year student at CCC. She is studying business administration and was thrilled to find Dunbar’s class.

“I’m a millennial, and so I grew up with very casual rules,” said Cabot. “Once I graduate and find a job, I know I will need to be professional in everything I do … writing, communicating online, how I dress and interact with people. This class is preparing me to be successful in all of that … in a professional environment.”

Currently, Cabot works on campus in the Educational Planning Center. After graduation, she plans to work in the field of bank management.

This post originally appeared on CCC’s website.

How is your college teaching soft skills? Sound off at LinkedIn.

Stephanie Specchio

is director of communications at Corning Community College in Corning, New York.