The skill employers are desperate for—but that's rarely taught in school

Ability to work in teams is one of the soft skills employers are most desperate for, but students are rarely taught how to collaborate, Sarah Sparks writes for Education Week.

Employers are clearly interested in finding new hires with better collaboration skills. A recent survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that over 80% of midsize or larger employers search for collaboration skills but only 40% of these employers said new graduates actually had these skills.

"Collaboration is just like any other skill, it has to be taught," says Emily Lai, director of formative assessment and feedback for Pearson. In response to demands from industry and higher education, Common Core Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards are asking that schools help their students develop skills for group problem solving and collaboration.

But what does collaboration mean for students and what does it look like?

A recent report by the Partnership for 21st Learning and Pearson found that student collaboration has three components: managing tasks, communication with others, and conflict resolution.

This includes collaboration among students with different abilities and skill levels. A group of studies by Joshua Adams, a doctoral student in learning science at Arizona State University, found that "the longer students of different abilities participated in engaged groups, the more the knowledge of the subject improved for all students."

Argument-based learning is also a method that instructors can use to increase collaboration among students. A program developed by Ohio State University (OSU) called Collaborative Social Reasoning teaches student groups about creating clear arguments, providing substantive feedback, and respectfully disagreeing with group members. For example, students have been asked to compare today's debates about immigrants to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Tackle the 'soft' skills gap on your campus

Researchers are continuing to gauge what kinds of skills students need to develop in order to effectively collaborate with their peers, and eventually, their colleagues. Interactive tasks were added to the assessments developed by the Program for International Student Assessment, which is administered by the National Center for Educational Statistics. Sparks writes that the results, which will come in the fall, will help educators understand how students can work together to grasp a problem and determine how to solve it, all while maintaining organization (Sparks, Education Week, 5/16).

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