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April 18, 2017 | Spotlight

Institute’s soft skills program gives students edge in job market

Students gain critical soft skills through workshops the Institute developed in partnership with the UGA School of Public and International Affairs.

Writer: Roger Nielsen

MPA candidate Cana Carroll jumped at the chance to enrich her academic resume with interpersonal skills training that the Institute of Government introduced this semester.

Carroll and 18 fellow graduate students honed soft skills like business etiquette and self-motivation through the Institute’s new MPA Student Professional Development program. Students enrolled in the program attend three-hour workshops led by Institute faculty on topics ranging from nonverbal communication to career planning to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The inaugural program concluded recently with faculty and staff conducting realistic mock job interviews with the students.

Carroll, a master of public administration candidate from Peachtree City, is excited about supplementing her coursework with skills that give her an edge in the workplace. “It helped me learn how to be a better employee and how to have better interactions with colleagues and supervisors,” she said.

The Institute developed the soft skills program in partnership with the UGA School of Public and International Affairs. It is designed to meet a need identified by two SPIA students, Andrew Grandage and Jacob Wingate, who held assistantships at the Institute.

Wingate coordinates the Institute’s student internship programs and noticed that students with solid academic skills may not have strong soft skills. Grandage, MPA adviser in SPIA’s Department of Public Administration and Policy, learned about the value employers place on soft skills through his assistantship working on the Institute’s collaboration with the Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative.

Grandage and Wingate took the idea for a training program to Stacy Jones, the Institute’s associate director for Governmental Training, Education and Development. Jones helped develop workshop topics and recruited faculty to deliver the training.

“We focused on picking workshops that provide training in as many personal skills as possible, including things as basic as what to wear to work, how to introduce yourself properly, effective communication and how to address a conflict early on,” Jones said.

Wingate says the program not only makes students more effective professionals, it introduces a new generation of government leaders to the Institute and the professional development training it offers.

Students, many of whom will soon be public sector employees, will have firsthand experience working with the Institute, planting a seed for future partnerships for education and development,” Wingate said.

Though students don’t earn academic credit, the program proved immensely popular: the class was full 20 minutes after an announcement went out. Jones plans to continue refining the workshop topics and offer the course again.

“This is a great example of how the Institute can work closely with an academic college to supplement the educational experience that students get on campus,” she said.