- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee higher education officials participating in a panel discussion on preparing students for the workforce said Wednesday that employers want college graduates who possess so-called soft skills such as critical thinking and good communication.

Panelists at the event sponsored by the Nashville Business Journal talked about current trends in higher education to help students be competitive in the workforce.

Just about all the panelists said they’ve heard from employers who say many college students need to hone those skills, and they’ve developed programs to help address that need to some degree.

The event comes a week after Gov. Bill Haslam and the state’s legislative speakers convened a summit to discuss education changes in Tennessee, particularly the Common Core standards. Such changes are intended to help high school students graduate with critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills advocates say they’ll need for college and a global workforce.

The Common Core standards have been adopted by 44 states, including Tennessee.

All the panelists at Wednesday’s event said they support the higher standards because they better prepare students for the next level of education.

“I’m for anything that will prepare a student to be college ready,” said University of Tennessee System President Joe DiPietro.

The other panelists were: Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney McPhee, Western Governors University Tennessee Chancellor Kimberly Estep and Volunteer State Community College President Jerry Faulkner.

Faulkner said the higher standards can be helpful early on, but that critical thinking and other soft skills - such as goal-setting and effective communication - should also be included in higher education curriculums to some degree.

“We’re having conversations now about moving forward with some sort of incorporation of those soft skills into our curriculum across the college,” Faulkner said.

Business owner Donovan Robertson, who attended Wednesday’s event, said his company connects college students to employers, as well as provides them with career coaches.

Robertson said he looks for students with “good decision-making skills, critical thinking skills.”

“A lot of the technical things I can teach, but how they make decisions, that’s real important,” he said.

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