Soft Skills in the CSE Curricula

Brad Hall

Many years ago UNSW recognised that graduates with a broader knowledge than simply their major discipline have an advantage in the workforce and this is one of the reasons General Education was introduced.

The 1995 Federal government's Karpin Report identified insufficient management education and training as a major weakness - on the whole, Australian Managers are deficient in their soft skills, especially communication skills and managing diversity.

The Business Council of Australia and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry through DEST (2002) found from surveys of employers that "employability skills" included the Core (discipline) skills, but also

Recently Macquarie Bank was asking if any other courses had major (year long or more) team projects.

In April Paul and I went to a discussion on the results of a major survey by Macquarie University in which employer results said also the Science, Engineering and Technology grads lack the soft skills to lead teams.

In The Australian (8th May 06):

Professor Johnstone said engineers had to understand the workings of inter-personal relations, culture, management and ethics to get their job done, rise high in the corporate world and compete globally. Times had changed and it was no longer enough for engineers to offer simply a technical solution, he said.

"The community is far more involved in all the infrastructure work. Engineers can't just sit in the back office and let the PR people take care of it."

Today, what was demanded is "not only a technical solution but a solution that will work with the community", he said. About 80 to 90 per cent of his students would work overseas at some point and "they need to have knowledge so they don't make cultural mistakes".

All the indicators seem to be there. To make our graduates the most desirable, we need to "beef up" our teaching of "soft skills". Of course, improving our students graduate recruitment levels will also help improve our student enrolment numbers!

Ken's Software Engineering Workshops that build up over more than just one session seem to really help the Soft Eng students work on some of these soft skills. But what about our other Programs?

I propose that in second or third year we have a compulsory course on Business Communication, which could also include project management and Ethics to make it a 6UoC. I say at this stage, as in first year they still aren't sure of their career paths, and fourth year misses most Comp Sci students, and besides the material could help the Eng students with writing their thesis, etc.

Brad Hall
30 May 2006