Educators ‘need to adapt how they teach soft skills to Gen Z’

Event hears how even the best performing students can struggle to get a job if they lack soft skills

November 13, 2023
Ghassan Aouad

Older educators need to adapt how they teach soft skills to students who are part of Generation Z and have “completely different aspirations” from those they had, experts have said.

Ghassan Aouad, chancellor of Abu Dhabi University, told delegates at the Times Higher Education MENA Universities Summit that the current cohort of students were affected by a series of new challenges – including financial constraints and climate change.

Another important driver is their experience during the coronavirus pandemic, when they were isolated from campuses and their peers, he told the event, held at NYU Abu Dhabi.

“They are called sometimes the entitlement generation. They want everything; they don’t ask for it, so we have to provide it; so our attitude as educators has to change,” Professor Aouad said

“When you look at this Generation Z…they have completely different aspirations from our aspirations.”

Professor Aouad said this crop of students wanted to look for a job in their first year at university and then complete their degree over a longer period of time.

In addition, even the best-performing students can find themselves locked out of the job market if they lack the soft skills required to pass an interview, he said.

By contrast, the former president of the Applied Science University in Bahrain said he and his peers had wanted to go to university, finish in four years and then find a job.

“I remember in my generation, once I got my degree, I [found] a job and I had no soft skills whatsoever, it wasn’t important. A degree was a passport to go and find a job,” he said.

Lotfi Romdhane, associate dean for graduate affairs and research at the American University of Sharjah, said this generation of “digital natives” were all more knowledgeable about technology than his, which presents a challenge.

“It’s a big challenge, especially for educators like myself who when I studied 30 years ago, we did not have this technology, so I have to adapt myself and learn so I can help the students.”

However, this easy access to technology was not always beneficial for their mindset, he warned, and nor are all students as equally capable of picking up new skills.

“That’s why I think our role as educators is to help them focus and channel these skills to good use,” Dr Romdhane said.

Hamad Obhabi, vice-chancellor for financial and administrative affairs at Abu Dhabi University, and also speaking at the event, agreed.

“There is a gap between [students’] love of technology and their ability to use it to do something useful, and I think that needs to be addressed,” he said.

“How can you put that knowledge and skill into something useful?”

Dr Romdhane said soft skills were very important, particularly communication and teaching students how to sell themselves.

“However, the technical background, the hard skills are also very important.

“This is what’s going to last with you – a sufficient background for the job, because this is what’s going to come out after a year or two.”

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