College students are given a lot of directions from the day they land on campus to the day they walk the stage at commencement. Students get used to asking questions and getting just-in-time answers from university staff like hall directors, academic advisors and faculty.
Sometimes, as a former college dean and a HR professional, I think that by giving quick answers we miss opportunities to build the independent thinking skills in our students. We have to change that since the evolving future of work is demanding that colleges help students and new graduates build new skills. Studies are showing that students themselves are not so confident about what they are learning in their college education. In a recent McGraw-Hill Future Workforce Survey, only 41% of US college students felt that they were either “very” or “extremely prepared” to enter the workforce. I think we can reassure students they have the skills needed for the workplace by helping them to build more entrepreneurial skills. So if you think about it, the good news is that it might not be that difficult to do if as administrators we tweak our approach to engaging with students both inside and outside the classroom.
Build Entrepreneurial Skills
These 8 ways to build entrepreneurial skills in college students could help develop independent thinkers that employers and grad schools seek.
Direct students to resources, not people. When students seek help from you instead of sending them to a specific person, give them broader instructions. For example, instead of sending a student to a specific writing coach on campus, direct them to find the writing center or the writing lab. This approach will point the student in the right direction, but doesn’t give them the answer. That exploration will invariably teach them more about how to research broad solutions, rather than expect to be directed to a sole source.
Accept innovative approaches to solutions. As faculty and staff sometimes, we are tempted to only approve of the approaches we taught in our classrooms. Encouraging students to come up with innovative approaches or other ways to solve problems lets students know that we are open to them. Thinking innovatively through issues, is an entrepreneurial skill that is in high demand.
Challenge their ideas. Higher education professionals are often super busy and in their drive to help students, won’t always spend the time to question or challenge a student’s ideas and assumptions. Business owners spend a lot of time questioning and even second guessing their own ideas. Getting practice with handling pushback in college provides an unbelievable learning opportunity to evaluate one’s own ideas for validity.
Encourage them to have a team of advisors. Business owners learn pretty quickly that if they want their businesses to grow or their ideas to improve, they have to pull in multiple perspectives. It is not unusual to find entrepreneurs building a team of other professionals including lawyers, accountants, marketing and public relations professionals, that they turn to for advice.
Engage their curiosity. Sometimes you don’t have to tell the whole story as a college professional. To encourage building entrepreneurial skills, sometimes you just have to pique the interest of college students and engage their curiosity. This will encourage them to go and do additional research. Ask more questions and encourage them to find the answers for the things that really interest them.
Build their professional confidence. College faculty and staff should find every opportunity to help students build confidence in their professional skills. Dedicate one class per week or month for students to wear professional attire (whatever that means to them) to class. Teach how to do a professional handshake, have students do presentations and invite entrepreneurs to the classroom to engage professionally with students and give feedback.
Help them be optimistic and lead. It is very easy on campus to fall in with the crowd complaining about campus services or an off-campus issue. It is harder sometimes to think optimistically about trying to find a solution to a shared problem. If entrepreneurs gave in to every pessimistic thought about possible business failure, very little progress would be made. The ability to step up to lead is another of those invaluable entrepreneurial skills that students should be encouraged to develop.
Learn how businesses tackle social issues. Entrepreneurs, no matter how small their business, are aware of the concept of one hand washing the other. Small neighborhood businesses understands the idea of supporting the community that supports them. You will often find small businesses sponsoring community arts, education and sporting events all the time. Encourage this kind of social responsibility on your campus through student organizations or academic initiatives.