One of the problems with rampant grade inflation and students majoring in fun is that employers have lost effective means to judge the quality of potential employees.

Inside Higher Ed writer Paul Fain reports on a North Carolina community college that is offering an innovative means to grade personal responsibility in a way that may help their alumni get good jobs after graduation.

Grades earned by many students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College will soon factor in “soft skills,” such as whether they show up for class on time or work well in groups. And next year the college will issue workplace readiness certificates alongside conventional credentials to recognize those skills.

Located in Asheville, N.C., A-B Tech, as it is commonly known, has developed a template that helps faculty members determine how to incorporate eight primary workplace expectations into grading, including personal responsibility, interdependence and emotional intelligence. Soft skills should count for 8 to 10 percent of grades in courses that adopt those guidelines, college officials said.

“We’re teaching our students to walk the walk,” said Jean B. Finley, an instructor of business computer technologies.

Academic departments will have flexibility in deciding how to use workplace readiness grading. For example, some soft skills might be easier to measure in disciplines like nursing or culinary arts, which generally lead to jobs with clear demands. Liberal arts programs can be trickier. However, the central concept will be applicable across the curriculum, according to college officials.

A certificate based on a student’s passing marks on self-awareness – one of A-B Tech’s soft skill categories – might seem like a squishy idea. But the benefits of learning to how behave and perform in the workplace are very real, said Sue Olesiuk, A-B Tech’s dean of academic success.

“You’re going to have a better chance of getting a job and keeping a job,” she said.

The certificates will come with short explanations aimed at employers. And students will be able to earn them in tandem with traditional degrees and certificates.

Fain also reports that some faculty associated with the college are resisting the move.

Not everyone at A-B Tech is fully on-board with the workplace readiness program, Quinley said. But she predicted that the holdouts would come around quickly, in part because the approach will boost academic performance.

Finley agreed. She has been teaching soft skills for more than 20 years, which she said encourages higher quality academic work.

“My students are able to prioritize better,” Finley said. “My supervisor expects me to be a problem solver. And that’s what I expect of my students.”