Skill Development Needed for Positions in Higher Education

Daphne Heflin
Daphne Heflin
Elementary school principal; Ed.S. in Educational Leadership and Administration
Older gentleman helping a young woman outside of student services.

As one pursues an initial career, a life-long profession, or a change in jobs, a person often reflects on prior experiences, new desires, and current skills. A person may remember personal, enjoyable experiences, like college, for example. As a result, one may think about starting a career in higher education. Also, someone may think about people they hold in high regard, like teachers, advisors, coaches, or professors who made a difference in their life or the lives of others. Consequently, that person may decide to pursue a position in which they teach, advise, or coach. One may consider seeking something new or something they want to experience but have never done.

In addition to personal reflections when making career choices, one should ask a couple of critical questions: What is available in my area of interest? Do I have the skills required, or can I acquire the necessary skills? Higher education is an area for lifelong professionals and those seeking career changes. In higher education, many positions that require a variety of skills are available.

Types of Higher Education Jobs

Administrative, faculty, and executive positions are categories of jobs in higher education. Administrative positions are those in which personnel oversee or work in departments, support faculty and staff, participate in the development, implementation, or work in student services, programs, buildings, grounds, finances, curricula, and more. Specifically, administrative positions include academic advisors, faculty development specialists, student services administrators and coordinators, communications and marketing specialists, computer and information technology specialists, and business and financial services specialists. Specialists may advise students, develop training opportunities for faculty, organize events for students, promote the university through public relations and communications, develop plans for and conduct maintenance of technological resources, and support students in their business affairs and financial needs.

In addition to administrative positions, faculty positions are available in higher education. Faculty involves academic personnel. Academic faculty promote the educational mission of the institution through quality instruction. They also must keep abreast of the newest developments in their fields; so, professors and instructors are also learners. They learn through reading, faculty development, and research. Faculty positions include instructors, researchers, and professors.

Another category of higher education jobs is executive positions. Executive positions are those in which the professionals make decisions, manage budgets and costs, conduct outreach, and more; ultimately, these professionals guide departments and the entire organization toward growth and success. Their specific roles may differ depending on the size and needs of the institution. Executive positions include presidents, vice presidents, provosts, chief academic officers, and deans of departments.

Many jobs exist in higher education, and most jobs fall into one of the categories mentioned earlier: administrative, faculty, or executive. Regardless of the category or the specific position, individuals filling positions in higher education need to have the required skills to be successful.

Skills Needed for Positions in Higher Education

To be successful in a job or career in higher education, an individual must have several impactful skills. Many of the skills for success in higher education are transferrable, meaning other careers require the same skills. The transferrable skills needed for success in higher education careers include (but are not limited to) oral and written communication skills, professionalism, collaboration and teamwork, critical thinking and problem solving, and networking skills.

Oral and written communication skills are a must. Individuals must clearly articulate their thoughts, opinions, and information in conversations, group presentations, phone calls, emails, letters, documents, and more. Poor communication skills lead to misrepresentations, misunderstandings, poor relationships, and ultimately poor performance and outcomes. On the other hand, high-quality communication skills lead to clear, consistent messages, more substantial presentations and products, the dissemination of accurate information, and more desirable outcomes.

Oral and written communication is a part of the following required skill, professionalism. Professionals communicate clearly, consistently, and promptly. Professionalism also includes such practices as being punctual, dressing professionally, having a positive, enthusiastic attitude on the job, and refusing to entertain unprofessional acts like gossip, unlawful behaviors, unbecoming social media conduct, etc. Being professional while on and off the job is important because higher education personnel represent the institution for which they work.

Next, collaboration and teamwork are essential. People work in departments or teams to accomplish department or team goals and, ultimately, to help meet the institution’s overall vision. One person cannot achieve a team’s goals and the vision of the institution alone. One person must complete many independent tasks; however, this often involves consulting others, organizing or participating in focus groups with others, asking for or providing input, sharing, and, once again, communicating.

While collaborating and while completing independent work, one must be able to think critically and solve problems. No perfect situation or person exists, which means there will be problems to solve and improvements to make. Progress and success require critical thinking, problem-solving, and action.

Finally, networking skills are essential. As in professionalism and collaboration, communication is vital in networking. Networking, or getting to know and build professional relationships with others, opens the door for more cooperation and support.

Many crucial skills relate to other essential, transferrable skills; if one is weak, the others are weaker. Or if one is strong, the others are stronger. For example, and as previously discussed, one cannot collaborate and network without communication. If one’s communication is strong, their collaboration and networking abilities are more substantial. These skills and others are crucial to success when working in higher education, an excellent area for a life-long profession, a career start, a career change, or a place to make a difference.

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