Sy Syms Strengthens the Soft Skills

Professor Marc Spear (center) helps Sy Syms students fine-tune a business presentation

Is it time to rebrand “soft skills” now that they are in such high demand across industries? As pointed out by a LinkedIn Learning report published in September 2022, skills such as communication are no longer considered “squishy” in today’s job market. They’re considered a must. And knowing how to apply them effectively not only improves workplace readiness but also can future-proof careers. Just ask Professor Marc Spear, chair of business communications at the Sy Syms School of Business and one of the architects of the school’s new business communications curriculum, which is laser-focused on workplace readiness.

As of fall semester 2022, Sy Syms has introduced two sequential business communications courses replacing the first-year English writing and presentation-skills course requirements. The goal of the recreated curriculum: to expand the quality and quantity of real-world communication skills Sy Syms students can acquire through a stronger, more robust focus on business writing, presentations and professionalism.

“Communication expertise is becoming one of the key qualifications employers look for when hiring,” remarks Spear. “And as educators we need to work with our students to create a practical and powerful skillset that can help them successfully transition from the classroom to the workplace.”  For instance, a student may be good at English composition but in an actual business setting might have trouble parlaying that ability into writing a persuasive project pitch, preparing an online presentation or running a productive meeting. It’s a challenge that the new Sy Syms curriculum is prepared to meet —  to turn  students into polished communicators equipped with a best-in-class toolkit.

Strategizing with a student on a project pitch

Noam Wasserman, Dean of Sy Syms, notes that the feedback received from faculty during the August 2021 Faculty Day as well as separate input from students and alumni were the initial spark for developing the new curriculum, with each group identifying areas that needed strengthening. Once that feedback was in hand, the process of revamping the curriculum from the ground up began. “The curriculum isn’t something we developed overnight,” says Spear. “Rather, we examined how communication skills have been taught over the last 10 years and then, in what we termed a listening tour, reached out to business communications experts and alumni who are well established in the business world, gleaning their insight and advice.”

The result: course content that takes an integrated and experiential approach to the oral, written and interpersonal skills that are the basis of effective, real-world business communications. Course One covers the foundational elements of writing, public speaking and communication style. Course Two raises the ante with advanced skills development in those three key areas. Students learn how to increase their fluency in crafting business plans and reports, apply sophisticated concepts like “emotional intelligence” to difficult workplace situations, understand the dynamics of teamwork,  improve their networking presence, and much more. “When I talk with first-semester students who are taking Business Communications One, they praise its relevance and immediate applicability,” remarks Dean Wasserman. “In fact, one student who was asked to give a Dvar Torah over the holidays told me that he was even more effective than usual because of the class.”

Spear points out that one of the curriculum’s standout features is the hands-on, active learning environment it provides. Students engage in peer-to-peer analysis of their work and, then through specific exercises, apply those skills outside of the classroom, giving them the opportunity to identify problem areas and the knowledge to fix them.

“From a communications perspective, we’ve taken the best of classroom practices and integrated them with proven corporate training techniques to make our students career-ready in every way, shape and form,” notes Spear. “And that kind of focus is not only exciting but empowering.”