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Soft Skills, In Turn: An Exploratory Qualitative Study of Soft Skill Development Through Individual Internship Experiences in a Workplace Setting Open Access

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It is increasingly being recognized that students are not developing all the skills in school that employers need. Much of this skill gap stems from students not developing soft skills such as the ability to communicate, form interpersonal relationships, and act professionally. This is a problem for students because it limits their employability, a problem for employers because it limits the capabilities of the emerging workforce, and a problem for educators because it limits the practical value of the degree programs they offer. While soft skills are difficult to develop in the classroom, it is known that internships provide an effective alternative. However, the nature of internship experiences that develop interns’ soft skills has been largely unexplored. Therefore, the purpose of this basic qualitative study was to explore the research question: What is the nature of internship experiences that develop interns’ soft skills? Sub-questions included: (a) What internship experiences contribute to interns’ soft skill development? and (b) How do these internship experiences develop interns’ soft skills?To investigate these questions, data for this study was collected through semi-structured interviews with a diversity of 19 research participants engaged in internships at a large scientific and cultural organization. Based on a review of experiential learning, internship, soft skill, and experiential learning theory literature, questions posed to participants were specifically designed to explore a variety of factors relevant to the research question of this study. These factors included communication, relationships, professionalism, mentorship, biography, context, sensation, reflection, comprehension, and action. Based on analysis of the data, this study offered three principal conclusions. (1) interns develop soft skills when they interact, relate, and are professional with others; (2) interns develop soft skills by pushing boundaries, reflecting with mentors, being motivated, and repeating action; (3) the nature of internship experiences that develop intern soft skills is their capacity to offer a full range of opportunities to practice soft skills.

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