Soft Skills


I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  John 13:16

 When I went to high school and then college, the emphasis was on gaining knowledge and learning. Fast forward to today, and, to an extent that is still true. But my generation, and some that followed, didn’t have digital distractions.

Our lives, outside of study, classes and exams, were spent interacting with one another in a collegial manner. We quickly learned social skills, some better than others. We interacted face to face, not texting or using social media to communicate.

Millennials and Generation Z (also called iGen) are the first generations to have grown up with the internet and digital communications. One result:  studies show a marked decline in their soft skills.

Those interpersonal skills, or “soft skills”, are important in the labor market. Companies want employees who can supervise or direct other employees and who have leadership skills.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal was entitled “Wanted: Employees Who Can Shake Hands and Make Small Talk”.  In the article, Scott Johnson is quoted as saying that you have to educate employees (mostly millennials) not only how to shake hands but you have to “teach them how to look you in the eye when they do it”.

One millennial, Kyle Wheat, admitted that he was terrified of any personal interactions, partly because “it is not what they really teach you in high school.” He admitted that he wasted an entire day trying to fix a printer because he was too scared to ask anyone for help.

Soft skills include the ability to team work and communicate, as well as problem solving skills. Being flexible and having a work ethic is important to all employers.

The ability to make small talk is important. When you go to the ATM these days, there is no human interaction. But when you have a problem, a computer is of little help. You need to speak to a real person, hopefully one that has empathy and will help you solve your problem.

It’s been said that the millennials lack empathy. Their self-absorption gives them a myopic view of the world. Their worldview starts with “me” and often doesn’t get beyond that. The obsession with selfies is symptomatic of their inward focus.

The need for soft skills follows themes of two posts I wrote recently, one entitled EQ, and the other,  Humanics.  Employers like Bank of America are one of several companies that are now teaching soft skills. Bank of America has 17,300 enrollees in one employee program.

David Deming, a professor at the Harvard Business School, notes that jobs which require a high level of social interaction are a growing share of the labor force. “Work…has shifted toward an emphasis on things we can’t do with technology”.

He adds: “There is no way to program a robot to figure out when a customer has had a bad day.”

A 2017 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) confirms several things I have written about: “College graduates aren’t proficient at critical thinking, communication or professionalism.”  I would add commitment to that list.

One commentator put it this way: “You can teach someone how to fix a computer….. but bringing those professional skills to the corporate world is absolutely critical.”

Subaru of America, Inc. has also jumped into training to correct those soft skill deficits. One program, labeled “Respond, Inc.”, has topics covering obvious things like showing up at work on time or wearing appropriate attire.

Subaru and Bank of America are some of the more publicized training efforts. A friend of mine who is in the insurance business and supervises 50 agents said that he is constantly running into these kinds of issues with millennials. He has had to develop internal training programs for things that were never needed before. He is not alone.

To older generations, these are obvious and glaring deficiencies. But to the millennial, it is the norm. They don’t know any better. As I have often said, it’s what you don’t know that hurts you in life. It’s a cultural blind spot.

The challenge here is that education hasn’t kept up in teaching soft skills demanded by the workplace. There needs to be a greater emphasis on teaching critical thinking and learning interpersonal skills than the current emphasis on developing student self-esteem.

While the next generation has a learning deficit in soft skills, I can’t entirely blame them for they are a product of their environment. This is a problem is fixable, but often millennials need a mentor to guide them.

Not every employer is capable of setting up programs to teach the soft skills which will lead to a successful career. Employers might consider setting up a mentor program within their company, pairing an older employee with a millennial.

Who knows?  It might work.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Mentors are in a prime position to help mentees with soft skills, even to the extent of being sure that he knows how to shake hands correctly.

FURTHER STUDY:  The 7 Soft Skills You Need to be Successful– Omnia Group.

Key Attributes Employers Seek on Student’s Resumes by NACE

WSJ Article: “Wanted Employees Who Can Shake Hands and Make Small Talk

WORSHIP: As we enter the Christmas season, listen to Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground).

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