Despite being extremely well-educated, the youngest group of U.S. workers faces uncomfortably high unemployment and record levels of underemployment. Certainly, the reasons for this employment conundrum are varied, but in the mix of opinions on the subject one issue keeps cropping up: Young workers suffer from a deficit of so-called "soft skills," which include the ability to communicate and solve problems.
Employers want these skills, and are finding that even young applicants with the required hard skills don't have them -- and it's costing those young workers jobs that they might otherwise have been able to fill.
Soft skills: somewhat amorphous, but necessary
Surveys prove that employers find a high percentage of college graduates unprepared for the workplace. A recent study by Millennial Branding and American Express found that 47% of employers think young workers have a poor work ethic, while a National Association of Colleges and Employers report identified the ability to make decisions, solve problems, and communicate effectively with diverse groups of people among those qualities most prized by employers.
Interestingly, the Millennial Branding study notes that more than 60% of managers and young employees agreed that soft skills are very important when promoting workers. Still, a survey of corporate executives administered by Adecco Staffing found 44% of those polled saying that capabilities like communication, creativity, and team collaboration are the attributes they consider the true skills gap in today's workplace.
Who can fix this problem?
Obviously, these are not traits normally taught in college. However, as the problems continues to worsen, some are calling for institutions of higher education to step up and offer soft skills instruction -- and some are beginning to take up the challenge.
While it's not surprising that nearly 60% of the executives polled by Adeccosaid colleges are not effectively training students in these kinds of capabilities, a recent Gallup pollshows that the general public feels that primary schools need to teach soft skills, too. At least 78% strongly agreed that grades K-12 should teach students communication and critical thinking skills, perhaps highlighting the fact that this type of education needs to start earlier, rather than later.
At least one school has begun integrating the need for soft skills into its curriculum. Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina is developing courses that encompass such aptitudes, and the school is working on awarding "workplace readiness certificates" to students who demonstrate a grasp of the soft-skills concept.
But schools aren't the only players here. Employers demanding these skills should be ready to put their money where their mouths are. Although 89% of the executives responding to the Adecco poll said that employer-based training is a viable solution, 42% noted that the cost of implementation will likely keep workplace resources from being developed.
College students and graduates have the most to lose here and must take the time to identify and develop the characteristics that employers want. Being well-rounded is just as important as it ever was, and showing leadership and creativity through college-based activities, volunteer work, and internships relevant to the student's major are all excellent ways to show ambition and enthusiasm. Without a doubt, students and graduates who make the effort to ready themselves for the job-hunting process will find themselves with a leg up on their less-prepared peers.
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