Todd's Blog

Don’t forget the soft stuff – soft skills in the workplace

‘The real challenge for organisations is to identify and develop candidates that not only have the technical skills required for a task but also have the right soft skills and mindset for success’.  

soft skills not being taught at university?

More and more research validates that universities are not equipping graduates with the real skills they need to succeed in the workplace.

Employers are saying that it’s not enough just to have the technical or academic ability. Understandably, they want to recruit candidates who will be a good ‘fit’ in their organisation. Usually, this translates as: will they get along with other people? Can they cope with life in the workplace?  Are they adaptable as things change? It seems what is missing, for many graduates, are the ‘softer skills’ that relate to their ability to empathise and interact effectively with others, to communicate well, and to work in teams. And these are the key skills for aspiring professionals and managers!

These issues aren’t likely to go away, and in my opinion, if anything will be exacerbated by other environmental shifts.  I grew up in a generation where my social interactions with others were constant, and face-to-face.  Matter of fact, I can still remember my only negative report cards from early education typically containing some language to the effect of cautioning about the extent of my ‘socialness’.  Not only didn’t my educators recognise how this aided my development, they actually felt I was hampering others in their noble quest to diagram a sentence or memorise the periodic table!  Today’s generation (our up and coming workforce) has developed in a much more ‘heads down’ mode.  While a more technology-agile workforce will have some advantage, a workforce whose primary method of communication is texting, may not.  What’s worse is that this generation is entering the workforce at a time when many organisations, looking for budget cuts, aren’t investing as heavily in the very skills that will be needed for survival.

Back in 2012, we highlighted that business should really be looking for five specific traits and a mindset for success, in new recruits.  Because the days of hiring people for a steady job – with a predictable workload – are over, our argument is that employers now need to recruit and develop individuals who are talented, resilient, adaptable, imaginative and trustworthy. These five traits form the mnemonic TRAIT. Adaptability is vital, as today’s recruits will need to become, to some extent, a Jack or Jill of all trades. The most important thing, though, is having the right mindset, because that will impact on whatever job they’re asked to do.

So, why aren’t these skills overtly learned at universities or business schools? Perhaps because ‘soft skills’ can actually be the hardest skills to teach? Getting people to behave differently, take a different approach, or have a different attitude, takes a more sophisticated approach to enabling learning.

Two things are needed to resolve this situation. First, students themselves must take more responsibility for developing the skills that will make them more employable. Secondly, universities and business schools need to update their formula. This could mean supplementing their capabilities with an alternative approach, partnering with soft skills providers to provide subject matter expertise and delivery know-how. Not only will the result be valuable for students in their work, but it is likely to help them in their lives generally.  And even then, the workforce must be ready to accept new graduates and understand the fundamental shift that occurs during that first transition to the working world.

So, the real challenge for organisations is to identify and develop candidates that not only have the technical skills required for a task but also have the right traits and the right mindset for success.

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