The generation lacking 'soft skills'

Aug 26, 2015 at 2:25 pm
The generation lacking 'soft skills'

Recently, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce released a report entitled “Kentucky’s Workforce Challenges: The Employer’s Perspective.” This report, receiving lots of media attention, provides research data gathered from a survey completed by Kentucky Chamber members aimed to add insight to the phenomenon that’s simply summarized as “too many people without jobs and too many jobs without people.” I will admit … I was unaware that this was a “thing.” I have often heard people say that they were struggling to find work although the economy has been turning around. At the same time, I have seen “Now Hiring” signs all over the city, but had not mentally put two and two together. 

As a new business owner, I was very intrigued by this report: Why, in today’s rebounding economy, are employers struggling to find the employees they need when so many people are still unemployed? According to members of the Chamber, employers have six different challenges. When asked, “What is the state of the workforce as it relates to your company’s employment needs,” the following was reported: 1) Employers have trouble finding people with good “soft” skills — 27 percent (professionalism, attendance, communication, teamwork, et cetera), 2) Employers have trouble finding people with the right technical skills — 23 percent, 3) Generational difference in work ethic (the current generation of jobseekers doesn’t work as hard) — 17 percent, 4) Potential employees cannot pass a drug test — 15 percent, 5) Employees have good skills but need retraining for specific technical skills — 10 percent, and 6) Overall workforce has good skills — 8 percent.

I stared at and assessed the graphic displaying this data … for at least 20 minutes, I stared in shock. From the employer perspective, only 18 percent of folks seeking work are employable at the time they apply for jobs. Beyond this, the fact that “soft skills” scored the highest percentage tells a lot about the current landscape. What this survey tells us is that there is a need for improved employability skills. It tells us that we need to find a way to teach things like professionalism, how to dress and present oneself for an interview, how to craft a resume, workplace communication etiquette and how to work as a team. 

To address this lack of “soft skills,” the Chamber recommends: “Kentucky should develop and incorporate soft skills/work readiness into its College and Career Readiness requirements for schools, including regular assessments to ensure the demonstrated proficiency of these skills.” I couldn’t agree more! We spend a lot of time in dialogue about creating jobs and attracting businesses to Kentucky, but what’s the use if we aren’t adequately investing in our residents to ensure they are prepared in one of the most basic ways? I suggest we re-evaluate what “College and Career Ready” really means. We are doing our community, our Commonwealth, a disservice if we “graduate” into society, people who may have some type of profitable skill but are not able to be professional enough to get hired. 

Rightfully, the next question arises: Whose responsibility is it to teach professionalism? I can hear the masses screaming, “Parents!” I disagree. Although this may seem like the natural answer, not everyone is fortunate enough to have professional, involved parents in their lives. My answer is — the education system. I know, I know, that seems like the answer to almost everything, but I did a little research on this one. I wanted an answer to the question “What is the purpose of school?” Meaning, why are we sending kids to school in the first place?

As you can imagine, I found many philosophies, but what I found to be the most consistent was the following: The purpose of education is to support children in developing the skills, the knowledge and the dispositions that will allow them to be responsible, contributing members of their community. If that is true, and I believe it is, we must make room in our curriculum to ensure that students are employable. If we teach them the importance of professionalism and we teach them how to present their “best selves” when entering the workforce, we empower them to live more productive lives. And that is a win for everyone!

I recently read about a four-step plan to attract and keep talent in Louisville in The Courier-Journal. I suggest we grow, develop and properly prepare the talent that is already here. #MoreFocus