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Managing the Soft Skills Gap in Younger Workers

by: Bruce Tulgan

You are very careful in your recruiting, selection, and hiring processes. Yet, it is getting increasingly harder to figure out which young job candidates to hire. Should you hire the promising new graduate with impressive freshly minted credentials indicating valuable technical skills, even though he seems like he might be lacking in some of those elusive “soft skills”?

If you read the latest headlines, it seems like more and more of young new hires are not working out. They make very little effort to fit in. Too often they say the wrong things at the wrong times, and they fail to ask many of the questions they should be asking. They spend half the workday on their devices instead of focusing on the work. These issues become really visible in customer service scores, along with other complaints about young frontline service personnel.

What’s more, they often don’t seem to appreciate that they are entering a pre-existing scene. They forget that they are joining an organization with its own mission, history, structure, rules, and culture; integrating with a group that has its own established dynamic; and engaging with individuals, each of whom has his or her own story and many of whom have been part of this scene in this organization for years on end or longer. Unfortunately, sometimes their lack of interpersonal skills leads to misunderstandings and even conflicts on the team.

Most of them seem to have one foot out the door from the day they arrive, all the while asking for more of something—or more of everything. Even today’s young “superstar” employees fail to come in early, stay late, work through meals and weekends and holidays, bend over backward, and jump through hoops like the rock stars of yesteryear.

Mind the Gap

Does any of this sound familiar? If you are like most managers dealing with young employees, then you no doubt have first-hand experience with a very serious management challenge that has been growing in recent years. According to numerous studies, including research at RainmakerThinking, there is an ever-widening “soft skills” gap in the workforce, especially among the newest new young workforce.

This gap is not as familiar as the technical skill gap, but it should be—the impact is monumental. The data shows that, like the technical skill gap, the soft skills gap in the workforce has been developing slowly for decades. Notably, however, the soft skills gap runs across the entire workforce: among workers with technical skills that are in great demand, every bit as much as workers without technical skills. More importantly, soft skills gap has gotten much worse in recent years.

Bottom Line

The term “soft skills,” in contrast to “hard skills” which are technical in nature, encompasses a wide range of non-technical skills, ranging from “self-awareness” to “people skills” to “problem solving” to “teamwork.” These skills may be less tangible and harder to define and measure than many of the technical skills, but they are absolutely critical to the success or failure of any individual in the workplace.

When employees have significant gaps in their soft skills, there are significant negative consequences. Potentially good hires are overlooked. Good hires go bad. Bad hires go worse. Misunderstandings abound. People get distracted. Productivity decreases. Mistakes are made. Customer service suffers. Workplace conflicts occur more frequently. And worse, good people leave.

Smart managers must not only acknowledge a lack of critical soft skills in their younger workers, they need to work with talent development leaders to find ways to bridge the soft skills gap—through training, mentoring, coaching, and so on.

Bruce Tulgan

Bruce Tulgan is internationally recognized as the leading expert on young people in the workplace and one of the leading experts on leadership and management. Bruce is a best-selling author, an adviser to business leaders all over the world, and a sought-after keynote speaker and management trainer.

Reprinted with permission, © 2017 Association for Talent Development

Reprinted with permission, © 2017 Association for Talent Development

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