Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Needed: Soft Skills

Long time readers of the blog might recall my efforts to emphasize the importance of soft skills. Beginning eight years ago I wrote about the ability to get along with others. If you don’t have it, you will have fewer friends and weaker relationships. If you do not know how to get along with others you will not be a serious contributor to your company. You will detract from productivity.

Some of my previous thoughts are here, here, here, here, and here.

Today, Kate Davidson reports in the Wall Street Journal that employers across America are bemoaning the fact that their young hires are sorely deficient in soft skills.

She writes:

The job market’s most sought-after skills can be tough to spot on a résumé.

Companies across the U.S. say it is becoming increasingly difficult to find applicants who can communicate clearly, take initiative, problem-solve and get along with co-workers.

Those traits, often called soft skills, can make the difference between a standout employee and one who just gets by.

Depending on the industry, different soft skills are required:

As the labor market tightens, competition has heated up for workers with the right mix of soft skills, which vary by industry and across the pay spectrum—from making small talk with a customer at the checkout counter, to coordinating a project across several departments on a tight deadline.

Companies are desperate to find the right kind of employees, employees who can get along with other people, work together productively, cooperate and coordinate effort.

Davidson continues:

“We’ve never spent more money in the history of our firm than we are now on recruiting,” said Keith Albritton, chief executive of Allen Investments, an 84-year-old wealth-management company in Lakeland, Fla.

In 2014, the firm hired an industrial psychologist who helped it identify the traits of its top-performing employees, and then developed a test for job candidates to determine how closely they fit the bill.

In the increasingly complex financial-services world, advisers often collaborate with accountants, attorneys and other planning professionals, Mr. Albritton said. That means the firm’s associates must be able to work in teams. “You can’t just be the general of your own army,” he said.

Now, where might today’s young people have learned that each individual should be the general of his own army? Hmmm. Could it be that they learned it in school when they were having their self-esteem puffed up by teachers who believe that therapy is more important than education? Could it be that they learned it from political leaders, especially our current president, who does not care about getting along with the opposition party, who does not respect the balance of powers but pretends that he is the general of his own army?

As I have often suggested, we must, when considering sociocultural trends, give full weight to the importance of the example set by those who are in charge—like our president.

Anyway, poor soft skills mean more misunderstanding, more miscommunication, more drama and more wasted time. The result: decreased productivity:

A recent LinkedIn survey of 291 hiring managers found 58% say the lack of soft skills among job candidates is limiting their company’s productivity.

In a Wall Street Journal survey of nearly 900 executives last year, 92% said soft skills were equally important or more important than technical skills. But 89% said they have a very or somewhat difficult time finding people with the requisite attributes. Many say it’s a problem spanning age groups and experience levels.

And also:

To determine the most sought-after soft skills, LinkedIn analyzed those listed on the profiles of members who applied for two or more jobs and changed jobs between June 2014 and June 2015. The ability to communicate trumped all else, followed by organization, capacity for teamwork, punctuality, critical thinking, social savvy, creativity and adaptability.

One restaurant manager bemoaned the absence of soft skills in her employees:

“I can teach somebody how to slice and dice onions. I can teach somebody how to cook a soup. But it’s hard to teach someone normal manners, or what you consider work ethic,” she said.

God help us, but today’s young people, especially members of the much derided millennial generation have no manners and a highly faulty work ethic.

When employers want to find out about an potential hire’s soft skills, they do what employers have been doing since the beginning of business. They invite him or her out for dinner, in the company of his or her spouse:

At Two Bostons, a small chain of pet boutiques outside Chicago, owner AdreAnne Tesene conducts at least three rounds of interviews before she hires someone.

For higher-level positions, she invites job candidates and their significant others out to dinner with the rest of the management team, “so we can see how they treat their family.” She also has her employees fill out an evaluation of a new co-worker after 90 days.

It’s not just about how they treat their families. It’s about how they treat the busboy. It’s about whether or not they have good table manners. Someone who has bad manners is rude, self-centered and inconsiderate. You cannot get along with other people if you are rude, self-centered and inconsiderate.

Unfortunately, if one of these young millennials goes to therapy he will discover that his bad manners are a good thing, a blow against the patriarchy, against inequality and against capitalism. He might even learn that his bad manners are signs that he is a creative individual, someone who does not conform to social norms. The result: not only will he be lacking in soft skills but he will believe that they are for chumps.

As he settles in to his old room in his parents’ house, he will have plenty of time to figure out why his job prospects have been so dim.


David Foster said...

It is very important for the hiring manager (i.e., the manager who needs the job filled and to whom the new hire will report) to be in control of the hiring process and be the ultimate decision-maker. Authority and responsibility go together; the hiring decision should be made by the person who will be accountable for results. Don't just slough it off on HR or a recruiting firm; use them as resources but not as ultimate authorities.

I've heard of companies who require about 8 people to interview a prospective employee and who allow *any one of the eight* to make a no-hire decision. This is insane; you can imaging the kind of problems it creates.

AesopFan said...

I'm "blowing my own horn" here, but as a long-time member of the LDS Church (joined in grad school) I have observed that, overall, the work ethic of the Mormons (the active members; we do have our own dead-beats) leads to the cultivation of exactly the soft skills described here, and it begins at an early age.

I'm currently serving in the Mission Office in my area and interact with the elders and sisters on a daily basis. I have been tremendously impressed by the interpersonal skills of these young people aged 18-22 (again, this is "overall" not "everybody") and the mission rules help them develop the discipline of productive work as well as teamwork and conversational skills.

Want some good hires? Go to BYU (3 campuses now) or contact your local college's Institute of Religion (student organizations).


Or make sure HR asks for Eagle Scouts.
I'm not deliberately slighting the many capable women in the workforce, but there really is no nationally recognized equivalent of the work involved in earning that badge, although I wish there were.

Trigger Warning said...

Well, there's also the problem of self-disfigurement. Is grooming a "soft skill"? I suppose it might not matter if one is inked up with bizarre symbolism, profanity, or sexual imagery, or earlobes stretched to brush one's shoulders, when applying for a job cutting up chickens, but it surely matters for a job meeting the public. Unless one lives in San Francisco, I suppose, where they publish a public defecation map for tourists highlighting the zones to avoid.

Sam L. said...

AF, the Venturing Summit Award is equivalent, and Venturing is officially co-ed, though not, to my knowledge, in the LDS church, or even a separate girls-only Crew there. I know four young women who earned it some years back, when it was the Silver Award.

Ares Olympus said...

Well, its good to know its not just the Muslims who are having trouble getting along and making themselves useful.

--> To determine the most sought-after soft skills, LinkedIn analyzed those listed on the profiles of members who applied for two or more jobs and changed jobs between June 2014 and June 2015. The ability to communicate trumped all else, followed by organization, capacity for teamwork, punctuality, critical thinking, social savvy, creativity and adaptability.

I admit these are nice sounding words that would appear to be very subjective. Its easier to ask for something than to identify it being there or not, or somewhere in between.

I don't think I'd label most of these as soft-skills. And you also have to start with the presumption of capable leadership, and you have to deal with the problem of "eagerness to please" which most young people start out with in new situations, and opens the door to mentorship, but if a boss shows his own passive-aggressive cluelessness in asking clearly what he wants, he's going to at best build up employees willing to "look good" and not much more.

Okay the restaurant manager offers an example maybe “I can teach somebody how to slice and dice onions. I can teach somebody how to cook a soup. But it’s hard to teach someone normal manners, or what you consider work ethic,” she said.

But asking for "normal manners" is basically whining, at least without specifics. I can see the problem. Like if someone has some annoying habit, someone else has to has the unfortunate duty or opportunity to inform this person of how they look from the outside, and most people are not comfortable with that, and then its easier to be passive aggressive and whine.

So I suppose a "soft-skill" I'd value would be like the Four Agreements:
The Four Agreements are:

1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

I think there's lots of room for interpretation above, but at least this offers a starting point to see when you might be "missing the mark", and you might be curious rather than offended when someone tells you how your behavior looks from the outside. But if you're working with your own standards, you won't be completely disoriented when someone like a boss says you fall short of theirs.

AesopFan said...

Sam L. said...
AF, the Venturing Summit Award is equivalent,..
August 30, 2016 at 12:33 PM

Thanks for the update.

Ares: So I suppose a "soft-skill" I'd value would be like the Four Agreements:

Great list
My sister was a manager for Walden Books for many years, and despaired of getting candidates who would even show up on time dressed appropriately. On occasion, a new hire would fail to even come to work on the agreed date, or suddenly stop showing up after a few days, with no notice.

Lack of soft skills, indeed.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Developing soft skills requires young people to speak with each other, and resolve differences and/or incongruities in their relationships. It's so normal that it's an absolute requirement for success.

It's negotiation, a universal skill ALL human societies demand. The most successful people at negotiation (like Donald Trump) are usually successful and wealthy, with an abundance of social and economic options. But you must be able to communicate effectively, in a number of different dimensions.

This is why people who cannot (or refuse to) speak English limit their economic opportunity and social mobility in the United States of America. It's much, much less about the color of their skin... This can be ivercome with mastery of language and navigation of complex social customs.

Beyond the age of reason, the handicaps of language and socio-cultural integration are willful and freely chosen. Yet we are supposed to empathize with such foolish choices, which are less about educational performance and more about the desire to realize economic benefits. And these consequences manifest early.

Even idiots can learn a new language, so it's a choice. Yet bilingual education persists, as do multi-language ballots and government communications. It's insane to encourage this by accommodating iit. Mastery of a local language is a non-discriminatory, equal-opportunity economic predictor. Everywhere.

People are universally impressed by newcomers who survive the struggle to learn a local language. They are further astounded by those who seek to master the dialect and intonation. A foreigner who can speak with linguistic camouflage is a marvel. It is the ultimate equalizer. Sacrifice and effort generate immediate small rewards and grand successes over time. Especially inthe USA.

On the broad issue of soft skills, I've met too many young people who cannot do this. Really. It's amazing. Little things we took for granted when we were young like playing pickup tackle football (too dangerous) or improvised baseball/whiffleball games, or tag, or capture the flag, or kick-the-can, or pickle, or, or, or... Yeah, those kinds of improvised neighborhood games don't happen anymore. Everything has to be organized, with rules, uniforms, clubs, transportation, hierarchical leagues, etc. As a result, people don't have to say "'New rule..." in order to resolve inevitable conflicts and normal issues in order to keep playing.

It's as though the whole pussy thing of "I'm gonna pick up my ball and go home..." is now socially acceptable because mommies are solving boys' problems and validating their frustrations -- saying it's okay to quit and go home with hurt feelings and tempestuous emotional turmoil.

So golly, I can't image why there is a dearth of soft skills. The interlocution this kind of "boys will be boys" conflict resolution (deal with it, suck it up, what's your problem dude?) these interactions demand is not only healthy, but necessary in producing an integrated, contributing, functional adult. Especially for males.

And we wonder why college retards personal growth? It's another subjective, individualistic, logical playground to further encourage and reward antisocial behavior. But our precious snowflakes get "triggered," so everything has to stop. Run to mommy.

It's sick. Truly.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

As a follow-up, if I were a young man today looking to choose a suitable mate to build a family with, I think I would like to sit down with her to watch a TV program showing U.S. Navy SEAL basic training -- known as BUDS. Obviously a man doesn't need to complete BUDS to be a man. But if my prospective mate exclaimed "That's so mean!" or reacted in disgust to the program, she would not be the woman for me. If she can't see that men have to earn the prize, whether it be the SEAL trident, a woman, the job they want, etc. then she would be out. Let someone else enable the pussification of America (my own wife's phrase). Who wants to be around a meepy guy? Who wants to be with a woman who is so self-righteously protective that she never wants her son(s) to grow up? I can imagine nothing worse. FAIL.

sestamibi said...

Except I think we've gone overboard on the "soft skills" fad to the detriment of our economy, and that reflects the ongoing cuntification of our society. Last couple of interviews I did (and just for the record, I was dealing from a position of strength, as I was currently employed) it seemed more important to the company that I not rock the boat, and that no one's feelings ever be hurt on the job, than ability to perform the work required itself.