What employers really need from recent grads: Soft skills

'The great expertise you may have may be overshadowed by a lack of soft skills'

Aside from technical knowledge, employers are seeking applicants with soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, and collaboration, Tessa Duvall reports for the Florida Times-Union

More than 90% of business leaders believe U.S. workers are not as skilled as they need to be, according to a 2013 survey of senior-level executives by Adecco Staffing US. The most common skill deficit identified was soft skills, cited by 44% of respondents. Executives also reported that applicants lacked technical skills (cited by 22% of leaders) and leadership (14%).

Many leaders agree that colleges need to focus on skills. The question is how.

A lack of soft skills is particularly apparent in industries such as customer service that rely on strong communication. Chris Stampfli, the Jacksonville talent acquisition leader for call-center provider Convergys, says younger employees struggle the most to adopt soft skills such as "being able to show empathy and deal with the customers."

Stampfli blames an overreliance on technology for allowing younger employees to bypass spoken conversations. Other experts agree, including Matthew Ohlson, assistant professor in the department of leadership, school counseling and sport management at the University of North Florida (UNF).

"The access to information is phenomenal, but at the same time, are we taking away from our opportunity to connect with fidelity?" Ohlson asks. "While we're sending emojis and text messages, are we sending handwritten notes saying 'thank you' to someone?"

He says as education has shifted toward a culture of testing and retaining information quickly, there has been less emphasis on developing students holistically. 

"How do you put that content knowledge into action?" he says. "The great expertise you may have may be overshadowed by a lack of soft skills."

To help students gain the soft skills that will help them thrive in their careers, Ohlson launched the Collegiate Achievement Mentoring Program (CAMP Osprey) at UNF for K-12 and postsecondary students. The camp extends a program Ohlson originally developed at the University of Florida in 2008. CAMP Osprey provides college-age mentors with leadership and skills training that they teach, in turn, to younger students. 

Another soft skills program, Generation Jacksonville, teaches students the IT skills necessary to attain industry-specific certifications, as well as professional skills that will make them valuable employees.

"Employers can train someone how to do their job ... but they can't train you to come to work, to come to work on time, to respect your coworkers, to respect their customers, to not feel disrespected by every little thing that happens," says Generation Jacksonville coordinator Standralyn Terry. "These are things that are going to happen in life" (Duvall, Florida Times-Union, 4/9).

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