The Problem with Soft Skills

According to a survey from the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) in Toronto, our high schools are not adequately preparing students for the workplace; in fact, 42% of respondents reported that these young people are lacking the necessary soft skills required for entry-level work.

Perhaps before I go any further with this, I should define what exactly hard and soft skills are, as some people are not clear on the difference. Hard skills are those that are required to perform a job successfully; these skills are often included in the requirements for a job, and are those that can be acquired through formal education and training programs. Examples of hard skills are web design, accounting, typing and mathematics. Soft skills on the other hand, are attributes and personality traits that are not quantifiable like hard skills are. Soft skills include things like leadership, empathy, and communication, all things which are very hard to teach in a formal setting. Both hard and soft skills are required for success in the workplace, which is why this survey is so interesting.

According to the results, the top three soft skills that are lacking are problem-solving (cited by 62% of respondents), attention to detail (cited by 56%), and interpersonal / teamwork skills (48% of respondents chose this). Where this becomes really interesting however, is in the fact that 70.7% of respondents felt that changes to high school curriculum could help students gain the skills they are currently lacking. But, I just noted above that soft skills are very difficult to teach in a formal educational setting. How then, can this be reconciled?

I would suggest that part of the reason for the lack of soft skills stems from the lowering of standards that is becoming more prevalent in our schools. I hear more and more that secondary students are often not held accountable for turning work in on time, and that communication and writing standards are on the decline, with text speak and poor grammar becoming more common. In my own work with college students,  I witnessed first-hand the lack of soft skills every day. I was an employment advisor, who met one-on-one with students to provide them with help on job search skills and resume writing. I can’t even count how many times students would not show up for their appointments, and never let me know they would not be in, or who could not communicate to me what their goals were or what kind of work they were interested in. In many cases, I also noticed a lack of initiative and a failure to take responsibility for the students’ own learning. All of these things speak to the problem with soft skills that I have been discussing.

Whatever the reason for the missing skills, the HRPA did suggest a possible solution to the problem. Respondents overwhelmingly felt that if schools provided more opportunities for experiential learning, the issue might be improved. Examples of experiential learning include co-ops and volunteer experiences.

But, herein lies a conundrum. How can a student obtain one of these positions to improve their soft skills, when soft skills are necessary to land the opportunity in the first place? Hmm. Seems like a good topic to explore in a future blog post. Stay tuned for my thoughts!

*See the survey at http://www.hrreporter.com/recruitment-and-retention/33644-high-schools-failing-to-provide-foundational-soft-skills-survey

 

 

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