Moreover, the concern extends beyond the corner office: CareerBuilder found that 77 percent of surveyed employers (hiring managers and HR) rated soft skills as being of equal importance to cognitive skills such as math and science. When individuals lack soft skills, companies run the risk of suffering from high turnover, terminations, and ultimately, lost productivity.
While addressing this gap may seem hard for employers, it would benefit their businesses if they became involved. The need for companies to engage on this front could not come at a more urgent time, given the reality of ongoing labor shortages caused by the mass retirement of baby boomers, many of whom work in the services sector. Employers must become adaptable at the community level in order to create a sustainable talent pipeline.
On the upside, the research found business leaders agree that exposure to the workplace is helpful as one strategy for developing soft skills – the creation of a worker who has a positive attitude, is resilient, motivated, and a problem solver.
Internship and apprenticeship–type programs can strengthen and bolster soft skills, in addition to the perhaps more obvious technical skills. And it should be noted that soft skills and technical skills can be developed simultaneously – they need not be isolated.
As just one example, CVS Health has a program that exposes and trains high school students for careers in the science-heavy pharmaceutical industry.
These and other workplace learning experiences boost the development of communication, conflict management, and time management skills. Students in a workplace are exposed to ethical situations.
They gain appreciation for what it means to act ethically. They also increase their understanding of what it means to treat others with respect, and have others extend that same treatment back. These are all characteristics that just about every parent hopes to see in their adult children, and that employers hope to find in new employees.
Any human capital challenge must begin and end with humans themselves. In this case, the people of the business world must be willing to cross over into the education community to work with teachers, administrators, and parents.
The need for communication among stakeholders means that many communities could even benefit from an intermediary to serve as a conduit for gathering and sharing information.
The April jobs report shows vast opportunity for those high school seniors who will soon graduate and then jump into the world of work. But opportunity by no means ensures success. Putting greater priority on developing soft skills will play no small part in realizing these students' workplace success – both now and throughout their careers.
Commentary by Steve Odland, CEO of the Committee for Economic Development (CED) and former CEO of Office Depot and AutoZone; and Cindy Cisneros, vice president of education programs at CED. Read the organization's new report on workforce readiness here. Follow Steve Odland on Twitter @CEDUpdate and @SteveOdland.
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