The Soft Skills Gap IS Your Problem
What do young people have to say about the widely perceived widening soft skills gap? Mostly they say, “That’s so true about my friends and me!” or else “Seriously?!” and then, either way, “So what?!”
To that, I usually respond, “Well, it drives the grown-ups crazy and it’s holding you back. If you were to radically improve on these soft skills, it would give you a huge strategic advantage in your career.” The good news is that this is almost always enough explanation to capture their attention and interest in improving.
What do business leaders and managers say when I tell them how they can lead their new young talent through the growing soft skills gap? Often the first response is something like this response from a longtime partner in a large accounting/consulting firm, “This should NOT be our problem to solve! Shouldn’t they have already learned all these old-fashioned basics from their parents? Or in kindergarten? Or at least in high-school or college? Or graduate school for that matter? Certainly by the time they come to work as an associate at this firm, they should know how to get themselves to work on time and behave properly. Am I supposed to teach them how to cross the street too?”
Here’s what I tell my clients: If you employ young people nowadays, then the soft skills gap is your problem. That’s the bad news. So here’s some more good news: You can bridge the soft skills gap and doing so will give you a huge strategic advantage when it comes to hiring the best young talent, getting them on-board and up-to-speed faster, better performance management, improved relationships, and greater retention rates among the best young talent.
For years, I’ve used the military as my ‘ace in the hole’ when making the business case that organizations can and should invest in bridging the soft skills gap. I would typically point to the Marines’ Boot Camp, for example, and say, “The Marines can take an ordinary young person and turn him or her into a United States Marine in just thirteen weeks and together these young Marines make up the most effective fighting force in the history of the world.” Of course, most organizations don’t have the resources (or the inclination) to run the equivalent of their own Boot Camp. (Some do, by the way, and it works like a charm. But those organizations are few and far between.)
The really good news is that you don’t have to put your young employees through the equivalent of a Boot Camp in order to have a huge impact on their soft skills. In fact, we’ve collected hundreds of case studies of organizations and individual managers who have systematically helped their new young employees radically improve their soft skills. There are many, many ways you can help them build up one soft skill at a time; and make them better employees, coworkers, and future leaders.
This content originally appeared in our Just Thinking Newsletter.