Bruce Tulgan is the new Tom Peters.
Howard Jenkins, Chairman and CEO (fmr.), Publix Super Markets, Inc.

Bridging the Soft Skills Gap

Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: How to Teach the Missing Basics to Today’s Young Talent

The number one challenge with today’s young talent is a problem hiding in plain sight: The ever-widening “Soft Skills Gap.”

Today’s newest new young workforce has so much to offer – new technical skills, new ideas, new perspective, new energy. Yet too many of them are held back —often unwittingly — because of their weak soft skills.

Here’s what managers say:

  • “They just don’t know how to behave professionally.”
  • “They arrive late, leave early, dress inappropriately, and spend too much time on social media.”
  • “They know how to text but they don’t know how to write a memo.”
  • “They don’t know what to say and what not to say or how to behave in meetings.”
  • “They don’t know how to think, learn, or communicate without checking a device.”
  • “They don’t have enough respect for authority, and don’t know the first thing about good citizenship, service or teamwork.”

There is a growing gap between the expectations of employers and the reality of how today’s new young talent is showing up in the workplace. Today’s young stars may well show up with the latest and greatest tools and tricks. Indeed, many of them seem to have developed almost “super-powers” in their chosen areas of interest and focus. They are often masters of the newfangled. What they are missing –way too often and more and more— is the old-fashioned basics. What many refer to as “the soft skills.”

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.

Now, based on more than twenty years of research and intensive work with young employees in organizations of all shapes and sizes, I’ve put our best research on the subject and our best practices into my newest book, BRIDGING THE SOFT SKILLS GAP. In the book, I’ve tried to lay out concrete solutions to help managers teach the missing basics of professionalism, critical thinking, and followership – complete with 92 step-by-step lesson plans designed to be highly flexible and easy to use.

Our research and proven approach has shown that the key to teaching young people the missing soft skills lies in breaking down the critical soft skills into their component parts; concentrating on one small component at a time; with the help of a teaching-style manager. Almost all of the exercises can be done in less than an hour within a team meeting or an extended one-on-one. The exercises are easily modified and customized and can be used in many different ways:

  • as “take-home” exercises to any individual or group;
  • to guide one-on-one discussions with direct-reports;
  • in the classroom as written exercises or as group discussions;

Of course, my aim is that managers —and their young employees— will find themselves returning to their favorite exercises over and over again. One exercise at a time, managers can help their new young employees build up the most important soft skills. These critical soft skills can make the difference between mediocre and good; between good and great; between great and ‘one of a kind.

Want to watch the video blog? View it at the Thinkers 50 website, here!

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