The number of managers who complain about the lack soft skills among their young workers seems to have risen steadily year after year. There is a growing gap between the expectations of employers and the reality of how today’s new talent is showing up to the workplace. Young stars may be tech savvy and come with the latest and greatest gadgets, but they often lack old-fashioned know-how.
Managers tell us every day during our research some version of what a pharmaceutical manager told me: “When I was young and inexperienced, I may have been naïve or immature. But I knew enough to wear a tie, make eye contact, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘yes sir’ and ‘yes ma’am.’ I knew when to shut up and keep my head down and do the grunt work—without having to be told over and over again.”
Here’s what I tell my clients: If you employ young people, then the soft skills gap is your problem. That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: You can bridge the soft skills gap. What’s more, doing so will give you a huge strategic advantage when it comes to hiring the best young talent, and getting them onboard and up-to-speed faster. You will experience better performance management, improved relationships, and greater retention rates among the best young talent.
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: “This should NOT be our problem to solve! Shouldn’t they have already learned all these basics from their parents? Or in kindergarten? Or 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?”
That comment brings to mind an aggressive public service campaign sponsored primarily by Yale University. The city of New Haven and the university posted signs and other resources spelling out the basics of safe pedestrian behavior. This was in response to the ubiquitous traffic hazard of Yale students jaywalking while staring down at their handheld devices. In other words, some of the smartest kids in the world today—future doctors, scientists, accountants, engineers, professors, and leaders in every industry—needed an aggressive public education program in order to learn how to cross the street.
As one official told me, “They have all the latest tools and tricks, but I guess they are somewhat lacking in a lot of basic competencies. What’s really interesting is that the program works. They are actually getting much better at crossing the street.”