ATD Blog

Do Millennials Really Lack Soft Skills?

Friday, August 14, 2015

We hear it time and again that Millennials (those born between 1982 and 1993) lack soft skills. However, a new study by my company, conducted in a partnership with Virtuali, found that Millennials are confident in their soft skills over their hard skills. 

Millennials Strengths

Our survey focused on the strengths and weaknesses that Millennials have regarding leadership skills. The majority of Millennials we spoke with aspire to become leaders, which is good news for companies seeking to fill management and executive-level positions with new talent. Some two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) said that their ability to build relationships was their strongest leadership skill, followed by their communication skills at 51 percent.  

If you were to ask older workers to rate the communication skills of Millennials, though, they would typically give a failing grade. Why this disconnect?

Older generations connect "soft skills" to communicating in a physical space, whereas Millennials better understand how communication has changed in the modern workplace—with many conversations starting with a digital handshake, in which someone reaches out through an email, tweet, Facebook message, text, or instant message. Millennials are highly adept at using technology to facilitate at least the first point of contact, with the understanding that this will eventually become an in-person meeting. In fact, all of our research shows that every generation ultimately prefers in-person over online communication. 


Room for Improvement

A separate study by found that only 35 percent of Millennials view themselves as being tech savvy, a sentiment that 86 percent of HR professionals share. This difference of opinion is likely attributed to the fact that Millennials take everyday technology for granted, and equate tech savvy to technical skills. In fact, according to our study, the areas that Millennials feel they need to improve are their technical or hard skills. 

We found that Millennials view their industry experience (43 percent) and their technical expertise (41 percent) as being their weakest leadership skills. Consequently, companies need to be able to help Millennials develop these skills in order to fill their talent gaps, while supporting Millennials as they rise up. 

Unfortunately, many companies struggle with how to develop their future leaders, in large part because they still provide development programs and training that were more in line with requirements for previous generations and work demands. For instance, in prior research we did with Saba, we found that companies insist on having annual performance reviews, when employees prefer more regular feedback. 

In addition, our study found that companies provide employees with printed manuals, even though they typically seek information online or want online training. Instead, companies need to deliver leadership training in a vehicle that employees choose rather than using old strategies that are less relevant in today's real-time online world.


Moving Forward

Personally, I believe that Millennials need to be more accountable for their careers, which is something that I preach in my two books, Me 2.0 and Promote Yourself. Millennials also need to be more vocal about their needs and draw a happy medium between online and offline communication. 

What’s more, all generations can support each other, and they should come together for the good of their companies. Let us not forget that older generations required development when they started their careers, and now they have the opportunity to pay it forward.

About the Author

Dan Schawbel is a New York Times bestselling author, Partner and Research Director at Future Workplace, and the Founder of both Millennial Branding and He is the bestselling author of two career books: Promote Yourself and Me 2.0. His third book, Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, will be published by Hachette on November 13th, 2018.

Through his companies, he’s conducted dozens of research studies and worked with major brands including American Express, GE, Microsoft, Virgin, IBM, Coca Cola and Oracle. He is the host of “5 Questions with Dan Schawbel”, a podcast where he interviews a variety of world-class human by asking them 5 questions in less than 15 minutes.

In addition, he has written countless articles for Forbes, Fortune, TIME, The Economist, Quartz, The World Economic Forum, The Harvard Business Review, The Guardian, and others that have combined generated over 15 million views. He has been recognized on several lists including Inc. Magazine’s “30 Under 30”, Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30”, Business Insider’s “40 Under 40”, BusinessWeek’s “20 Entrepreneurs You Should Follow,” and as one of Workforce Magazine’s “Game Changers”.

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