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November 2018
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TD Magazine

In Search of Soft Skills

Many new hires don't have the soft skills employers seek.

Academia may need to rethink how it prepares students for the workforce, according to a new Bloomberg Next study on closing the emerging skills gap. This study, which surveyed 200 senior-level individuals, half in academia and half in business, found that academic institutions and businesses are not effectively collaborating to prepare new hires for the workforce. Only 38 percent of corporations and 66 percent of academic institutions say that they are collaborating to establish education-to-work pipelines or working together to shape curriculum to align new hires' skills with what employers are looking for.

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New hires are primarily lacking the soft skills that their employers want to see. Ninety percent of corporate responders and 88 percent of academics said that new hires have the necessary hard skills, such as computer literacy and written communication. However, nearly four in 10 corporations and almost half of academic institutions said that these new hires lack soft skills, including teamwork, emotional intelligence, and complex reasoning.

The study proposes a few strategies for fostering communication between academics and business to help train students in soft skills:

  • David Williams of Deloitte recommends that companies tell academics directly what skills they are hiring for—not on a macro level but within their specific companies.
  • Zia Khan of the Rockefeller Foundation thinks that clearer messaging is required. Schools and job candidates may hear that soft skills are important, but hard skills often become the focus of the recruiting and interviewing process, so schools and candidates dedicate themselves to hard skills.
  • Tensie Whelan of the Center for Sustainable Business at New York University's Stern School of Business says that schools are not preparing students for how interconnected today's world is. In the past, students were trained to deconstruct both items and ideas into their component parts. Today, people need a systems thinking approach where they understand how one part affects the whole. This systems approach helps new hires stand out to potential employers.
About the Author

Eliza Blanchard, APTD, is ATD's Learning & Development content manager. Contact her at eblanchard@td.org.

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