April 2014
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TD Magazine

Mind the Soft Skills Gap

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A recent survey sizes up the American workforce's skills gaps.

The skills gap that has employers worried isn't the technical skills gap, but the soft skills gap, according to recent survey results from Adecco. Soft skills include those that aren't easily measured, such as communication, problem solving, and emotional intelligence.

A majority of executives interviewed (92 percent) admit that there is a gap in U.S. workforce skills. Surprisingly, only 22 percent of executives believe that this gap was technical in nature. Nearly half (44 percent) believe that American workers lack the soft skills necessary to help a business succeed.

What is causing the dearth of soft skills among American workers? Fifty-nine percent of the executives surveyed blame higher education. Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, echoes this sentiment. He says the rising cost of attending colleges and universities have put these institutions under pressure to produce students with


hard skills. Meanwhile, soft skills, such as critical thinking, are filtered out of curriculums.

In a recent article for LinkedIn, Schwartz writes, "We need people who are capable of having small ideas and developing them meticulously. ... But we also need people capable of recognizing big problems and articulating them in a way that can move scholarly disciplines and professional practices in a whole new direction."

Executives can't wait for an overhaul of higher education because they need workers now with the technical skills to solve today's problems and mental agility to address tomorrow's business needs. Of the executives who believe there is a skills gap, 89 percent say that apprenticeships and training programs could help. But 42 percent say that in-house training programs would be too expensive. Executives must decide whether the cost of hiring workers who lack necessary skills outweighs the cost of training those workers.

About the Author

Ashley Slade is the former production and editorial specialist for ATD.

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