You have likely heard about “soft skills” before. But what are they? Sometimes referred to as “21st-century skills,” “interpersonal skills,” or “applied skills,” they are the skills that are non-technical or specific to a certain job. They are the skills that help you think, communicate with people, and reflect on your experiences. Basically, your young adult needs them to thrive in the workforce. Career coach Jane Horowitz says the basis of her coaching practice is “hire for attitude, train for skills,” and she sees will and drive as being the greatest determinants of young adults getting hired.
“We hear it time and time again, it’s the soft skills,” says Terri Tchorzynski, 2017 National School Counselor of the Year. “That’s what allows you to keep the job. Employers can hire our students and train them, but if they don’t have the soft skills, it’s really hard for them to stay employed.”
According to the Harvard University “Pathways to Prosperity Project” study in 2011, U.S. employers are increasingly seeing students graduate from college unequipped to survive in the 21st century workforce. Specifically, they are “deficient” in skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and communication. Bruce Tulgan, founder and CEO of Rainmaker Thinking and expert and author on young people in the workplace, has been tracking the generational change in the workplace since 1993. According to Tulgan (and many other experts and employers), there is a gap in soft skills from previous generations to the generation entering the workforce today. Employers want certain skills in their employees, regardless of the field. And not only do employers want these skills, but employment and wages have increased in most occupations that require higher social or analytical skills (like communication, management, or leaderships skills), according to Pew Research. Most workers understand this too; according to Pew Research, workers say softs skills are more important than technical skills in order to do their jobs.
The value of these soft skills can be considered good news! No matter what students study in school or what path they take after high school, they can work to learn these skills to help them be successful in the workplace. These are the six skills your young adult will need no matter what their career path:
The ability to communicate effectively is one of the most essential skills for the workforce. No matter the job or field, communication is required both inside and outside an organization. Parents see the value, too! According to the NBC News State of Parenting Poll, sponsored by Pearson, 54% of parents said good social and communication skills are most important for their child’s future success (more important than grades). Pew research found the same; communication skills were the most important skills Americans say kids need to succeed in life.
“Communication is a big one,” Tchorzynski says. “A lot of students struggle with it because they are used to communicating electronically and they are challenged when having conversations face to face with somebody.”
Having communication skills that make your young adult career-ready means they can articulate thoughts clearly, express ideas through oral, written, and non-verbal cues, and listen to ultimately gain understanding. In addition, with the increasingly digital world, it is essential that they are able to share and deliver information through digital means. Having relationship skills and social awareness are two central components of effective communication. Young adults should understand how to be respectively assertive, think about themselves within the context of a greater organization, understand the social rules of the workplace, and know how to communicate within that structure.
Teamwork and Collaboration
Most jobs will require some sort of teamwork and collaboration between employees. Young adults must have the ability to work in a team structure. When young people enter the workforce, they need to learn to think beyond themselves and their own desires, and toward the common goal of the company or organization they are working for. As a new employee in the workforce, young adults are rarely the bosses and need to learn to be team players. They must use their skills as something they offer to the company. In the early years of a career, teamwork is often demonstrated through hard work, commitment, and sacrifice. This means playing whatever role is needed to support the mission of the organization. It also means celebrating and supporting the successes of other employees. Teamwork requires employees to foster relationships with their bosses and coworkers and to be socially aware about the context of these relationships.
The shift from college or high school to the workforce can be a big adjustment for young people. The responsibility and self-management required to be successful at work can be totally different than environments young people are used to. The key to professionalism is forming good work habits. Being on time, responsible, and organized; these are all skills that are important in professional settings. Being on time is perhaps the simplest, yet most essential part to professionalism. “When you clock in for a job, and my job starts at 8, I am there and ready to work at 8, not walking through the door,” Tchorzynski says.
Young adults must be able to keep their work organized and be responsible for deadlines and projects assigned to them. Young people should be sure to communicate clearly with their bosses about these expectations. These basics are all part of learning to manage oneself and one’s time.
Self-Management and Initiative
Employers want workers who have leadership qualities. This does not mean that young adults will be a leader of the project or boss in the department, but it does mean they possess certain skills that show leadership potential. This means they have self-management and initiative. Self-management in the workplace includes the ability to plan, organize, and prioritize your work. This means having follow-through and discipline to stay on track with assignments and projects. Initiative is the ability to act or take charge to do things without being asked. This quality is highly sought after for employees as it shows a deep level of motivation and curiosity for the work they are doing. It’s also often extremely beneficial to a manager to be able to rely on employees to take initiative without waiting to be asked to do a task first. Finally, young adults should be able to self-evaluate their performance by assessing their actions, work, and projects against goals, timelines, and general work guidelines.
Critical and Creative Thinking
Critical thinking is the ability to make an evaluation of something by assessing, analyzing, and examining the issue or topic. It requires not just accepting what is, but looking further for other possibilities. Creative thinking, on the other hand, is a way of looking at problems or situations with a fresh perspective and suggesting new or nontraditional solutions and ideas. Critical and creative thinking go hand in hand, and both are required for the workforce today. Young adults need to be able to make decisions and solve problems using their creative and critical thinking skills. This may be examining data and providing an informed analysis to report to their boss or coming up with a creative solution to a project hurdle.
Global Fluency & Perspective
In today’s economy, workers need a broad understanding of the world around them. More and more employees are finding themselves interacting with people who are different from them. Having a global perspective means respecting diversity, and being open, inclusive, and sensitive to all people. People must be able to interact with and be respectful to people from different cultures, races, ages, genders, sexual orientations, abilities, political ideologies, and religions. Being globally fluent includes having digital skills, which are essential in today’s economy. However, this does not just mean having the technical skills, but also the knowledge of appropriate social media use, informal vs formal emails, and how to effectively communicate online.