“Soft Skills get little respect but they will make or break your career.”
- Peggy Klaus, author
“I’m sorry, Sam, but we’re going to have to let you go” the manager says to you once you’ve entered the conference room.
“But why?” you ask. “I’m one of the best welders you have!”
“That’s true,” the manager replies. “But the fact of the matter is, you’re just not dependable. You show up late too often, and a couple times you didn’t even call until just before your shift started that you weren’t going to make it in. During team huddles, you either don’t contribute anything, or you tear down other people’s suggestions and ideas. And, when we needed to adjust the schedules when Bob was out because of his surgery, everyone else was flexible and willing to pick up the slack … everyone but you. You’re right, you are a very good welder. But we need more than just a skilled welder. We need a team player.”
This scenario has played out countless times in businesses all across America. Employers today talk about the importance of team culture in the workplace and the increasing need for their people to have employable skills, those beyond just the technical ones. In fact, according to a survey presented by SMB World, nearly 72% of CEOs believe that soft skills are more important to the success of their business than hard skills. So, what are Employability (or Soft) Skills? And why are they so important? Click the boxes below to find out more:
Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What’s the Difference?
There are two types of skill sets that are required to do most jobs. The ones that usually come to mind first are called Technical (or Hard) Skills. These are concrete, job-specific skills which require varying degrees of expertise and they usually have been developed through experience or some amount of study and training. Whether it be wiring a building for electricity, preparing taxes for businesses, or performing surgery, you can only do these things if you’ve been properly trained or have studied it long enough.
The other set goes by several different names: Soft Skills, Employability Skills, Life Skills and more. They are considered transferable skills; that is, they are skills that can be used in any job setting, regardless of the technical skills required. That is why learning these skills now, while still in school, can help prepare you for a future career, regardless of the type of work you choose.
So What, Exactly, Are These “Critical” Skills?
Interestingly, there is no such thing as a “set list” of employability skills. Do a search of the top employability or soft skills and you’ll likely get a few different skills on your list every time. Even still, you’ll usually find the same core skill sets brought up time and again. So while a few may vary from list to list, and several go by different names, here are 8 of the most commonly mentioned “critical” skills:
- Teamwork (a.k.a. Collaboration) - involves two or more people working together to complete a shared goal or task. Each person contributing to the whole for the good of the group
- Communication - the way we interact and, more technically, share information with others; making sure all parties are “on the same page.” Presented in a variety of formats from the written word to speaking effectively, and from active listening skills to nonverbal cues
- Adaptability (a.k.a. Flexibility) - showing maturity, poise and restraint when having to adjust to new or different conditions; Effectively coping with pressure, stress, criticism, setbacks, etc.
- Creativity (a.ka. Innovation) - the ability to generate new and imaginative ideas, processes, products, etc.; “outside-of-the-box” thinking that produces different results than before
- Problem-solving & Critical Thinking (a.k.a. Reasoning or Decision-making) - the ability to identify a problem, analyze it and work through possible scenarios to find a potential solution
- Time Management - the process of organizing and prioritizing how to best use time effectively; begins with attendance and punctuality, but also includes appropriately handling various tasks & deadlines in a timely manner
- Taking Initiative (a.k.a. Self-direction) - seeing a need and doing it without being told to do so; the desire to act or go “above and beyond” what is expected or required; internal motivation
- Dependability (a.k.a. Reliability) - the quality one demonstrates that they can be consistently trusted or counted upon. This trait usually grows over a period of time
Why Are Employability Skills So Important?
Employers say that they are more concerned with the level of Employability Skills employees have than ever before. They argue that certain technical skills can be taught more easily than soft or employability skills and that today’s employees are found to be more and more lacking in these skills. Yet, it’s these very skills that can make or break a team or even a company’s culture.
Businesses have gradually begun to shift in placing more and more value on culture and community in the workplace, attributes that are defined by such Employability Skills as Teamwork, Communication, Integrity, and Accountability. They have found that people who can effectively demonstrate these skills tend to be happier with their work, have good working relationships and feel valued by others are more productive and tend to stay with the company longer. This is why companies are placing a higher priority on such skills. Technical Skills are not enough any more. As one employer put it, “We don’t want any brilliant jerks working here.”
Tips for Building Your Skills
It can be frustrating when a teacher or parent says, “You need to be more responsible” but doesn’t explain to you how to improve that skill. Keep in mind that while some soft skills may come more naturally than others due to personality traits and habits, as with any skill set, growing these skills requires both time and effort. Below are a few suggestions for how you can improve any of these critical skills:
- Ask for help - Have friends/family point out skills of strength they see in you. Ask them for specific examples. Ask for feedback on areas of weakness and ways to improve. Want to work on a particular skill? Ask them to help practice by role-playing with you.
- Self-reflect - Which employability skills are strengths for you? Areas of weakness? What behaviors or external things are getting in the way of you improving your skill set? Be honest with yourself and make a plan for what you want to achieve.
- Embrace opportunities - Recognize when life situations present you an opportunity to work on a skill and welcome it. For example: having a conflict with a friend? It’s an opportunity to work on your communication skills. Struggling to come up with the money for something you want? Develop those problem-solving skills to find a solution.
- Learn from your mistakes - There are going to be times when you blow it. It’s OK; give yourself a pass. But remember it, so the next time you’re faced with a similar situation, you can handle it differently. Plus, you’ll have a story to tell during your interview about how you grew from the experience!
- Take baby steps - There are a lot of employability skills. Don’t try to master them all at once. It’ll only backfire and lead you to give up. Find one or two at a time to really zero in and work on. Remember, you’ll never “arrive” with these skills. It’s all about growth.
NOTE: When applying for jobs that call out certain soft skills they are looking for, be sure to include these on your resume if they are areas of strength for you. If possible, briefly give an example or two of how you’ve demonstrated this skill.
Lesson Plans – Resources – Videos
- 21st Century Skills
- 9 Awesome Classroom Activities That Teach Job Readiness Skills
- Employability Skills Lesson Plans for Middle & High School
- Soft Skills to Pay the Bills (Department of Labor)
- Teaching Soft Skills
- * West Michigan Employability Skills Network (WMESN)
* The goal of the WMESN is to introduce and develop key Employability Skills in students so they would leave their K-12 experience having identified, experienced and practiced them. Additionally, students would understand how these skills transfer to - and prepare them for - the world of work. To find out how you can be a part of the pilot work we are doing for the tri-county area, contact Eric Kelliher, Career Readiness Consultant: