Friday, 22 April 2016 09:15

Bridging the Soft Skills Gap

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How to Teach the Missing Basics to Today’s Young Talent

BY BRUCE TULGAN

There is an ever-widening “soft skills gap” in the workforce, especially among the newest young workforce, the second-wave Millennials otherwise known as “Generation Z” (born 1990-2000).

I say this based on more than two decades studying young people in the workplace: The incidence and insistence of managers complaining about the soft skills of their new young workers has risen steadily year after year since we began tracking it in 1993. It affects workers of all ages, but is most prevalent among the newest youngest people in the workforce.

Today’s newest young people in the workplace have so much to offer, yet too many of them are held back because of their weakness in a whole bunch of old-fashioned basics: non-technical skills ranging from “self-awareness” to “people skills,” especially communication, as well as “critical thinking” and “problem solving.”

Here’s the question everybody asks: Are the relatively weaker soft skills of today’s young workers the result of having grown up thinking, learning and communicating while permanently attached to a hand-held supercomputer?

Surely, that is part of the story.

Gen-Zers are the first true “digital natives,” born in a never-ending ocean of information — an information environment defined by wireless Internet ubiquity, wholesale technology integration, infinite content and immediacy. Gen-Zers are always totally plugged in to an endless stream of content and in continuous dialog — forever mixing and matching and manipulating from an infinite array of sources to create and then project back out into the world their own ever-changing personal montage of information, knowledge, meaning and selfhood. They try on personas, virtually. Social media makes it easy to experiment with extreme versions of one persona or another; more or less (or much more) crass means of expression.

Gen-Zers are perfectly accustomed to feeling worldly and ambitious and successful by engaging virtually in an incredibly malleable reality — where the stakes can seem all-important one moment, until the game is lost and reset with the push of a button in a never-ending digital dance, by projecting their uniquely diverse persona(s) in their own highly customized virtual peer ecosystem.

But remember, it’s not just technology that has shaped this generation.

Every bit as much to blame is the helicopter-parenting on steroids that’s been the norm for Gen-Zers. They have spent much of their formative time ensconced in their own highly customized safety zones — the private comfort of protection and resources provided by responsible adults who are always supposed to be looking out for them. As a result, Gen-Zers are neither accustomed nor inclined to conform their attitudes and behavior for an institution or an authority figure (especially a non-parental authority figure).

As a result, a shocking number of young people today simply do not realize just how much “just doing their own thing” makes their attitudes and behavior maladaptive in the real world of the workplace. Most of them simply cannot fathom how much mastering some of the critical soft skills could increase their value as employees — not only right now, but for the remainder of their careers.

—Bruce Tulgan founded Rainmaker Thinking, a management training firm, in 1993. This article is adapted exclusively for Elearning! Magazine from his book of the same title.

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